Rites of Passage


Teen Rites of Passage Don't Lead to Adulthood

Education: The inculcation of the incomprehensible into the indifferent by the incompetent.

- John Maynard Keynes

by Patricia Pearson

It is prom time, when all of America's sweethearts and young gentlemen dress up in their finest costumes for the Oscars of teenage life.  The prom is the signal event that confirms a teenager's sense of self-worth, popularity and power.  As such, the prom has become the scene of such modern initiations into adulthood as drinking, using drugs, getting into brawls, recklessly piloting cars and having totally ill-advised sex.

Alas, these are not the measures of self-worth that true adults would like the young adults in their lives to aspire to.  But as a slate of disturbing new books makes plain, teenagers today are going through rites of passage entirely of their own devising, as they increasingly cut themselves off from the actual adult world.  Traditional rites of passage - even the debutante ball - are multigenerational and community-oriented.  A young adult is welcomed to a new level of responsibility and respect, not just to a higher level of freedom.  According to Ronald Grimes, a professor of religion in Waterloo, Canada, and author of Deeply Into the Bone: Reinventing Rites of Passage, the traditional rituals have fallen away, but kids' desire to mark their transition out of innocence has not.

In the void, teenagers orchestrate their own rites of passage, celebrating their power to have sex, to join a gang or a fraternity or to experiment with drugs, all without guidance from older generations - or a clue, for that matter, about what lies around the corner in true adulthood.  The most telling example of this immature maturity was the suburban New Jersey teenager who gave birth in the bathroom at her June 1997 prom, wrapped the healthy baby boy in plastic bags, dumped him in the trash to die and then returned to the dance floor.  She was old enough, in her own view, for unprotected sex, but obviously too young to take even a modicum of responsibility for the consequences.

In The Second Family: How Adolescent Power is Challenging the American Family, Ron Taffel argues that kids today are growing up faster than any generation in recent memory, yet remaining totally cocooned in their peer group.  "Today, younger-than-ever kids seem to ask their parents and other adults in their life to let them be," Taffel notes.  "Let loose in their own world, young people have no reason to stage an uprising or to rebel against family values.  They are, in many ways, already gone, immersed in what I call the second family - the aggregate force of the pop culture and the peer group."

This is not good.  The pop culture may be inventive, but it is scarily vacuous.  The peer group may be supportive, but it has very little wisdom.  I know: I was a teenager not so long ago, and whatever it was I thought I knew turned out to be so much melodramatic, self-aggrandizing nonsense.  All parents are familiar with the futility of persuading a teenager that they do not, in fact, know what they are talking about.  But we are further up against an entertainment industry obsessed with marketing exclusively to youth, thereby reinforcing the message - through movies and music - that adults are irrelevant.

Britney rules, man!

The problem is that Britney has nothing to teach.  Not.  A.  Thing.  But teenagers aren't going to learn that hard truth until later.

According to Cambridge sociologist Terri Apter in The Myth of Maturity: What Teenagers Need from Parents to Become Adults, it is when kids hit their 20s that the bottom will fall out of their illusion of power.  They will - they are - crossing "the threshold" into adulthood and sliding around like hogs on ice.  They are overwhelmed with choices and challenges that their peer culture didn't - couldn't - prepare them for.

If sex doesn't necessarily lead to love, which in turn doesn't necessarily lead to marriage or even commitment, how do you build your life?  If education doesn't guarantee a job, if work doesn't offer stability, if housing is unaffordable, if friends prove transient - what then?  "Young people are threatened with a maze of diverging paths," Apter notes.  "As the space between adolescence and adulthood widens, young people are confused about what counts as maturity."  Cool shoes and pierced tongues are no anchor.

As a result, according to Apter's research, "rates of suicide, eating disorders, illicit drug use and alcoholism have increased dramatically for each and every cohort of 18- to 24-year-olds" since World War II.  The twentysomethings are getting disoriented, frightened and depressed.  In growing numbers, they are returning home to mom and dad, to their shelter and to their financial security.

So much for not needing adults.  Taken together, the insights of these and other experts should be a wake-up call, because the alarm has been sounding for years.  We cannot let our teens mature in a vacuum.  We have come to worship freedom, self-fulfillment and materialism over all other civic values, and it shows in the generation attending this year's prom.  It surely, distressingly shows.

Patricia Pearson, a freelance writer and author in Toronto, is a member of USA Today's board of contributors.

