Physiologically something happens in the bodies of our children around the age of twelve. Some have called it a reboot of their entire system. Hormones flood in and trigger changes that can sometimes be uncomfortable, awkward, and even scary. But one thing is for sure; your child will never be the same. Your pre-adolescent child will emerge from this change a young adult. Your little boy will become a young man. Your little girl will become a young woman. But is growing hair in your private parts or starting your period enough feedback for your son or daughter to know, “I am a man” or “I am a woman”? And if not then how will they know that glorious threshold has been crossed?
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 1 Corinthians 13:11
The bible clearly indicates there is a time to put away childish things; to become a man. How will our kids know when that time has come? Well the simple answer is, you (parents) tell them. And we’ve found the most effective way to tell them is through rites of passage. Throughout history there are many examples in other cultures of these rites of passage. The Jewish culture has its Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah. Native American tribes had rituals their young men would go through to signal their full inclusion into the tribe.
Sadly in our American culture there is no cultural tradition to mark this event in a young persons life. So what makes him a man? What makes her a woman? Is it the first time they get drunk? The first time they have sex? Or maybe when they get their driver’s license? This isn’t a dynamic we want left to chance. Remember, the physical changes are going to happen regardless. Helping them make the change spiritually, socially, and relationally is our job as parents and quite honestly as their community of family, friends and believers.
Let me share what we do with our sons and in the process give you a framework to do this with your child. Kelli will address the girls in a post later this week. There are three components you will want to make a part of your son’s rite of passage. Remember you don’t have to do exactly what we did, but consider implementing the principle behind this event. In fact I would recommend you read “Raising a Modern Day Knight” by Robert Lewis. It was a huge help for me as I struggled to find some handles in this arena.
- Establish a clear definition of manhood. My favorite definition and I’m sorry I didn’t have it when my oldest boys were this age is R.E.A.L. To be a REAL man means to Reject passivity… Empathizes with others… Accepts responsibility… Leads courageously. We want our sons to know what it means to be a REAL man!
- Go through a process. For us we had our boys read James Dobson’s “Preparing for Adolescence”. We also highly recommend “Passport to Purity” by Dennis Rainey. We wanted them to go through some learning, some preparing for what was to come. Then I would spend time with the boys fielding questions and highlighting some of the more critical points.
- Create a ceremony initiating a boy into manhood. Because I’m on Young Life staff and serving at our camps in the summers, I created a ceremony around the ropes course. My boys will always remember the day they became a man. Each element on the ropes course corresponded to a character quality they would need to be a REAL man. There are a lot of options for this, a dinner with key men in your son’s life, or a weekend hunting trip, or just a road trip somewhere.
The point of all this is to draw a line in the sand and to declare to your son and to the rest of the world, you are now a man. Incidentally Kelli and I had to have some discussions about how this would change even her relationship with her boys. I asked her to treat our sons differently. So how will your son know he’s a man? Because you are going to tell him.
If you have done rites of passage I would love to hear about what you’ve done. And I’m curious if any of your fathers did a rite of passage with you?