This is a comment by Trevor Sprague on the post “Where’s My Burning Ant-Glove?“
“One of my main concerns is that there is a degree of arbitrariness to growing up right now. But it’s not in what we rituals we choose to invest value in, rather, I’d suggest that it’s in the 18-year age, which you cite. If I’m reading you correctly, you think we just have a slow accumulation of experience–i.e. being alive–and when we hit 18, we’re ready to roll.
“My point is exactly that: simply turning 18 doesn’t cut it, there are things we learn to do as we grow older that teach us what a adult is and does. 18 fails for a variety of reasons–such as the fact that the brain isn’t really finished developing until around age 25—but it’s not because the steps along the way are arbitrary. Rather, it is because we’ve taken away any substance from the small rituals which holds any cultural or psychological significance. Really, as a society we’ve kept delaying and delaying the growing up process—not the aging process—so that childhood seems to end later and later.
“Compare what most people were doing at age 18 in our grandparents’ generation with what most people are doing now. I would argue that they were more fully invested in adulthood at that point, because they had experienced a clear passage, and had clear expectations about what it meant to be an adult. Now, some could argue that our current level of technological/social/cultural development has made a longer ‘childhood’ possible, and that it’s a good thing, but I don’t necessarily think so.
“The type of rituals I’d like to see restored can be arbitrary, because what matters isn’t the action itself, but rather the importance placed upon the activity. To your middle point: society does define what it means to be an adult. Societies have always been defining what it means to be an adult for their particular cultural context. That’s why the Satere-Mawe do what they do. That’s why Jewish boys are Bar Mitzvahed at 13. It’s why many Hispanic girls are celebrated with a Quinceañera. The reasons are always cultural, but they are rooted so deeply in history that it’s not hard to see how they could represent different manifestations of ingrained biological imperatives for survival. Surviving in the world used to be really hard—it still is in many places. The places where it is still hardest tend to be the ones that still have strong rites of passage. Pain is a part of many rituals because, in many cultures, men will face pain—as warriors or hunters—and for the survival of the group they must not balk from it.
“My real concern is that we’ve taken away a lot of the meaning from the small things that help us to build a sense of what adults do in our society. When we put something like an arbitrary age out there, with no ‘training’ or guidance about what it means, we end up with people who are ‘lost’ after graduating high school. People who need to take some time to ‘find themselves.’ I’d argue that they’d already have themselves if we, as a society, hadn’t pushed out anything that seemed like an outdated or old-fashioned sort of ritual.”