Source: USA Today Tuesday 22 May 2001

Class clowns,,,

Italy's Mamma's Boys Given Cash to Fly Nest

The average age for flying the nest in Italy is 36

by Malcolm Moore

The hordes of Italians devoted to their mammas are to be offered money to leave home, the government has stated.  Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, the finance minister, said it was vital to get reluctant Italians to fly the nest and become more independent.  Currently, 8 out of 10 Italians aged under 30 still live at home, and the average age for moving out is 36.  "Let's get these big babies out of the house," said Mr Padoa-Schioppa, who left home himself at the age of 19 to work in Germany.  "If young people stay with their parents, they do not get married or have any independence," he added.

Italian men make up the bulk of those staying at home, at around 67%, and a mocking phrase has even been coined to describe them: "Mammoni" or "Big Mummy's boys".  Next year's budget will offer almost £700 in tax relief to Italians under 30 earning less than £10,500 a year, and half that to those earning more.  In addition, the government will pay 19% towards the cost of renting accommodation for university students if they study at least 65 miles away from their home.

Alessandro Rosino, an economist at Milan's Bocconi University, said young Italians are forced to live at home by the country's rising cost of living and lack of work.  "The average wage for Italians aged between 25 to 30 is only half of what their peers in England earn," he said.  "And almost 40% who do manage to leave home have to return."  Other commentators said the phenomenon is costing Italy in terms of lost growth and innovation.  Renato Brunetta, a Right-wing politician, said there is "little movement either geographically, socially or professionally and little propensity to risk".

But Flavio Insinna, a television quiz show host who is Italy's version of Chris Tarrant, said he was still living with his mother and father at the age of 42, despite having a girlfriend.  "I have never felt the need to move.  The reason is not because of money, it is because I love them," he told La Stampa newspaper.

Many other Italians happily send their laundry home to their mothers, and 43%, when they do finally move out, rent or buy homes less than a mile from their parents.  However, recent research by two Italian academics has shown that the blame may lie with "clingy parents" rather than lazy children.  Marco Manacorda and Enrico Moretti said the vast majority of Italian parents enjoyed the company of their adult children, and used their extra income to "bribe" them into staying at home.

Source: telegraph.co.uk 5 October 2007

Opportunities in Abstinence Training

by Barbara Ehrenreich

If things are not working out as planned, you might want to consider a career in the expanding field of abstinence education.  The need is staggering: 4 out of 5 random people I surveyed on the street thought abstinence training is something you do with your mid-section in the gym.  Plus, unlike any of the rest of the coaching industry - career coaching, life coaching, sales training, et cetera - this form of training is generously subsidised by the federal government, and has been since President Clinton signed the welfare reform bill of 1996, which provided abstinence training for impoverished women (though not, alas, for him.)

It's not rocket science, either.  In fact, there've been men in my life who were naturals at abstinence training without the slightest formal preparation: One renounced dental hygiene; another developed a passion for Frank Sinatra - leading me in each case to embrace abstinence without any regret. In yet another case, marriage alone was enough to induce that sanctified state.  Most people, though, require a bit of training to get into the abstinence training business, so I went to the website of WAIT Training to look at the sample curriculum for an abstinence course.  The suggested syllabus contained a lot about love, marriage and STD's - none of it terribly technical - until I got to the part about how to explain the difference between the sexes, where the following demonstration was suggested:

Bring to class frozen waffles and a bowl of spaghetti noodles without sauce.  Using these as visual aides, explain how research has found that men's brains are more like the waffle, in that their design allows them to more easily compartmentalize information.  Women's minds, on the other hand are more interrelated due to increased brain connectors.

Maybe my spaghetti brain wasn't up to this challenge, but it did seem to imply that sex would involve a mixing of waffles and pasta, probably with syrup and tomato sauce thrown in for juiciness.  Well, maybe that's meant to be a surefire recipe for abstinence.  My next step was to call Joneen Mackenzie, executive director of WAIT (which is an acronym for Why Am I Tempted?) to further pin down the requirements for becoming an abstinence trainer.  Her program admits only college-educated people, but they can be of any age or sex.  "Do they have to be abstinent themselves?" I asked.  Not at all, she assured me, proudly confessing to being "like an animal" with her husband.  How about gays?  Well, yes, they could teach abstinence to gay teenagers.  So - no barriers at all, and you can become a Certified Abstinence Trainer after only 2 days of training.  There is, however, one shadow hanging over the abstinence training industry.  A study commissioned by Congress revealed in April that abstinence training doesn't work: Students exposed to such training turn out to be no less likely to have sex than those who are not, leading some to question the over $100 million the federal government spends on it annually.

