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Young people need a rite of passage

As you can see by the photo this young man has suffered burns. His name is Kyland Clark and he’s 15 years old. What you can’t tell from the photo is that it was his friend who caused the burns. It was done as part of the newest “challenge”.

For those of you who aren’t aware a “challenge” on the Internet is nothing new. Some of them are harmless, like the ice bucket challenge which is simply to dump ice-cold water on your head. As time has gone by the challenges have gotten more dangerous. There was the cinnamon challenge, which sounds harmless, but caused some to asphyxiate when they inhaled the powdered cinnamon. Just prior to this new challenge was the Tide Pod challenge in which the idea was to consume a Tide Pod and film it. There have been hot chili challenges, planking, and more.

This young man was an unwilling participant in the scalding water challenge. The idea is to see how hot you can take it. In most cases the challenge is intentional but it seems in this case a friend of his woke him up by pouring hot water on him. Clearly from this photo the young man’s friend didn’t think it through all the way.

Even though in this case the youth was an unwilling participant it still made me ponder these challenges and why today’s kids seem bent on doing them. Turns out – it’s not just today’s kids  but kids from the past as well.

It’s a common reaction to look at young people intentionally in this situation and call them stupid but what they really are – is lost.

We have produced generations of young people who don’t have challenge in their life. They lack direction and purpose and for young men especially they lack a clear passage into manhood.

The rite of passage is an ancient ritual that marks the point at which a child is considered an adult by the tribe. Such rites of passage have always included something difficult. By doing that something difficult the youth demonstrates to the tribe he is capable of acting like an adult. Psychologically speaking these rites are more for the youth though than the tribe.

Our modern society lacks rites of passage.

There are some segments that still maintain them and we find that children in them do well. In some areas hunting – a very ancient rite of passage – is still used. In some religions there is a ceremony such as a bar mitzvah. The Amish have Rumspringa, the Mormons have going on a mission. But what about everyone else?

Secular society either lacks a rite of passage or has settled on something like getting your driver’s license, getting drunk, or merely turning 18 as the rite of passage to adulthood. That isn’t enough and kids know it.

I suspect these challenges stem from the fact that kids crave a challenge and they simply aren’t finding anything challenging in their lives. Without real challenge they are making up their own. While this young man is burned, in pain, and on one level likely feeling kind of angry, he also likely went up a notch in esteem among his friends as the one who took it.

I often reflect on children of the past and marvel at all the things they were able to accomplish.

If we are honest about it there is no reason at all that a 16 year old can’t be an adult. In a different world they would have the skill and physical prowess to do whatever task was required of them. They can hunt, farm, fight, reproduce. Biology has give them what they need to survive and they have all this energy and motivation to do – something. What do they have though, in our modern world to do? Not everyone is able to play sports and not everyone belongs to a religion with a strong sub-culture of its own. They have no outlet for all that energy so they find one.

I do think we’ve robbed our modern children of their right to a rite of passage. Joseph Campbell explained, “It is only those who know neither an inner call nor an outer doctrine whose plight truly is desperate; that is to say, most of us today…”

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