The entire reason we have such a thing as a quarter life crisis, and later a mid-life crisis, is because boys and young men lack meaningful rite-of-passage experiences.
This post is for unconventional parents who are inspired to give their sons a real rite-of-passage into manhood. This post is directed at parents who are parenting sons that don’t fit into the mold.
Our son’s need more than they are getting. We’ve somehow made it so that a hand held gadget is more appealing than we are. When we don’t provide them with solid rituals, they make up their own.
I’ve worked with men and teens boys since 1995 and have come to one vast conclusion–Teenage boys need a rite-of-passage.
When boys don’t get “initiated” into adulthood, they waffle around in Guyland, not knowing who they are or where they are going until they reach a quarter-life crisis of some kind. If boys succeed at staying numb through their twenties, they will get another shot during a mid-life crisis. The entire reason we have such a thing as a quarter life crisis, and later a mid-life crisis, is because men are unbelievably disconnected from their own essence.
When I look around at teenage boys today, I see a confused, depressed, lost, pissed off, lazy, checked out kid who refuses to grow up. Underneath his mask, he is in pain, longing for meaning, freedom, and truth. I also see a few happy free souls who are awkward, funny, dynamic, grounded, and wild. And sure, there are plenty of boys who model the “good American male” icon, but that kid is a robot to me. He’s just following orders from his culture and his gender about how to be a “good little boy.” Whatever the case may be, our culture perpetuates boys disconnecting from their True Self which eventually leads to grown men who are disconnected, unsatisfied, stuck, and depressed who look outside themselves for joy.
How did we get here?
In this culture, right around the time a boy graduates high school, there is a fork in the road. This fork is critical to mature adult development. The fork has two paths. One is the path of self-actualization where a boy deepens further into his core essence. The other fork, the more common distracting fork, takes him away from his center and into the cultural man-box machine thus training him how to be a sheep.
A rite-of-passage is designed to help a boy self-actualize. A rite-of-passage can help a boy deepen into himself, cultivate his sexual essence, stay true himself, and uncover why he is here what it is that’s his to do in the world. A rite-of-passage helps a boy find true meaning in a world full of perpetual noise.
Taking the road of self-actualization is more demanding than ever before because the distractions are endless. The pressure fit into the man-box is pervasive. So what do boys do? Smart ones rebel, take drugs, and push the edges. The smart boys know there is more to life than being a blind sheep, finding a soul sucking job, or living the American Dream. However, the “smart” kids reaction is initially smart, what they do next ain’t so smart. They push and push their boundaries, they don’t find, so they explore and take risks with lost arrogance on board. Smart turns to self-harm pretty quick.
Very few of us can self actualize without proper guidance or ongoing experiences that draw us further into our center. Elders and mentors play a key role here, as can spirituality and solid parenting (sorry folks, religion keeps a boy stuck in a box instead of helping him discover what is true in his own heart).
When I was a teen, I lived a pretty privileged, “easy” life so it wasn’t until 18 that I started taking big risks by pushing my limits, unconsciously attempting to find the truth, some grain of evidence about my life’s purpose or the meaning of it all. I did a lot of drugs, joined a fraternity, got hazed and hazed back, drank a lot and pissed many people off along the way. Then, I spent the bulk of my twenties traveling and seeking, running from something and running to something. I did all of this because I was lost, angry, depressed and longing. Deep down, I was searching. I wouldn’t settle for the track that everyone else my age was taking. As my friends took “real” jobs, I kept asking “Is this really all there is to life?” I knew there had to be more.
Had I had a rite-of-passage and a badass male mentor to check in with, to consult with and to seek wisdom from, perhaps I would have avoided many pitfalls. Not only that, it is possible I would have come into my own sooner as opposed to later, thus serving more people earlier.
At some point on the human journey, boys are supposed to become adult men. In our culture, we don’t do anything to honor, acknowledge and facilitate this huge transition. As a result, grown men remain boys even though they look like men. They get stuck in Guyland and the man-box, wandering around, thinking they should get a real job, staying at mom’s house, surfing facebook all day, and emotionally and spiritually stagnating hoping someone will make the journey for them.
What would your teenage son be like if he had a powerful community of mentors, leading him through a very challenging ordeal and giving him course corrections now and again, letting him fall down when appropriate, and “holding him” through whatever trials and tribulations he faced as he embarked out on his “hero’s journey” of self-discovery.
The hero’s journey is about facing himself directly and diving into the very core of his being so he knows, utterly, and without question, that he is the author of his life and that he can do anything his soul desires while staying connected to his heart.
In my view, we are letting our boys down. They need to feel their edge. They need to push up against their own mortality or face the intense rawness of life somehow. They need to know they, and they alone are responsible for their actions. They need to find the truth that lives inside of them so that they can tap into it and serve the world from a more genuine, heart-centered place.
We need to think WAY outside the box here and also learn from our ancestors. Yet we don’t have to haze him, shame him, or abuse him to do this. And, he doesn’t have to join the military and risk his life as a pawn in someone else’s fight to do this.
The rite-of-passage I’m talking about has to be modern, current, and relevant and a journey that ultimately he hungers to embark on. It also has to be free of shaming yet full of tough love. And, yes moms, you will have to “let go” of him at a certain point. And, it’s no wonder you struggle with that. In this day and age, letting him go isn’t necessarily a good thing as he limps along. But what if you could let him go into the ultimate, trustworthy, ferocious hero’s journey?
Yes, a four-day vision quest is good. Yes, Outward Bound or NOLS are great. And, yes, the military is an option. However, we are taking about a transition into mature adulthood and beyond. This is a big deal. Many of current teen rite-of-passage programs are very short with very little on the front and back end. My professional bias is that our sons need at least a year-long program and it has to be one they ultimately ask for wherein they face their demons and connect to their soul.
For my son, I will have several male friends facilitate his rite-of-passage. I will be involved but only to a point. I will also give him many opportunities where he has to confront himself directly and go deeper inside himself to discover who he is.
And instead of marching of to college (in 18 years, I’d be spending $340,800 at a private college and $95,000 at a public college) to join the rat race, he’ll have the option to embark on a one or two-year rite-of-passage around the world with boys his own age where they learn from their own experience about life, rather than reading about it in a book, or being held hostage in the rat race. Consider it “preventative care” for our youth, rather than a costly “intervention” when he train-wrecks in life.
Lastly, don’t expect to facilitate a rite-of-passage for your son if you haven’t done one yourself. That’s right. If you haven’t been through years of personal growth work or a rite-of-passage yourself, you are unqualified to initiate my son.
If you want your son to avoid the pitfalls of a quarter-life crisis or a mid-life crisis, and, if you want your son know, without a doubt, that he has the self-confidence and ability to navigate life’s challenges internally and externally, do whatever it takes to help him discover who he really is.
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Interested in this subject?
Watch my friend Aaron Huey, director of a local rite-of-passage program for teens, as he talks to parents below:
Other resources for your son that I support (all are shorter in duration):
I’m sure there are many others, please comment below or email me and I can add to this list.
all photos by Jayson Gaddis