Mackenzie dismissed the study out of hand, saying it had been undertaken before serious abstinence training really got off the ground.  But there's a deeper problem with abstinence training as currently conducted: It's being wasted on kids.  What better way to make sex a big deal than to tell a kid they can't have any for years, and then only after spending $25,000 on champagne and bridesmaid dresses?  Furthermore, kids have become more sophisticated thanks to programs like DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), the website of which currently proclaims that "Cannabis can double chances of psychotic illness" and "Just one cigarette can lead to addiction."  If you've known honour students who smoke marijuana, why should you believe that teen sex leads inevitably to heartbreak and oozing genital sores?

Here's my advice for the abstinence training industry and any novice abstinence trainers: First, leave the teenagers alone and focus on the vast neglected demographic of middle-aged and elderly people, including the married.  Many of them have thought they just weren't getting any, so imagine how happy they will be to see their lifestyle affirmed as a noble, pro-active, choice!  Think of the market for silver chastity rings in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities!

Secondly, and I realise that this may be more controversial: The abstinent training profession should be restricted to abstinent people.  Would you undergo computer training with someone who hasn't touched a computer since 1987?  Would you hire a flabby, out-of-shape, personal fitness trainer?  No - nor do I think you should study abstinence with someone who behaves "like an animal" in bed.

Abstinence may be easier to achieve than you realise.  Contrary to the assumptions of the framers of welfare reform, poverty - or at least sudden downward mobility - can lead to the rapid exit of significant others.  You should welcome their departure and, if you are heterosexual, take it as an opportunity to withdraw into your own gender-appropriate Tupperware compartment - spaghetti or waffle.

Source: thenation.com posted online on 1 August 2007

What Is the True Meaning of Hip-Hop Music?

by Paul Jones

The generational gap between hip-hop music today and its origins makes this a difficult question to answer.  If you ask 100 people to define the word hip-hop, it is very possible that you would hear 100 different definitions.

Hip-hop is synonymous with self-expression.  This powerful voice is constantly creating a message for the world to listen to, telling anyone who will lend an ear: "I am an individual with a purpose, and I will be heard."  The platform for hip-hop music has become so broad that most individuals have their own personal feelings for the music and everything that hip-hop is about.  Self-expression has become an art form that has helped hip-hop music transcend into a culture of its own.

The beauty of hip-hop culture is that it has the ability to unite all kinds of individuals from various walks of life.  It may be the individual that defines hip-hop, but it is hip-hop that traditionally defines the individual.  With every thought that is written, and for every word that is spoken, hip-hop music will continue to give a face to the unknown, and a voice to the unheard.  The voices of the unknown were once heard underneath the streetlights and in the basements in the ghettos of New York City.  Putting your thoughts together into rhymes was called "emceeing."  When the RZA, a member of the Wu Tang Clan, said "you ain't no emcee," he is differentiating between "real hip-hop" and the more popular version, rap music.

Hip-hop artist KRS-ONE said, "Hip-hop is rap music in its purest form."  The difference between real hip-hop and rap music is not always noticeable to those who have a preference for a certain style or those individuals who come from a different background.  It can be confusing and controversial when trying to separate what is real hip-hop and what is rap music.

The late Notorious B.I.G. once said in his song Ready to Die, "Either you're slinging crack rock or you have a wicked jump shot."  He was referring to the fact that, for many people, there are limited ways of escaping the ghettos of America.  This is the reality of what is dealt with on a day-to-day basis in most inner cities, and this is what brings the realism of hip-hop to life.  To this day, hip-hop remains an optional way of making a living and making it out of the ghetto.  An artist's ability to relate to the conditions of urban America strongly coincides with his or her ability to present what might be considered real, hence the phrase "real hip-hop."

Some would say that the underground hip-hop world is the true essence of the hip-hop culture.  That is because the underground goes untainted and is not influenced by commercial rap music.  The underground retains its purity because it is based on hip-hop music and deals solely with skill; you either have it or you don't.

Regardless of age, sex or race, there is no discrimination with underground hip-hop music.  Females and Caucasians have been known to represent underground hip-hop as some of the most skilled emcees ever to be heard.  It doesn't matter what colour you are, and it doesn't matter if you are from New York, Canada or California.  If you have the rhyme skills, you will be heard.

