Why make a fuss of puberty?

We enjoy making a fuss over the arrival of a new baby, and many people like to do something special to celebrate their intention to join their lives together, and we expect to gather for some sort of farewell when somebody dies.  Birth, death, marriage – these are all major life changes and even when traditional ceremonies are not sought, people tend to want to do something of significance to mark them.

Across cultures and continents, human beings have created meaningful ways to acknowledge and share these important life events. Our ancestors did and we still do.  Rituals and ceremonies evolve to celebrate and support these life transitions – into life, into union, and out of life.  However, there is one major life transition that now goes largely unattended. The transition from child to adult.  We have very few common practises that ensure that we assist our girls to grow into strong young women.  We have little to offer our boys to guide them towards becoming fine young men.

And yet in some cultures, and in times gone by, this was the transition that was given the most attention.  This was the shift that was seen to need the most support, the most input from others in the community – both for the sake of the youth and for the good of the community.   Nowadays, we leave our children to navigate their way through a confusion of conflicting influences with little by way of systematic guidance.

Although individual families may do much to support their children into adulthood, we have no common practises, no culturally expected and accepted ways of making sure that all our children are given the support and guidance that they need, to grow up into adults with a sense of well-being.  Aside from a few religions, we have lost the expectation that each youngster will be mentored by their elders, gathering our adolescents to formally prepare them for adulthood, and acknowledging their passage with ritual and ceremony.

We leave our young people to band together and guide one another into adulthood.  The media tells them how a man or woman should be, and our youngsters create their own ways of proving their adulthood through feats, dares, and adventures; sadly often with drink and sex and danger.

I am fascinated to discover ways that we adults can take back the role of initiating our children into adulthood.  In my experience the children welcome it, we are fulfilled by it, and a transition that has been defined by its difficulty can become a more joyous one.

I seek for ways to guide our girls through adolescence that feels right for them now, in our culture, in our time.  I long for this to become the norm again.  For girls to expect support from their community of family and family-friends, and to look forward to some special celebration to acknowledge that they are no longer children and are making their way towards adulthood.

I offer support to women who wish to engage with their girls in this way.  For us to find meaningful ways of guiding our girls towards becoming the best young women that they can be – for this not to feel weird, but to be comfortable.  And for this to become the convention, for every girl to expect support and guidance and involvement from her community.  This is my dream.


Posted on 4 March 2012
Musings: Parenting teenagers, Parenting girls, Coming of age, Rites of passage
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