When our children entered their tweens, my husband and I searched for ideas to help us raise them positively during their teen years. We came across the intriguing idea of coming-of-age rituals.
Historically known as a tradition associated with Native American and African tribes, these rituals often contain physical and spiritual elements. When a child successfully completes these trials, he or she is officially considered an adult, with attendant responsibilities and privileges. These rituals have been all but lost in our culture today, though they were once regarded as a crucial step in many civilizations.
My husband and I decided this was something we wanted to implement in our family. You can read about our first attempt for our daughter, here.
planning Our second Coming of Age Celebration
When my son turned 12, we followed some of these guidelines from Hal and Melanie Young of Raising Real Men:
1. Make formal invitations similar to wedding or graduation announcements. These do not have to be expensive (you can make them yourself) but they do impress upon your son and all invited how important this celebration is.
2. Do a “manly” activity and invite friends and family. Make it a party! Feed people and have fun!
3. After the activity is finished, it is time for a presentation. Include in the invitation a request that the men in the family and male friends you respect and admire give your son lesson (we did a letter), perhaps with an object attached to it about what it means to be a “real man.” An example is a hammer– with the reminder that his life (like a hammer) can be used to create and beautify or to destroy. Boys are often very tactile, which is one reason why objects work so well as teaching tools.
4. After the celebration, it is important to give the young man or young woman extra responsibilities as well as privileges, and let them savor growing into adulthood. They will rise to the occasion every time and often surprise you!
HOw it went
We decided that instead of lunch, for our son we would have a full-blown, day-long party! (Poor Katie—she got short-changed due to our lack of experience!)
All the men went out into the local national forest. They did some target shooting, ax throwing, and just plain horsing around. A good friend cooked up some delicious dutch oven food and the whole day was spent in good company.
At dusk, they started the bonfire. As my husband explained the purpose of this tradition, the mood changed. The men shared their experiences and letters around the fire. Our son received a walking stick from his grandfather. This was in memory of his great-great-grandfather who was a pioneer. This man crossed the American plains five times to help others travel safely. The walking stick will remind him to always go the extra mile-especially when helping others. He received a ratchet set from his uncle. This was a reminder that there is always a solution to a problem if you look hard enough and keep trying. There were other gifts as well, all equally thoughtful.
Lastly, my husband gave him a leatherman multi-tool with an engraving on it. It is a reminder that he has all the tools in life that he needs to succeed; he just needs to work hard and remember to use what he has been blessed with. We put all of the letters, stories, and quotes in a binder for him to continue to learn from.
All in all, though very different, these experiences our family has had with Coming of Age Celebrations have been wildly successful. In hindsight, the only thing I would change is to include a physical or other type of challenge. This would help our children see that they can do hard things and gain confidence in the process. These have been such bonding and inspirational events, that extended family members are planning to carry on the tradition with their own children!
These young people will one day be adults where self-respect, discipline, responsibility, and hard work are required. Often the consequences are very harsh if these lessons have not been learned in the safety of home. When these teens and tweens have loving mentors who show them the way, their chances of success are much higher.
**If you’d like a step-by-step guide to help you create an amazing, personalized experience like this for YOUR child, check out The Coming of Age Celebration Guidebook. The feedback I’ve gotten from it has been amazing:
“This was the best day of my life…The collective beauty and wisdom were just so overwhelming. Our young people are worth so much and I just hope they know it. Thanks to everyone who helped, who wrote letters, who came, and those who couldn’t make it, you were missed. Thanks so much for the priceless idea, you’ve made a difference!” -Emilie N.
“Jen…this is amazing. Just got the Coming of Age book- this is really fantastic. Side note- you should be charging WAY more for this…so so so impressed. Seriously so grateful for this.” -Danielle T.