Some say that hip-hop is the single most important music genre ever to be created.  Hip-hop music touches the young and the old, the black and the white, and everyone in between.  With pride and creativity, hip-hop removes all barriers of communication, while bringing humans together.  To think of our world without hip-hop would be equivalent to thinking of it without music at all.

Source: The Youngtown Edition County College of Morris 26 February 2003

A biased opinion to be sure, but apparently heartfelt - though I'm still not sure I understand the difference between hip-hop and rap...

What Appears to Me to Be a "Rite of Passage"...

...and one of the most disturbing I've seen yet - is the popularity of "body mutilation."  This includes split tongues and ... well, why not visit Body Modification Ezine which "serves to document the activities of the body modification community in as complete a fashion as possible" and find out what else.  Don't go if you're squeamish.  Perhaps this is no worse than practices other cultures have honoured in the past.  But there is something sad about torturing the only body you'll ever have just to be "accepted..."  (But, then, I always thought pierced ears were barbaric...)

The following story is offered as a public service...

How Abductors Get Willing Victims

Safety Expert Shows Even Older Children May Become Easy Prey

Most people think they and their loved ones would know what to do if they were ever confronted by a potential abductor.  But child safety expert Bob Stuber showed Primetime Live that may not always be the case - even with older children, like teenagers.  Watched by Primetime's hidden cameras, Stuber stopped two teens strolling in an Oklahoma suburb.  The tall and mustachioed Stuber told them he was a police officer making an arrest and a police dog had been unleashed in the neighbourhood.  In an urgent tone, he asked them their names and asked them to stand by his vehicle, an unmarked car.  Without question, they obeyed his orders.  "If you see this dog, it's a German shepherd, come running up the street, jump in this car real quick," Stuber said.

In less than a minute, the girls were in Stuber's car.

Minutes later, Stuber told the girls he wasn't a cop - he was working with ABC News.  Fourteen-year-old Caitlin said she didn't think Stuber was a cop all along.  Her mother, Vickie, who was watching the incident with an ABC News crew, wanted to know why she didn't run or ask to see the man's badge.  "I don't know," Caitlin said.

Stuber says he knows what happened.  He overloaded the girls with information, putting them in a situation they wouldn't recognise.  "It could go either way.  But if you really don't know what to do, you're going to do what I tell you to do, and that's exactly what happened," he said.  "I had you all the way in the car.  I mean the keys were in there, and I all I had to do was drive."

Stuber, in fact, believes this is what happened last winter to Carlie Bruscia, 11.  Her abduction in Sarasota, Florida, was captured on videotape.  She is seen talking to her abductor and going with him without his taking her by force.  "Whatever he said to her was logical.  And that's all it had to be," Stuber told ABC News.  Bruscia's body was later found in nearby woods.  An unemployed auto mechanic was arrested in her death and will go to trial later this year.

Stuber pointed out that abductors targeting teenagers may actually have more options on how to approach them because they are more often away from their parents.  ABC News' hidden cameras followed Stuber to a mall where he stopped teenagers Blaine and Katherine as they were leaving.  He told them he was working for a new reality tv series, and that their parents had given him permission to follow them and see at how many places they stopped.  The girls appeared to take the bait.  Then he told them he wanted them to follow him to a van in the parking lot that held a tv studio, and that one of their parents was inside.

Katherine paused and told Stuber, "My mom just called and she's on her way to pick me up."  Stuber responded, "No, she's in the van, trust me.  It's all set up."  He asked Katherine, "You don't trust me?"  She responded, "I don't know you," and insisted on calling her mother before going anywhere.  Stuber told her, "I don't mind if you call her, no, but she's not supposed to tell you where she is."  Katherine and Blaine stood firm.  "I don't think so," Katherine said.  "I don't think that is okay," Blaine said.

Later, Stuber says the girls did the right thing: they challenged the stranger's story and made him qualify himself.  "If the victim - the child, the kid, the teenager - doesn't ask, he or she is just a sitting duck," he said.  Stuber showed ABC News another technique abductors may use: the Good Samaritan ploy.  In another store parking lot, Stuber let the air out of the tire of his next potential victim while she was inside shopping.  When 18-year-old Jaycee came out, he casually pointed it out to her.  Minutes later, he offered to help her.  He handed her a device that he said would pump the tire back up - but said it needed to be plugged into his car.  He pulled his car up alongside hers and got out.  "If you put that in my lighter up front - right up in front there are two lighter slots," he told her.  "Either one should work.  And the keys you may have to put the keys in to turn the ignition.  Try it."

