Friday, July 29, 2011

The Transition from Childhood to Adulthood

In our modern American culture, at what point do we mark the transition to adulthood?  At 16 when a teenager gets a driver license?  At 18 when a teenager can vote, or when young men must register for the draft?  Is it at 21, when the legal drinking age is reached?  The truth is, in our modern American culture, there is not clear point where childhood ends and adulthood is reached.  No dividing line.  No rite of passage.  No signal to everyone that this human being is now considered a full-adult, and must meet the responsibilities of a full-adult.

Our definition of when adulthood begins is blurry, at best...and even then, the blurry line keeps getting moved further and further along into the lives of young people.  We're at the point, where we have "children" living at home at the age of 22, 26, 30, and many of these children have never really taken responsibility for themselves.   They don't hold steady jobs, have their own place to live, pay all their own bills, or make decisions in the way that an adult can and should.  I think at times, the tranisition to adulthood can be enormously confusing, and a methodical well-thought out transition can ease some or most of the confusion involved.


Our kindreds and tribes are an excellent place and mechanism for providing this guided transition to adulthood.  A healthy kindred that includes families, is likely already organizing activities and learning opportunities for the children involved in the kindred.  By purposefully shaping these children's activities and learn opportunities into a process of learning and action, we can provide our children with a guided process that logically and inevitably leads to their roles and responsibilities as adults.  This process and the rite of passage at the enf of such a process, make it very clear to a child that its time to take on the role of adult.  The process itself is a proving time, with the rite of passage as the final test that communicates to them that they have learned, they are capable, and that their relationship and participation in the kindred or tribe will be different from this point forward.

The rite of passage also clearly marks for all the adults of a tribe, that a child has made the transition to adult. It makes it clear what the expectations of this new adult in the tribe will be.  It marks the point in time, that the thew for adults now applies to this young adult, and that they have proved themselves ready for those responsibilities.

The rite of passage is not something that you can throw together over a weekend, and think it will have much of an impact on the anyone. The rite of passage itself should be the culmination and completion of years of learning from and interacting with the tribe.  It should incorporate the things the boy or girl has learned, and it should incorporate things that will be expected of them as adults.  It should reinforce the thew of the tribe, and set the young adult on the right course within the tribe.  But it takes time, resources, and effort on everyone's part to make this happen properly.


So, how should this process work?  What should be included in it?  That is going to vary greatly from kindred to kindred.  Every kindred is different...sometimes enormously different.  Thew varies from kindred to kindred.  The responsibilites, activities, and deeds expected from adults in each kindred are different.  There is no cookie-cutter way to do this.

This process and the rite of passage that marks the point of transition is not simply for the boy or girl in question. It is something that serves a purpose for the entire tribe.  Jotun's Bane Kindred is in a position, where we need to seriously start looking at this.  We have two boys and two girls who are at a point, where we need to begin a process of transitioning them to adulthood within the tribe.  We've been trying some things, to see what works, and really examining what we hope to accomplish in this process.

Here are some thoughts on the matter, that we have considered...

1. Whatever method we choose, it should have a male and female path. Boys growing into men, need different knowledge, responsibilities, and experiences than girls growing into women.  To some degree, there will be variations in the process, based on the needs and personality of the child who is going through it as well.  Just as some adults are more spiritual, or intellectual, or physical, or do our children differ in their skills and strengths.

2. There has to be a methodical build up to the rite of passage. It can't just "happen one day" out of the blue.  I think years of methodical preparation are needed, with the last year or so featuring an increase in the rate of learning and activities. There are skill sets to be taught and learned.  Mental conditioning applied and learned.  Lore, Thew, and the expectation of the tribe to internalize and understand. 

3. The rite of passage itself should be over a weekend. Perhaps a long weekend, but it should be a weekend. The rite of passage should include the application and of skills and mental conditioning that the boy or girl has learned up to that point. This is a test to ensure they have learned and can apply what they have learned, and a way of showing the boy or girl in very concrete terms exactly how much they have learned and what they are capable of...

4. There should be symbolism and a certain level of drama involved. It should mean something, and truly communicate to all involved exactly how important that moment in time is.  A child has become an adult within the tribe.

5. There should be a clear understanding and expectation of behavior put in place, that EVERYONE understands and agrees to follow from that point forward. The new adult's responsibilities and privillages should be spelled out, and everyone should clearly understand them. 

6. The new adult, should from that point forward be welcomed into adult activities. After the right of passage, the new adult should sit in Symbel with the other adults from that point forward.  They should participate in the Fainings.  Participate in the Study Groups, the kindred meetings, etc.  If we train a child to be an adult, and then ritually transition them to adulthood, then they need to fulfill the adult role and responsibilities from that point forward.  They should also enjoy certain privilages and trust in return for fulfilling these responsibilities. 

7. This should be done at a fairly early age, by today's standards. 13, 14, or 15.  Males and females are capable of exercising adult responsibilities within a kindred at these ages. A 13 or 14 year old at a heathen gathering, should be participating with the adults, rather than running about the whole time with the little ones.

The whole process really comes down to preparing our children to fulfill their adult responsibilities, and to be mature enough to enjoy adult privelages without abusing them.

When I've talked about this in the past, there are some that like to point out that among our ancestors, it was often the norm for children to grow up and remain living at home at the age of 30 and beyond.  You might live on the same land and the same grouping of homes until your parents died, and then you would take over as the patriarch or matriarch of the familiy and land. 

But even in these situations, the grown children were working the land and fulfilling enormous responsibilities. They were expected to act as adults, provide as adults, and contribute as adults. They would often build an addition to the homestead for their family (wife and kids), or a separate building nearby.

They were not underachieving. They were not sponging off their parents. They were not in a perpetual state of childhood, wifeless, childless, and without adult responsibility.  In our modern world, there is a stigma on adults living at home with their parents, because in a majority of cases, 30-year-old children still living at home are not great examples of success, responsibility, and achievement.  Certainly there are exceptions to this rule.  There are adult children who temporarily stay at home, working and saving up for a house.  Some adult children move home temporarily while recovering from some crisis, after getting laid off, etc.  But, beyond these exceptions there are a lot of people not acting their age. 


Jotun's Bane Kindred has reached a point, where we need to make some decisions about this issue and plot a course. Obviously we can't just wait for our oldest children to be 13, and then start worrying about it. We need to start forming our plans on this, and putting them into action.  We already take our children camping throughout the year, and teach them skills we feel adults should know. We involve them in Fainings and Symbel. We read lore to them, and now that they are getting older, we're giving them materials to read on their own. We are already preparing them for adulthood.

But we need to create a more organized and systematic way of preparing that we don't miss anything. So that our training of our children is a little more complete and consistent, and that we do the best job for them that we can.  I envision that this is going to take a lot of time and effort on our part, but like all things worth working for, the results should be well worth it.

Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods

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