Many cultures have a rite of passage for the "coming" of adulthood. Some are brutal by modern standards. The equivalent in Australian culture was the 21st Birthday. And originally the "key to the door" was given to a son or daughter at their 21st Birthday.
Of course this changed over time to be a symbolic "Key to the Door" of Adulthood.
Until the Vietnam War, like the United States, the drinking and voting age were both originally set at age 21 in Australia. "The concept that a person becomes a full adult at age 21 dates back centuries in English common law where 21 was the age at which a person could vote, drink, and become a knight. After several protests were staged, Congress decided to lower the voting age so that those eligible for the draft (at 18) could also vote in elections. This was due to the fact that it was felt that it was unfair for the government to draft someone who hasn't had any opportunities to vote on any of the laws or for the people who were sending them off to war" (Reference)
The drinking age in Australia was also lowered to 18 from 21 in the 1960s on the grounds that if 18-year-olds could be conscripted, they should have the right to vote and drink as well. (Reference)
How has this affected the Aussie Rite of Passage to Adulthood?
- The lowering of the drinking age has:
- blurred what was the 'clear boundary' of the 21st Birthday celebration and the entry into adulthood, and thus as being mature enough to drink responsibly
- left parents and other community leaders without clear guidelines around which to educate on a whole range of issues that affect teenagers. And in particular, the age around which to allow teenagers access to alcohol.
- The 18th Birthday Party has in an ad hoc way, become a defacto 21st, but without clear family and community involvement and support for this new "coming of age".
- Teenagers are increasingly wanting to celebrate their 18th, with a party without adults involvement.
Why is this a concern?
Alcohol and other drug experts know that alcohol causes many problems for teenagers in its own right (fights, car accidents etc), but also that using other drugs for the first time is often done under the influence of alcohol - likewise unwanted or unplanned sex.
Latest brain research results also show the importance of strategies aimed at delaying the commencement of experimentation and regular use of alcohol and other drugs as the human brain is still developing in late teenage years and into the early twenties.
Professor Hickie’s article titled Alcohol on the Teenage Brain3, draws attention to detrimental affects of alcohol on decision making with its associated poor assessment of risk taking behaviours and the increased potential for the development of long term alcohol related problems related to the age young people commence drinking alcohol.
Adult drinking and drug taking habits are usually well entrenched and stable. It is unlikely that adults who are non-smokers or drinkers will experiment and change their patterns of use, once past their teenage years.
Mass marketing strategies by manufacturers and distributors of alcohol and other substances have developed in sophistication and effectiveness in the last fifty years. Whilst the claims are that such marketing is not aimed at teenagers, it would be impossible for young people not to be influenced by the availability and accessibility of alcohol its associated marketing.
- Teenagers are also facing a world of increasing instability as regards the environment, economy, employment opportunities, access to housing, social cohesiveness. Alcohol and other drugs can be effective short term ways of coping with stress, but have huge immediate and long term consequences.
- In an increasingly secular culture with its explosion of information technologies, many young people are confronted with a increasing choices in life. Schools provide some guidance, but guidance related to being a member of a democratic society are best coming from and being reinforced by our families and our broader communities.
What can parents, grandparents and other community leaders do about this?
- strategies aimed increasingly intergenerational and peer support and strengthening family, friendship and community bonds are a high priority.
- inspiring young people to live full and productive lives as contributing citizens in their communities is equally important.
- as adults we need to set better examples of how to celebrate than just having a 'booze up/ food fest"
How can Civil Celebrations Network Inc and its celebrants assist?
- adding a family based ceremony to the 18th Birthday celebrations - even if the birthday youth is having a separate party with friends - by engaging one of our celebrants, is a great way to set an example where the focus is on the meaning of the event
ie having a party with a purpose, because ceremony
- is quality time together
- includes words of appreciation (affirmation) and words of inspiration to encourage us all, and especially our young people, to live our lives to the fullest and to our best potential for our lives and others
- builds stronger bonds between people, and
- creates meaningful memories that can add to our inner strength and character
- Civil Celebrations Network encourages you to consider having a family based 18th Birthday Ceremony and lunch with your 18 year old to focus on their Coming of Adulthood - their rights and responsibilities - as a person now entering the broader community with family support.
- Civil Celebrations Network Inc is also promoting a community based "Coming of Citizenship Age" ceremony on or near our National Citizenship Day - 17th September each year - for young people turning 18 years of age. You can support this project by becoming a CCN Inc affiliate member.
Contact us if you'd like to know more.