Saturday, October 21, 2006

Raising Boys ... and Girls

After my last post I realized that some readers might think that I am really old-fashioned. What do you expect but for 13-year-old girls to be rowdy?

I don't know about that. I wrote this next section in my son's school newsletter recently:

As I mentioned books for mothers last week, I should also mention a very good book for both mothers and fathers: Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph.

Biddulph divides boyhood into three parts. Age zero to six: the boy ‘belongs’ to the mother; age six to thirteen: their father becomes the ‘hero’; from thirteen onwards, with the second surge in testosterone, boys wish to ‘declare their independence’ and look for influences outside the home.

This division makes a lot of sense to me as a social anthropologist. We know in many ‘pre-modern’ societies, boys reaching puberty are taken away to undergo special tutelage by their fathers (and often mothers’ brothers). They go through a stage of ‘liminality’, of feeling ‘between and betwixt’. Then, when their training for manhood is complete, they undergo an ‘initiation’ to complete this ‘rite of passage’, after which they are treated and respected as men.

My earliest research was on adolescent girls. I concluded that these girls found it hard to be ‘adolescent’ because they are sometimes deemed adults (‘you are responsible for this’) and sometimes considered children (‘… because I’m your parent!’). This emotional turmoil has given rise to much literature about the ‘sturm und drang’ (translated loosely as ‘storm and stress’, for alliterative effect, I understand) in adolescence. There is no equivalent to the ‘rite of passage’ in most modern/western societies. Biddulph suggests an interesting modern version.

From age six to thirteen, the father (I hasten to add, in many matrilocal societies, the mother’s brother plays this role) is the hero. A chapter is devoted to what fathers can do with their sons. As for mothers … it appears that we must learn to withdraw … which is the perfect excuse for me to put my feet up with a nice cup of tea as I send my husband and son out for some ‘bonding’!

So in my mind, my son's 13th birthday celebration will also be a rite of passage. We will take him to a nice restaurant. He would dress up smartly with shiny shoes and all that.

We will go to a fine restaurant offering proper food, not just the 'kids' menu', but 'grown-up food'. He would choose from the elaborate menu with names of dishes probably in French or Italian, but his Latin would help him understand most of what is printed. No problem.

Then Husband and I would congratulate him for reaching young adulthood and talk about his dreams and visions and what he would like to achieve for himself. What contingency plans would he have if his first options do not work out?

And don't forget that Mum and Dad will always be there. We will be his friends, forever.

Importantly, by this time he would have had frank and open discussions with Mum and Dad, either alone or together, concerning the morality surrounding sex, marriage and accompanying matters.

If son chooses to have a noisy party where they eat finger foods, he would have to pay for it himself.

Likewise I think it is completely wrong that 13-year-old girls are allowed to party like they are merely more physically mature versions of themselves from five years before. With age comes responsibility, and responsibility also means being mindful of other people in their presence.

Back to Organic-Ally.

'Rite of passage' thinking must be catching. According to the Times Cameron proposes a 'rite of passage' to adulthood at 18. But I think 18 is too late.

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