PARENTS

Turning 13: Rites Of Passage For Teenagers

01/02/2010 14:50 | Updated 22 May 2015

My oldest son turns 13 in a couple months. I've been trying to think of something special to do, but all the normal options seem so unfitting of such an important birthday.

For years, even before I had a child, I've thought that our culture is missing a rite of passage into adulthood. I've wondered whether the fact that we aren't given a distinct end to childhood and a welcome into adulthood is the cause of a lot of teenage angst.

The changes that we go through both physically and mentally are great - too great to deal with on our own.

Girls are told that their periods are shameful and should be hidden from the world at large at all cost. Their friends are all filled with the same shame and often the women in their lives are, too.

I always said if I had a girl, I'd have a huge party inviting all of the adult women in her life to celebrate her first period. We could all tell her our own stories of shame, of fear, of embarrassment... and all laugh together about it. Laugh and laugh and laugh. I always thought something like that would not only be good for my daughter, but also for all of the women in attendance. For my daughter, I'd hope she'd feel part of the adult sisterhood and be happy to leave her childhood behind. For the adults, I thought it could be a kind of catharsis, allowing us adults to in a slight way restart our relationship with our own bodies and hopefully not feel that shame.

I don't have a daughter, I have a son.I share a house with 5 males - if you count our two male cats- and I can wholeheartedly assure you that they are very, very different. The one thing I know is that men find it difficult to talk about their emotions in the way women do.

The problem, I think, with teenage boys is that, though many of them will feel they can talk to their mothers about anything, they would prefer to be closer to a man. But two men talking about their emotions together? Unless one or both of them is one of those New Age guys who goes to spend weekends living in a teepee at a Man Camp, then it hardly ever happens.

I've already told my son that I can't help him with things like 'the best way to shave' or 'why do my balls hurt' - he's got to talk to men about things like that. He won't, however, talk to his dad about any of that. Too embarrassing.

I've decided for my son's 13th birthday that I'm going to arrange a meal out for him and several of the important men in his life - but I won't be there nor any kids his age and definitely not his dad. He can have a separate birthday celebration with me and his dad at a separate time... this will, hopefully, be "man stuff".

I am going to invite several friends of mine - some of whom he's known his whole life, some who he doesn't know very well, but whom he thinks are 'cool'.

They will all be primed to talk about things they feel are important for my son to learn about as he enters his teens... AND they will be strictly forbidden from talking to anyone else, including me, about any of it afterwards.

Maybe they will talk to him about simple things like how to deal with bullies, slightly more practical things like how to unhook his girlfriend's bra or even embarrassing things like what to do if you get an erection in swimming class. And I hope they laugh and laugh and laugh.

My hope is that my son comes home with a different, knowing look in his eye and feels that he is now, finally, a man.

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