In our culture, a ceremony or ritual to honour a young person entering into their teen years is becoming more popular. This rite of passage, of becoming a teenager, is one of the major transitions in our lives.
Some pre-teen children are bursting for the next stage, to grow up and explore what the world has to offer. For others, it is a much more gentle passage of growth.
‘There is so much happening in the life of a teenager. Their hormones and bodies are changing rapidly, priorities are shifting, relationships are developing; and they have a growing awareness of their sense of self and others. Teenagers are exploring their boundaries and seeking to discover who they are and what their purpose is in life. Phew! What a time. What a challenge! And yet with support and people who care around them it can be a wonderful time of growing, learning and transformation.’
The teen years are filled with a myriad emotions – for myself it was a time of innocence blended with a growing sense of insecurity and confusion as the world opened up and started to take on a different perspective. My parents were busy with their own lives and I had so many questions. I felt there was no-one to turn to and well, ‘mum and dad, what did they know anyway!’
Frequently, the teen years are a time when young people are creating separation (often unconsciously) from their parents which can make for some pretty trying times for families. An author, (maybe, Bryce Courtenay) wrote a wonderful essay about his young son who changed almost overnight into a ‘grunting teenager’ who uttered mono-syllabic replies to any question they asked him; and then, after an indeterminate period of time, is transformed once again into their mature son as if nothing had happened.
When I read this humorous and insightful chapter, my son was in his ‘angel’ phase and I could not imagine him doing that. Ha! When the hormones kicked in and he started grunting I would often take respite in that reading, reminding myself I was not the first parent, nor the last, to go through this important phase, that of growing up, albeit with some difficulty, and I tried to remember not to take it too personally.
I think it is vital to recollect these growing pains and the process of separation from parents, in terms of creating a ceremony for a young teenager. It is important for teenagers to know that what they are going through is a big shift at many levels, and that someone cares about what they are doing, that someone is interested in what they think and believe, and that there is someone to turn to if there are questions to be asked. Our positive interaction with them can encourage a sense of connection, belonging, curiosity, direction forward and reassurance that will assist a child to value him or herself.
A ceremony presents an occasion to honour the changing role of the parents and to call in and establish the role of mentors or support people in the life of a young person.
For some young people the ceremony may be held on their thirteenth birthday, the first teen year, however for others it may be earlier or later (and taking the emphasis off ‘becoming a teenager’). Honouring this transition before any major struggles unfold is important or the teenager may not want to participate in the ceremony at all.
Each and every family is different and as a celebrant, listening first to the young person and the family as to what they want and need for a celebration may offer insights that can guide the direction and focus of the ceremony. However, at times, the family may also be looking for ideas and suggestions.
The ceremony itself could affirm the young person’s strengths, their opportunities and possibly, with sensitivity acknowledge where growth is possible.
There are young people who would find a public acknowledgement too difficult if they are not used to praise or receiving feedback so it is vital to ensure this expression is not taking them beyond their comfort zone or it will backfire. Some young people have already developed strong inner critics so consider this when creating and writing the ceremony especially if there are lots of people who will be present to witness the occasion.
If this is the case, it might be more appropriate that guests write their praise of the young person on special cards and these are given to the teenager as part of, or after the ceremony, with a more generalized account of the young person’s qualities spoken publicly.
For each of our three children I created a treasured keepsake, ‘The Book of Gold’. The hand-made book was a collection of letters of appreciation, inspiring quotes, stories, drawings and photographs contributed by family and friends. My now adult children have re-read through these special books often. This can be prepared before the ceremony.
An important aspect of the ceremony is to affirm attitudes and values that will help a young person on their journey into their teen years. Holding an ‘open circle’ in the ceremony and inviting guests to respond to the following prompt or something similar can bring out some beautiful gems.
‘Throughout life we express attitudes and values such as honesty, curiosity, a willingness to help others, just to name a few, that help us to live life well. In light of (the child’s name) becoming a teenager and exploring and opening to ways of being in this world, I would like to invite you to choose one attitude or value that you could share not only with (the child’s name) but with the community gathered here.’
I will often prime a few guests beforehand so that there are some people willing to start the ball rolling and then others are more relaxed about speaking. It is wise to ask that people only share one or two lines so everyone can have a chance to speak. The uplifting insights that have come out of this sharing are precious.
Some people value the use of sub-ceremonies within the main ceremony. Here are just a few ideas:
(To the guests participating in the candle ceremony) As each one of you lights the candle, know that through the expression of love and caring that you give Isabelle you will light up her life and call her spirit to shine. (Selected family or friends then light a candle while reading a blessing)
Belinda: (reads the blessing as David lights the candle): Isabelle, remember to take time out each day for prayer and contemplation. Take time to be with friends and loved ones where you can just be and enjoy each other’s company. Isabelle, let your light shine brightly on your path through life.
‘It was a warm day when the gods placed the child in her arms
She trembled with emotion as she saw how fragile he appeared
This was a very special gift the gods had entrusted to her…’
The reading goes on to explain the precious role of a parent and the importance of the time when the parents must let the child go for them to be their own person. It is a powerful and emotional reading which I have used as a celebrant at coming of age ceremonies with great responses from parents, young people and guests.
Ensuring the ceremony is both rich with meaning and lots of fun is important, as is leaving the young person with mementoes like the ‘Book of Gold’ to reflect upon. Celebrant Leilani (Lani) Braasch, who also works with young people at risk wrote to me about the role of providing support and information for young people. The following idea could also be included as part of the ceremony:
Lani wrote, ‘One thing I encourage young people to have is a list of people (it may be just one person) and their phone number in their wallet/purse of those people who care about them. Often when someone is overwhelmed and they feel alone, this card can remind them of someone who cares or who they can call in a time of need.’
This is different to just placing the support persons contact details in the teenagers mobile phone as often young people (even those who are seemingly not at risk) can have lots of contacts and still feel they have no-one they can call. Make a special card… a VIP card. Add a few extra touches, laminate the card and let them know that if they need someone to talk to, want to meet for an afternoon outing or just have a question to ask then here are the people they can call at anytime.
As with all ceremonies that we, as celebrants create, discussing with the family their ideas and thoughts about what they envisage for the celebration can guide the way for the creation of a personal and unique ceremony. Quite often the ideas or stories that come from chatting with the parents or the young person can light up the way for the best ceremony possible. Listen well, think creatively and check your ideas for appropriateness with the family.
Having a celebrant conduct the ceremony allows the young person and the family to relax, enjoy and to soak up the gifts that the gathering brings without worrying about time or the outline to be followed. The young person may also, respect the role of the celebrant more than having mum or dad take the lead. As the celebrant it is our role to keep the ceremony focused, flowing and yet with enough space to allow for spontaneity and natural wisdom to emerge. This ceremony, like the blessingway ceremony discussed in the last newsletter, is very different to conducting a structured wedding ceremony and requires sensitivity to allow a more fluid approach within the prepared framework.
Most of all have a fun celebration that will be remembered for its celebration of youthfulness!
Your insights and contributions are always welcome. If you have any feedback, stories or ideas on teenage ceremonies I would love to hear from you.