From boys to men: Investigating the role of formalised rites of passage programs for adolescent males in Australian secondary schools

Year: 2019

Author: Kingsman, Johanna

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

What ‘markers’ in a boy’s life indicate his attainment of adulthood? Is there a place in secondary schools for formalised rites of passage programs to assist in the transition from adolescence to adulthood?

Adolescence is an often-tumultuous life-stage characterised by physical, psychological, cognitive and social flux. The magnitude of such changes, combined with the effectiveness of coping mechanisms developed to manage adolescent turbulence, can result in long term effects on a young person’s identity and future success. Although the issue affects both male and female youth, much of the literature highlights adolescent males as the predominant concern. Both pioneering and recent scholarship suggests that large numbers of adolescent males experience heightened internal distress manifesting in emotional and behavioural unrest. This perceived vulnerability is frequently masked or minimised by adolescent boys in an attempt to avoid marginalisation and maintain social status.

It has been argued that the lack of formalised rites of passage to demarcate the transition to adulthood in contemporary society leaves youth without an appreciation for the past or a ‘road map’ for the future. Modern adolescents are therefore left to create their own informal, peer-generated rituals commemorating the transition into new life-stages. For boys, this frequently revolves around dangerous behaviours to assert dominance and demonstrate a version of masculinity which may be harmful to themselves and their peers.

Although secondary schools often provide some form of well-being program intended to support students as they progress through high school, many times such programs are deficient or unsuccessful in targeting the psycho-social aspects specific to adolescent males. This has led to the proposed PhD research project investigating the effectiveness of a formalised, year-long rites of passage program, The Rite Journey, which is currently delivered to approximately 100 Australian secondary schools.

The desired outcome of the research is to identify whether rites of passage programs may be beneficial in the development of positive masculine identity and the subsequent transition to adulthood. In addition to enhancing knowledge, the findings of this research may serve to improve well-being for adolescent males; provide guidance for curriculum planning in secondary schools; and educate parents and caregivers, school counsellors and guidance officers, and teachers. The research findings may guide the design of positive, transformative developmental pathways via customised rites of passage programs delivered through secondary schools, juvenile detention centres or community support centres, providing necessary support in the important process of raising young men.