Contemporary Western society has virtually eliminated the once prevelent rite-of-passage and its welcoming of children into adulthood. Surprisingly, few people today realize that the entire concept of “adolescence” is a modern construct – only appearing in the last century. Prior to then, in nearly all cultures in all places at all times we observe a two-stage development of humanity: children and adults. Rather than children anticipating and preparing for his or her journey into adulthood (e.g. Jewish bar/bat mitzvah, Amish Rumspringa), it seems that contemporary culture is sending a double-message: "you're teenagers now and won't be adults for quite awhile," AND "we want you to go ahead and act like adults though, endulging yourselves in anything and everything."
What's up with that? Are we simply inept as parents? Or are parents so self-absorbed that they're just leaving children to "grow up" on their own? Or has our society become so radically egalitarian (everyone deserving the same benefits regardless of merit) that our children "deserve" to do all that we deserve to do?
Put simply: children are being pushed into adulthood sooner and sooner --especially girls. Set Hollywood aside for a moment. Just take a look in the girls clothing section of many popular department stories -- you're bound to find a plethora of sexually provocative clothing including thong panties and suggestive slogans. The days of "Little Mermaid" and "Sponge Bob" clothes are quickly disappearing. What in the world are we grooming them for??!!
As communities-of-faith, I believe we have been failing our children -- and continue to do so -- by no longer offering them a meaningful transition (along with its accompanying nurture and support) from being children to being adults. The majority of Western religious institutions no longer emphasize a rite-of-passage, and guess what? The secular world knows it! That's why (especially in the western U.S.) increasing numbers of young adults are now looking to Las Vegas as rite-of-passage.
Here's an excerpt from one of many recent articles on this topic:
LAS VEGAS — Huddled inside the Luxor hotel-casino, a trio of newly minted 21-year-olds are big on dreams, but short on know-how. The girls want to play blackjack, but where do they get the chips?
Leslie Berlin, a junior at Vanderbilt University, shrugs off their inexperience and throws her arms around her best friends.
“We’re gambling virgins!”
And so the odyssey begins for the barely legal in this city of megajackpot dreams and sinful excesses, the destination for those seeking their first legal drink and roll of the dice. After all, what better place to celebrate turning 21 than the town that turns on 21?
Whether it’s that last party before getting hitched or actually doing the deed in one of the area’s dozens of wedding chapels, Sin City is a rite of passage for tens of thousands each year.
Of course, there's a HUGE difference between 21 year olds and 13 year olds, but I'm wondering... would 21 year olds still be considering a Las Vegas weekend as a personal rite-of-passage if they were part of a community of faith which had already lovingly supported them into adulthood?