Crossroads: The Quest for Contemporary Rites of Passage

By King, Robert P. | Behavioral Disorders, February 1998 | Go to article overview

Crossroads: The Quest for Contemporary Rites of Passage


King, Robert P., Behavioral Disorders


Educators and parents often agree about the lack of altruistic values, leadership qualities, and moral development in today's children and adolescents. A sense of "moral anemia," or a lessening of a moral code of ethics, appears to be eroding our culture and directly affecting the transition of youths into adulthood. Adolescents are caught in a state of confusion, unable to individuate into psychologically, socially, physically, and emotionally healthy adults. To counteract this trend, educators, mental health professionals, and parents must provide positive role models and experiences that encourage adolescents to grow into compassionate adults of strong moral fiber who are prepared not only academically but also psychologically and spiritually to enter the adult world.

Drawing on both science and literature to understand human behavior, Crossroads: The Quest for Contemporary Rites of Passage offers significant insights into the rites-of-passage movement for adolescents as well as a rationale and strategies for employing those insights to assist youths in their transition to adulthood. The framework is a rich tapestry of 50 essays providing philosophical explanations, practical strategies, and examples of rites-of-passage programs for school systems and communities to assist their young people in their developmental march.

Undergirding this 452-page book is the concept that modern society is dramatically different from previous cultures in that we do not have clearly defined rites of passage for our youth. The book presents evidence that constructive rites-of-passage traditions may offer protection against the lure of destructive, hedonistic, and possibly addictive behaviors by instilling in youths a sense of empowerment, moral responsibility, hope, and faith in the future.

The book is organized thematically, ranging from ancient practices to modern-day perspectives and the role that educators and adults or elders can play. Six essays comprise Part 1, "An Ancient Practice: Modern Perspectives." In one essay, the author creates a compelling case that our culture is one of the few that do not incorporate adolescent rites of passage, which may result in severe consequences for the emotional development of their youth. She points out that rites of passage as a category of rituals have many common components, and she goes on to draw analogies to the underlying and often turbulent dynamics of adolescence while cautioning against pseudo rites of passage that are often marked by destructive or superficial rituals or patterns of behavior.

In Part 2, "Youth in Crisis: Problems and Solutions," many of the 11 essays provide strategies and step-by-step methods to address adolescent stages of development. One author provides 15 major strategies to help young adolescent girls postpone sex, assist them in their identity formation, and allow them to engage in what Ericson calls an identity moratorium before having to assume adult responsibilities.

Another author provides insight into the inner workings of gangs. The chilling example of the gang leader serving as elder to assist wayward teens in the initiation process parallels traditional and indigenous cultures in which elders serve their communities with recognized rites and rituals. The conclusion drawn is that the critical need today for rites and rituals for our youth must be met by elders within the community context, lest it be met by happenstance and result in deleterious consequences.

A third author draws positive parallels to traditional rites of passage through experiences with youth service organizations such as the Peace Corps, VISTA, county conservation corps, and urban renewal groups, which are highly supervised and structured and provide culturally accepted rites of passage for American youth.

Eight diverse essays comprise Part 3, "Contemporary Rites of Passage." Two distinct rites-of-passage programs in the public schools are described, a therapeutically based program in Washington, DC, and a culturally based program in Chicago.

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