Paying Attention to Teens' Rites of Passage

Teens and parents - rites of passage
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The national organization Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) and Liberty Mutual Insurance conduct an annual survey of teenagers in America to identify ways to help teens make better decisions. A recent Teens Today report relates to how teens handle important transitions in their lives and the impact of those "rites of passage" on their decision making.

The Teens Today report is sobering.

The report reveals that "high school teens whose parents pay the least attention to significant transition periods (45%) such as puberty, school change, and key birthdays are more likely than teens whose parents pay the most attention (81%) to engage in high-risk behaviors, including drinking, drug use, early sexual intercourse, and dangerous driving. They are twice as likely to report daily stress and appear to be twice as likely to report being depressed and bored."

Candidly, the results of this survey should be startling for all fathers of teenagers. Consider some of the other findings.

Relationships. Teens whose parents communicate about, recognize and celebrate important transitions report having an extremely close relationship with their parents. They tend to have excellent communication interactions and experiences with their parents, even when tough issues come up. They tend to be more influenced by their parents in their decisions about drinking, drugs and all forms of sexual activity.

Outlook on Life. Eighty-three percent of teens in this same category report feeling happy every day or almost every day, compared to 49% of those whose parents don't acknowledge key transitions. They also report having a high sense of self (67%) compared to 22% of those who report parental inattention to their rites of passage.

School Situations. The trends are the same with middle school aged children as they are with high school aged children. So, whether kids are tweens or teens, recognizing and celebrating transitions are important.

Driving. Teens with high levels of parental attention during their rites of passage tend to be safer drivers. They speed less, drive more cautiously, are more likely to wear seat belts and are less likely to drive impaired or to ride with an impaired driver.

What Are the Important Rites of Passage?

According to the Teens Today report, these transition points or rites of passage include:

  • Puberty
  • Moving to a new school
  • Birthdays
  • Getting a driver's license
  • Obtaining their first car
  • Graduating from high school
  • Going on a first date

Some other transitions dads recommend as important things to recognize in their teens' lives include:

  • Making or not making the school play, athletic team or other competitive teams
  • Scouting awards and rank advancements
  • Quarterly report cards
  • First job
  • First school trip away from home

     

The Teens Today report is telling - being there with your teens at the crossroads of their young lives is critical to their behavioral choices and to their feelings about themselves. It may not seem intuitive, but at those critical moments, teens know if their parents have bee supportive or mostly absent.

So what can a dad do to make these transitions important in their teens' lives?

Identify and understand the rites of passage. While some of these transitions we have identified are common, your teen will have some specific ones. One young teenager had a significant transition when her braces came off and she tried contact lenses for the first time in the same week. So be watching and communicating frequently with your teen all the time to be keyed into their transitions. Sometimes listening to conversations with their friends will help you identify the rites of passage that are important to them.

Find Meaningful Celebration Strategies. Many successful families have some rituals built around celebrations and transitions.

  • Birthdays and other special events in one family are celebrated with a dinner of the honoree's choice, and that child gets a gold plate, goblet and gold-plated flatware to enjoy during dinner.
  • Another family has a special ritual associated with each daughter's first formal dance - a day spa, manicure, and a salon visit for hair styling.
  • One family reports that they take each daughter for a "glamor shot" when she turns 16. 16.
  • Another father takes his sons when they turn 14 on their first deer hunt, buying them hunting gear and a license in advance.
  • In some families, high school graduation is a big deal. The whole extended family comes for a steak barbecue and brings graduation gifts after the formal ceremony.

     

In each case, the traditions and rituals are meaningful and communicate a feeling of celebration. Let your imagination run wild and find ways to acknowledge and celebrate these transitions.

Parting Comment. As a dad reads the summary of the Teens Today report, he will be struck with how easy it seemed to be to just start recognizing and celebrating transitions. But it is likely the close, communicative relationship between teens and parents that really drove the celebration of these rites of passage. In other words, is the lack of attention to transitions a root problem, or is it a symptom of generally inattentive parenting? Recognizing these transitions is a natural outcome of a close, positive relationship between teenagers and parents. But the results of the survey are so significant that every father should work hard to communicate effectively and to recognize the celebrate these "crossroads" events in their teenagers' lives.