Age related rites of passage, do they exist any more?

(This post originally appeared in a slightly different versionon as Age-Related Rites of Passage, Do They Exits Any More?)

It’s funny; when you are older the fact that someone was two grades ahead of you in high school or is 10 years older, scarcely matters.  In the teenage and even the college years, the difference of a few grade levels could make you grumble with anger when, say, you had to let your younger sister hang out with you and your friends.  The same separation of a few years could make you froth with anticipation when, say, an upperclassman noticed you.

I remember eagerly counting down months and years when I was younger to get to those signature ages when I could do whatever it was I’d been restricted from doing.  Some seem so innocuous now but some were, and still are enforced.  Here’s my list:

Rites of Passage that don’t exist any more:

Wearing my first sheer stockings and pumps (dress-up shoes with tiny heels).  My mother said I had to wait until I was 13, an official teenager. before I could wear stockings and pumps and then I could only wear them on Sundays to church or for special occasions. (I can still remember my anger when, only a few months later, my sister who was younger by 22 months was allowed to wear stockings and pumps.  Thus began a pattern where I, older sister, would follow the rules only to have them passed over by younger sis.)

Singing in the Intermediate Choir.  The Intermediate Choir was the choir between the Children’s Choir and the Adult Choir, in other words – teenagers.  Being with the teenagers was the place to be!  Despite becoming a teenager in June, I had to petition to get permission to officially cross over.

Changing my hair from pig- and pony-tails to a flip like the one worn by Marlo Thomas on her sitcom, That Girl.  I rolled my hair faithfully every night and slept with my head basically hanging off the side of the bed, so my flip would last all day.

Wearing Makeup – I don’t think I was ever officially allowed to wear make-up.  (I snuck and wore it to school beginning in high school making sure to wash it off before I got home.  Don’t tell my mother, please.) 

Wearing Black – I wasn’t allowed to wear a Black dress until I was out of high school.  (Now Black clothes are sold for all age levels, including infants.  I’ve bought some for my granddaughter.)

Getting a Social Security # – I remember my Mom sitting my sister and me down to fill out our applications when we were teenagers.  Now, parents get SS#s for children soon after birth, otherwise they don’t exist in the eyes of the IRS.  (No one wants to jeopardize a tax-deduction these days!)

Getting my ears pierced – My Mom pierced me and my sister’s ears at home using a sterilized needle and thread, later replaced by a short straw burned at both ends for a period of days until we got gold hoops.  This was done according to tradition and the sign of the moon when we were starting elementary school.  Now many children’s ears are pierced within the first year of life and that includes some boys as well as girls.

Being allowed to have boy company – Other than close cousins, my sister and I were not allowed any boy company until my father deemed us ready.  For me, this happened when I was age 15.  It was a big deal.  The boy’s name has passed from memory but he went to Soldan High and he had to endure my father’s questions.  For most of the visit ,my father sat in the living room with us, leaving us alone for maybe ½ hour.

Barbara Curtis shared the following “Dads: Rules for Dating My Daughter” on  her Mommy Life blog. The first part has a form that a prospective date must fill out,  “For Permission to Date My Daughter.”    It includes such essay questions as: “In 50 words or less, what does ‘LATE’ mean to you?”  The questions are followed by Daddy’s Rules for Dating:

Rule One:
If you pull into my driveway and honk you’d better be delivering a package, because you’re sure not picking anything up.

Boys also had certain rite.  For the boys “back in the day” one of the rites of passage would have included getting the first haircut (usually at 1 year of age) and shaving for the first time.

Rites of Passage that still exist:

Getting working papers – I had to be 16 to get my working papers.  It was a serious affair, going to the county office and filling out an actual form bringing my recently acquired social security card and carefully tended birth certificate, items that my mother stored like treasures in a special box. Now the official age for working is 14 but I’m not sure if there are official forms to fill out.

Getting a Learner’s Permit and taking Driving Lessons – I know the strictures around this still exist although, across the country especially in urban areas, many schools have eliminated school-provided Driver’s Ed lessons and parents have to pay for private driving lessons or, gulp, teach the kids themselves.

(If you have a young driver  in your orb, check out Perfect Holiday Gifts for Teen Drivers by Jody DeVere
In addition to gadgets, like a ladybug air freshner or decals to decorate a car, and additional driving lessons, this post suggests  the 56-page “Coach a Rookie”  guide, packed with vital information and tips to help you coach your new driver.

Voting – The official voting age was changed from 21 to 18 while I was in high school.  This happened because of social activism across the country.  If our boys could be and were drafted into military service at the age of 18, it was unfair that they weren’t allow to vote for or against the politicians and policies that created war.  I am proud to say that I cast my first vote when I was 18 and that both of my children are voters.

Fashion as Rite of Passion
In today’s world, I’ve noticed more and more young girls having experiences that were restricted to teens and adults in my day.  The first example that pops to mind is wearing  nail polish and getting a pedicure!  In fact, tmany salons now have mani-pedi specials for young girls.  I didn’t get my first pedicure until age  40.  It was in a spa and it cost a ton. Then, all of a sudden, manicure and pedicure places sprung up all over the country, making what was once a luxury so affordable that they’ve become routine for many women and youngsters.

Wearing make-up and the notion of age-appropriate clothing have clear generational differences.   A guest post on the blog, Wearing Mascara, asks When Does My Daughter Start to Wear Makeup?  She writes:

“Stage makeup during a performance…okay. Ten year olds looking like the just visited the Mac counter for a make over…not okay.
I think that until a little girl becomes a freshman in high school they shouldn’t be sporting eye liner, mascara, blush, foundation, etc. All children are beautiful and I just don’t understand why a parent would let their child hide the cuteness that is 8 years old.”

As always, the comments section is really illuminating offering a variety of takes on this situation.
And finally, I think of the first kiss and developing romantic feelings.  Like all girls, I had my crushes growing up.  I actually remember my first kiss and the first boy I wanted to kiss (Alfred in elementary school but it never happened.  My first kiss happened in 8th grade – again, please don’t tell my Mom. She’d probably give me a retroactive whuppin’.  A recent article links the Twilight phenomenom to the development of romantic feelings in girls.

‘Twilight’ hunks part of girls’ rite of passage
Associated Press • November 18, 2009
“These girls aren’t just experiencing a movie-star crush, they’re participating in a uniquely female rite of passage: The birth of romantic fantasy. And today’s technology — online fan forums, Twitter, an endless Web stream of photos and videos — lets them get closer than ever.
Before real boyfriends and first kisses, girls’ imaginary relationships with their heartthrobs provide a precursor to adult romance — a love before they know what love might be.“

(I’ve never been into vampires so the Twilight attraction just doesn’t resonate for me.  Perhaps if I was a young adolescent in these-here times it would.)

Both formal rites of passage and informal ones, signify growing from one stage to another, maturity, trust and development.  Something is lost when there are no clear markers. 

What do you think?

What Age-related rites of passage did I miss? 
What Age-related rites of passage did you experience? 
Please share.







About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

Leave a Reply