Like lots of women, 30-something Teresa Barile still remembers getting her ears pierced. “The best part was that I got my grandmother’s gold earrings from Italy. I was only 12 but I felt so grown-up and proud to be receiving a part of our family history.”
In every child’s life there are moments like these. For my 7-year-old son, Jason, the big day came last summer when he learned how to build and light a campfire. As his parents, we made sure that he didn’t just learn about matches and fire safety; he also learned about responsibility. The next time we go camping, he’ll be in charge of making the fire, with his dad’s help, of course.
Family educators and youth experts know that rites of passage like Teresa’s and Jason’s are essential for healthy youth development. “Kids need to feel that they are a part of something larger than themselves,” says Ruth Ettenberg Freeman, licensed clinical social worker and founder of Positive Parenting. “Parents can help by identifying every day rites of passage and creating family rituals to celebrate them. This helps tremendously with kids’ self-worth, with peer pressure, and with keeping them from engaging in risky behaviors.”
The trouble is many families today are caught up in what amounts to a game of “rites of passage Monopoly” where all a kid needs to do is “Pass Go,” hit a milestone birthday, and collect a privilege. But instead of basing privileges on age, Freeman recommends that parents communicate their expectations and set up clear behavioral benchmarks for everyone in the family. “Parents should set up a system of things that kids need to achieve that will tell everyone — the parents and the kids — that they’re ready for the privilege,” says Freeman.
Want to create more meaningful family rituals and help your children develop personal responsibility along the way? Here are 7 ideas to get you started:
Curriculum designer and cultural anthropologist Justine Ickes blogs at www.cultureeveryday.com and has written for Language Magazine, Litchfield Magazine, New Jersey Monthly and Scholastic’s Parent & Child, among others. She develops training programs for government agencies, international non-profits and institutes of higher learning around the world.
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