Rites of passage an answer for disaffected youth

“When I was 14, I was taken out into the bush and circumcised. Then,” says Nelson Mandela in his autobiography, “I knew I was a man.” No confusion there. He knew he was adult, he had his identity and it was a definite transition without the confusion western youth endure, having a prolonged undefined transition from childhood to adulthood so that, as Paul the Apostle could say something to the effect, “When I was a child I had the ways of a child. Now I am an adult, I put aside those ways and act as a man”

Mandela outlines his experience of initiation – a rite of passage – into his socio-cultural group and its effect on him. Surely someone undergoing this process is in a stronger position to adopt adult ways in society than western youth whose transition is dispersed and diffused over many years. Such youth, as Mandela’s compatriots, will be more confident and certain of their identity and role in society, making it easier for them and their society to function. Apart from a friend of mine who said she would only get her daughter’s ears pierced when the girl had her first period, in the west, it seems only Catholics have any semblance of this rite of passage in the form of Confirmation. Since rites are symbolic, meaningful and transcending realities, they are religious.

A good introduction to rites of passage is described by Hendry and Underdown in their book AnthropologyJared Diamond touches on similar ideas in his The World Until Yesterday,

A friend of mine who lived among the herding people of East Africa told me the herders’ children behave like little juvenile delinquents until the age of male circumcision at which time they are expected to assume responsibilities. Then following an initiation ceremony, boys begin herding the valuable cows. the girls begin caring for siblings and both of them begin to be disciplined. (P.196)

A feature on Geoffrey Ben-Nathan’s anthropological book, in The Jewish Chronicle Online, on this overlooked idea tells us, “Antisocial behaviour and acts of crime are the result of children not making the proper transition from childhood to adulthood, says anthropology enthusiast Geoffrey Ben-Nathan.

He believes a formal, regulated rite of passage from childhood to adulthood is needed to prevent juvenile delinquency. He explains why in his recently published book, I’m Adult! Aren’t I! aptly subtitled; Understanding Juvenile Delinquency and Creating Adults Out of Children: The Case for a Formal Rite of Passage. In it, he investigates youth crime and outlines several policies for tackling it based on the methods used by other societies to develop their teenagers into adults compared to those in used Britain.” You can listen below to his introductory talk where he explains the benefits of initiation rites and why highly ritualised countries like Japan have lower crime rates.

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