Rites of Passage:
Anecdote for Boys in Crisis
by Jamie Charles, founder of WonderCamp and Spirit Quest
Here in Phoenix, last winter, five families and their sons shared a truly life-changing adventure known as the rites of passage. For two of the five boys, this was their very first introduction to the Sweet Medicine SunDance teachings. The boys did a cord cutting ceremony with their parents, a Brotherhood sweat, a vision quest ceremony, a Sisterhood ceremony, and a special Community Honoring ceremony. Seeing these young boys transform into young men before our eyes was a very moving experience. One thing became clear: these ancient ceremonies can and do work in our culture today.
Perhaps the most important teaching I received from these six days of ceremonies is that the rites of passage are an ongoing living process that involves the entire family. They begin long before the actual ceremony and continue long after. Family members make a vigorous commitment to guide and structure the changes that occur in their children as they move through adolescence into young adulthood.
Boys, Boys, Boys
It was no small accident that all the ones going through this rites of passage ceremony were boys. They spoke of issues and problems common to our youth today. The boys' stories echoed these all too familiar statistics:
- Adolescent males are four times more likely than females to commit suicide.Most crimes are committed by young men.Ninety-one percent of violent crimes are committed by males.
- Boys are falling increasingly farther behind girls in academic achievement.
These are just a few of the alarming statistics that are sending us clear signals of the crisis in young men's sense of self worth in our culture.
As boys act out with drugs or use other forms of escape, we must realize that their actions are actually cries for help. They are telling us something is very wrong with the way we are raising our young boys. They seem to be saying, "There's no place for me, there's not enough of an attraction, there's not enough meaning or wisdom in our culture to include me. I don't fit in and I don't want to." A critical part of these rites of passage was the adults' willingness to listen - to hear the boys' confusion and feel their anger and frustration.
Boys Need a Tribe
Boys are not the only ones feeling the pain. Many parents are just as angry and frustrated and don't know where to turn. They feel overwhelmed, guilt-ridden and just plain tired. Many parents are bending over backwards genuinely attempting to raise their children in a beauty way. The problem is our culture requires parents to do it on their own. The Western notion that the nuclear family is all that is needed to raise children is absurd. Boys need a tribe - a group of people who share the responsibility of parenting. In most cultures around the world, the concept of shared responsibility for raising children by extended family members is as natural as breathing. Here in America the prevalent attitude is that Mom and Dad raise their children and everyone else stays out of the way. In my family it was forbidden, shameful and downright treasonous to say anything to anyone (especially relatives) that would cast our family in a poor light. There was a fierce competition with my cousins to see who could maintain the best facade so as to give the appearance of the perfect family. When my brother was arrested in Europe for selling hashish, the family kept the secret. I never told anyone for fifteen years. It was a source of pain and separation. The point is this: in our culture, too much family isolation, and the belief that the full responsibility for raising the children resides only with the two parents inside the nuclear family, is not working.
Michael Gurian, in his book The Wonder of Boys, says that "three families - not one - raise a healthy boy into manhood." This includes birth family, adopted family, extended family - blood relatives, friends, teachers and mentors, plus a greater community and cultural family of choice. Boys especially thrive in a tribe. They require the structure, discipline and challenges a tribal extended family system offers. Parents who consciously design a support structure of peers, teachers, mentors and relatives to help raise children will contribute immensely in their child's maturation. The long-term benefits of establishing other role models for your children will pay off richly in years to come. Not only will children have greater choices, more people who care for them, more opportunities to ask questions, and more room to explore who they are outside of their own family, parents too will have more time to mature, resolve their own issues, and enjoy their life.
We All Share in This Responsibility
Sharing the responsibility with parents for raising healthy children is one of the most sacred tasks we can fulfill, and also one of the most personally satisfying. Our commitment to participate in these rites of passage ceremonies is a clear signal to young boys and girls, to their families and to the community, that we care and are willing to take a stand for the children.