The young generation can be a threat to the status quo, or an energy source that needs direction, depending on how we meet the challenge.
In our ancestral past, and within the last few remnants of the indigenous peoples who don’t have McDonalds yet, the passing of exciting and fearsome ‘rites of passage’ marked the change from boyhood to manhood.
In this practice, boys leave home, and the wider community spends a lot of time and effort putting them through a series of difficult tests in order to initiate them back into society. If the boys succeed in learning the lessons and passing through the challenges, the whole community recognises them as men, and they are welcomed as contributors of value to their society.
A couple of generations ago, in our idealised 1950s, becoming a man was linked to doing things for the first time. This entailed milestones such as getting a job, moving out of home, going to college, having a mortgage, getting married, and having kids. We marked the transition from boyhood to manhood by aspiring to ‘niceness’ and conformity.
Nowadays, we no longer do formal community initiation nor conformity. Most of us are too busy either developing ourselves or paying off our debts to spend much time helping others.
In our brave new individualistic society, we expect boys to get on with becoming men on their own, without supervision or guidance. As a consequence, many boys undergo ‘anti-social peer initiations.’ These can include getting drunk, taking drugs, using weapons, gang rape, driving recklessly, getting tattooed—a wide range of extra-curricular activities. The phenomenon is not restricted to gangs: kids from all walks of life are going through these rites.
Our media, press, and indignant older people in particular, are becoming increasingly worried by this anti-social, adrenalin filled behaviour. Quite typically, we want it to stop, without investigating why it occurs, or what value it might have. ‘Tie these boys to the drudge of mortgage, debt, boring jobs, and a life of little ambition’ is the cry of the middle classes. ‘It worked for us, we’re all unhappy, and that way we don’t have to concern ourselves with the issues and needs of our young men (and women)’.
Between the ages of 18 and 30, our boys and men are in their prime. They should be burgeoning, flowering into beautiful, strong, community supporting, vibrant and alive role models. In the year 2013, that is not the case. The majority have not even left home. They are in demeaning or dead-end jobs for which they have little passion; they create fantasy worlds in order to tolerate reality; they lack confidence and are in debt to banks and institutions, who make them fearful and bitter. No wonder they seek the adrenalin rush of peer initiation to banish the prospect of being in debt for the rest of their lives.
As children we need to feel safe and secure. In response to this need, parents create a strong emotional force field to hold the family in place. It is not easy to break through, but when the boy becomes a teenager he wants to explore the wider world, to hang out with people other than his parents.
In order to help facilitate this break out, nature introduced a stimulant. It comes in the form of testosterone, which increases adrenalin, and the boy expresses this chemical change in his ‘attitude.’ ‘Attitude’ takes the form of anti-social behaviour—adrenalin fuelled stupidity, in our eyes. This causes friction and disharmony with the parents. It lessens the force field, and enables him to break free. He is then able to seek his true identity, his peers and role models. It is the responsibility of the wider community, not just the family, to help him at this time. The young man will need assistance, guidance, and reminding that he’s not the first, nor the last, to behave this way.
If we have learned one thing recently, it is, our crisis-strewn culture has been proven to be woefully inadequate. We all acknowledge we need to find more holistic and cohesive alternatives. Included in these alternatives can be the concept that our boys and young men play a positive and constructive role in the creation of a fairer society, not the present selfish, greedy one we have forced them into. We could help them with such a task, by listening to them, encouraging them to use their adrenalin and drive in this positive way. Instead of outlawing their behaviour we could be challenging them to use their adrenalin rush for positive good. That, actually, isn’t so much of a shift as it seems.
We all intuitively want to help others, to be of service to our community. Teenagers, despite their harsh exteriors, are just as willing to help and to create bridges as any of us. We need to support our fledgling men to make positive choices for the benefit of others, before they can do that they need to use their extra testosterone and adrenalin to:
- Cut the ties with their mother and close family. They need to leave home physically and mentally.
- Find out who they really are. Not what parents or teachers want them to be, but to discover their innate ability. They need to follow their passion.
- Find their place in the pecking order, among their friends and foes.
- Go through hardships and challenges. They need to make mistakes and learn from them.
If they do all of these things, they will have succeeded in life, and naturally contributed in a positive way to society.
This process describes the classic rite of passage from being a boy to becoming a man. The use of adrenalin to break free from the family and then be supported by others is an age-old natural occurrence. It is what our ancestors and our McDonalds-free relatives have always done. They expect it to happen. They make sure it is welcomed and encouraged. Most importantly, they channel it into positivity and incorporate it into their culture.
When our teenagers express their individuality and character through seeking thrills and challenges, we are intimidated and frightened by it. We forget we also behaved that way. We should be welcoming such behaviour and trying to incorporate it into our society, making it work for us all, not ignoring it and hoping it will go away. It won’t.
Image credit: thefixer/Flickr