The Importance of Adolescence Rites of Passage

The passage from childhood to adulthood isn't always as clear and defined as it should be. We tell you why rites of passage are important in this regard.
The Importance of Adolescence Rites of Passage

Written by Elena Sanz

Last update: 07 November, 2022

Throughout our lives, we go through different stages of transition. Of all of them, adolescence is one of the most important. During this period, we leave childhood behind and begin to consolidate our identities as adults. This change is also usually accompanied by certain rituals that can help soften the impact of the change.

As a rule, biological factors determine the moment of adolescence. According to these parameters, it usually occurs between 12 and 18 years of age, and it entails a series of important changes. At this stage, youngsters’ bodies mature and their psychology becomes more complex. Furthermore, at a social level, they face more demanding challenges and roles. However, they don’t always have the necessary support and recognition available to face them.

Adolescence and transformation

Although adolescence is part of an important biological transition, in reality, the physiological, psychological, and social aspects don’t necessarily go hand in hand. In fact, many young people, who could already be considered men and women, don’t really have the tools to be functional adults. Nor do they adopt lifestyles in accordance with what’s expected of them.

In Western society, adolescence is getting increasingly longer. For instance, we find the phenomena of the eternal adolescent or the full nest syndrome. Indeed, several authors consider that adolescence today lasts until the age of 24, and many young people refuse to grow up and assume their necessary responsibilities.

On the other hand, there’s the notion of adolescence as a stage of sudden, violent, and turbulent change. Many parents dread the moment their children reach this stage, fearing rebellion, conflict, and mental health problems. This doesn’t have to be the case. However, when it is, it may be due to the lack of certain rituals.

unmotivated teenager
The rites of passage are necessary in adolescence to accompany young people on their way to a new role.

The rites of passage in adolescence

Rituals or rites are customs or ceremonies that follow guidelines governed by the tradition of each cultural community. More specifically, rites of passage traditionally mark the socialization of the most important transitions in human life. They tend to work bi-directionally. For instance, at a certain moment, the rite becomes necessary to accompany and recognize the transformation of the individual. However, at the same time, the fact that the ritual is taking place stimulates the transformation.

These rites of passage present three important moments or factors:

  • The first moment helps them detach themselves from the previous state, from the life they knew.
  • The second is the space of the transition itself. It houses change and transformation.
  • At the third moment, they start the new stage. It includes them or introduces them to new social dynamics marked by the new role and the current condition. In effect, the process is a kind of symbolic death and rebirth.

There are multiple rites of passage that we carry out as a society, For example, marriages, baptisms, and funerals. These help us to regulate our vital positions, abandoning old states and accessing new ones, with the appropriate accompaniment and social recognition.

However, these are becoming less apparent in Western society today. This is largely due to the lower religiosity of the population. It means that the rites of passage in adolescence aren’t as apparent as they should be.

worried teenager
To carry out a good transition, adolescents must transform themselves internally.

Rites of passage in adolescence

As we mentioned earlier, the absence of a rite of passage can increase the confusion generated by the transition. The anthropologist, Margaret Mead, conducted studies in different communities and cultural groups. She concluded that in those societies in which rituals of transition to adulthood are performed, adolescence is experienced as a time of maturity, change, and motivation. On the contrary, where these rites don’t take place, the probability that the stage will be experienced as more conflictive and disconcerting increases.

This is due to the fact that young people lack the support and recognition of their progress and new role in society. Consequently, they don’t accept the responsibility of their new position nor are they welcomed into it.

Transition roles

In Western society, there are certain transition rites in adolescence. Nevertheless, they’re so culturally assimilated and integrated that they’re not even perceived as such. For example, the first romantic and sexual relationship, first breakup, first alcoholic drink, and the move from primary to secondary school are elements that lead adolescents to gradually consolidate their new identities.

However, these processes aren’t the most appropriate nor are they sufficient. That’s because, to make a positive transition, the young person must not only ‘act’ like an adult, but also transform internally, possess greater self-awareness, and start to assume responsibility for themselves.

For this reason, it’d be a really positive move to recover and perform certain rituals with young people. They don’t need to contain any religious component or any predetermined steps. In fact, it’s only necessary that they have a meaning, to include the recognition of their progress and a welcome to their new life stage.

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  • De Picciotto, María Lucila (2019), “Lo singular de los rituales de iniciación y su relación con los grupos de pares como proceso para la entrada a la adultez en los tiempos contemporáneos” (trabajo de integración final de licenciatura), El Salvador: Universidad de El Salvador.
  • Mead, M., Sieben, A., & Straub, J. (1973). Coming of age in Samoa. London: Penguin.
  • Van Gennep, A. (2013). The rites of passage. Routledge.