Jaycee got into his car - leaving her extremely vulnerable, according to Stuber.  A few minutes later, Stuber told Jaycee he was working with ABC News and that she had put herself in a dangerous situation.  He said he could have slid into the car right behind her.  "I would've taken off and the door would have shut as I'm driving.  Boom, we're out of there," he said.  "We would have been out of this lot in just a matter of seconds."

Jaycee admitted she had doubts about getting in his car.  But like the girls in Oklahoma, she went anyway - "because I didn't know what else to do," she said.

Source: abcnews.go.com 18 March 2005 © 2005 ABC News Internet Ventures

The Flash Mob Phenomenon

Flash mob at a Toys "R" Us store in Times Square in New York City,
summoned by notices on the web.

by Paul McFedries

Last week, not far from where I live, a few dozen people gathered at a mall, invaded a nearby Toys "R" Us, and started leaping like frogs from one aisle to another.  Within a few minutes, the crowd dispersed and the "event," such as it was, ended.  The store, it turns out, had been visited by a flash mob, a large group of people who gather in some predetermined location, perform some brief action, and then quickly disperse.

Flash mobbers have done similarly silly stunts in New York City, San Francisco, Berlin, Rome, and, by the time you read this, many other cities as well, this being the faddish feat of 2003.  They've become so popular, in fact, that Sean Savage of cheesebikini.com, who coined the phrase "flash mob," has suggested that the large numbers of press and police who now witness these events should have their own monikers: press mobs and cop mobs.

The coinage of "flash mob" was inspired by two related phrases.  The first is flash crowd, which is a sharp increase in the number of users attempting to access a website simultaneously, usually in response to some event or announcement.  This could be caused, for example, by the Slashdot effect, a rapid and often overwhelming increase in a website's traffic after the site is featured or mentioned on Slashdot.org.  Being Slashdotted is similar to being Farked, which means getting lots of traffic after your site appears onFark.com.

The second phrase behind flash mob is smart mob, a leaderless group of like-minded people who organise using technologies such as cellphones, email, and the web.  This phrase was popularised by the writer Howard Rheingold in his 2002 book, Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution.  Flash mobs - also called inexplicable mobs or flocks - use the same technologies to organise their gatherings.  A related idea is social swarming, the rapid gathering of friends, family, or colleagues using technologies such as cellphones, pagers, and instant messaging.  As The Washington Post noted recently, social swarming "involves sharing your life with others in real time.  It means pulsing to the rhythm of life with one's posse."  This idea of gathering one's "posse" together (I assume one has to be of a certain age to actually have a posse) has led to a synonym for social swarming: posse-pinging.  Social swarming is a special case of the larger idea of swarming, the gathering and moving of people accomplished, once again, using technologies such as cellphones, pagers, and even walkie-talkies.  For example, swarming is the modus operandi of the Critical Mass (CM) movement, which describes itself as an "unorganised coincidence."  CM events consist of large swarms on bicycles that quickly gather in a location to block or slow traffic as a way of protesting our automobile culture and to highlight CM's pro-bicycling agenda.

Baby Boomer babies

Most participants in a flash mob, smart mob, or swarm are members of what the demographics profession calls the Baby Boom Echo: the children of the Baby Boom generation.  However, increasingly often these days they're lumped under the rubric Generation Y.  Why?  Because they came after Generation X, the postboomers born between 1964 and 1977.  Demographers, marketers, and headline writers have come up with lots of other names for this cohort over the years, including the Millennial Generation, Generation D (for digital), Generation 9/11 (usually defined as those who were enrolled in high school or college on 11 September 2001), and Generation Next.  Inspired by the last of these, another name has appeared in the past couple of years, one that threatens to make the others obsolete because it has a "just so" quality that seems to capture this generation's worldview: Generation Text.  The name comes, of course, from the facility that today's teenagers and 20-somethings have with text-based messaging systems, particularly wireless device messaging and instant messaging, the latter supplying us with another generational moniker: Generation IM.

This demographic label seems right not only because this generation turned the words "text" and "message" into verbs, but also because this generation incorporated this technology into their lifestyles: it's as natural to them as the telephone was to teenagers a generation ago.  No wonder that a few months ago Wired magazine - that arbiter of modem technological taste - pronounced Free Agent Nation "expired," described Open-Source Nation as "tired," and crowned a new "wired" phenomenon: IM Nation.

This monthly column is a commentary on new words that arise in technical culture and communications.  Readers are invited to respond to IEEE Spectrum at techspkg@ieee.org.

Source: IEEE Spectrum October 2003

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