Rites of passage: From children to young adults - Hindustan Times

Rites of passage: From children to young adults

May 18, 2024 11:41 PM IST

In an age when the line between childhood and adulthood is blurrier than ever, these rites of passage will make children finally grow up

The board results are out. Children have been placed into slots depending more upon their ability to memorise than their understanding of the 14-year dialogue experienced in school, which was intended to identify their talent and potential.

Nagpur, May 13 (ANI): Students in jubilant mode after the declaration of CBSE results, in Nagpur Monday. (ANI Photo)(snehal sontakke) PREMIUM
Nagpur, May 13 (ANI): Students in jubilant mode after the declaration of CBSE results, in Nagpur Monday. (ANI Photo)(snehal sontakke)

The transition from being a high school student to being a young adult is a fluid stage. With many options available, their lives may undergo many changes — from identity to geographic location, from friend groups to world views, and even romantic partners. They may experience a level of independence that they have never had before.

Unlike the West, in India young adults are encouraged to live with their parents and often with extended family members. This prevents them from making that leap into independence within an expected time frame. This generation faces enormous pressures, devastating political and environmental issues, academic stress and a sense of loneliness and disengagement. Every child who passes out of school should thus be initiated into adulthood, not to fit into a prescribed societal box but to help her understand who she is.

We need to facilitate young people in deepening their knowledge of the self, developing real-world skills, experiencing the change that comes with accomplishing major goals and navigating the unknown to strengthen their identity. Unfortunately, today we do not have such rites of passage. As a result, young people are taking longer to find their footing as adults.

Without the availability of an external or internal support system, our young experience confusion and alienation as many come from nuclear families. Students today have become accustomed to being told what to do. American educator and author Julie Lythcott Haims writes, “The problem is that parents believe that childhood must have a checklist and the checklist consists of the fears, dreams, and aspirations of the parents themselves. The checklist was safe, structured and planned for what parents felt was necessary for the success of their child.”

We need to open up our children to themselves. Every year, students who pass out from schools seem more accomplished than those who came before them — higher scores, longer resumes, impressive and diverse areas of internships, international exchange programmes, and sometimes even a state or national award. But, strangely, they are completely unaware of even the fact that they have a self to find. Everything that they do is connected with the outside world. Their inner world has become very distant.

School was supposed to be the place where their passion and potential were identified, and the seeds of awareness and interdependence were sown. However, it is difficult to find even a clutch of 18-year-olds who have found what they would like to do. This is the time and opportunity to figure out who you really are and the purpose of your path. Culturally, the nature of parental authority is a byproduct of a value system that sometimes derails youth choice and advocacy in India.

To be sure, no child is meant to know what he or she will do for the rest of their lives the minute they step out of school. It is, therefore, important to take time and locate yourself in a space of your own making. Figure out what you are good at, what you love and what you value; the intersection in the Venn diagram of these questions is the key to a life of your choice.

The checklist that you should make for yourself is to be kind across people and processes; this may sound very trite, but kindness opens the gateway to collaboration and networking. It’s important to work hard because life never offers any free lunches, something that is never taught in schools. Kindness and hard work help overcome complexity, confusion and contradictions.

Become activists of thought. You have to summon the courage to shift your practices and beliefs to enable personal growth because you are moving from a world that has gone beyond being volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA ) to one that is brittle, anxious, non-linear and incomprehensible (BANI).

Schooling taught you the three — Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic, you now need to move towards the new three — Resilience, Reflection and Relationships. These will develop through mind training, which will promote the compassion circuits of the brain. You will face an increasingly febrile future. The answer is not to better what you have done before but to do something new.

The skills that you will need are dexterity, participation, trust, networking and openness. The challenge that you face is existential; if you have to flourish, you have to find your highest potential in helping to resolve issues that confront you. This goes beyond future readiness and literacy. It is a capacity to support transformation. Tomorrow will need you to be innovative, responsible and sensitive, to be creators of the products, services and models of the future. You will have to be alert to the claims that others make about you and open to the deepest emotion that human life confers.

Understand what you love to do, particularly in the offline world, to attain a sense of balance. Reflect if there is anything that you wish you knew how to do, a skill or a disposition that you would like to develop. Identify an issue or a cause that you care the most about. Spend time creating reflective and action models that will bring change.

In an age when the line between childhood and adulthood is blurrier than ever, these rites of passage will make children finally grow up, if one can paraphrase journalist and writer, Julie Beck.

Ameeta Mulla Wattal is chairperson and executive director (Education, Innovations and Training), DLF Foundation Schools and Scholarship Programmes. The views expressed are personal

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