Kids Rights: rites

Kids have to be protected and guarded by their parents, this is a biological fact. And yet, all human beings have rights by their very nature to freedom and the pursuit of happiness. These values can sometimes conflict, and when they do it can be difficult to sort out who should have the say: the kids or their parents.

This is why most societies around the world have rites. Once children go through these rites, they become adults in the eyes of the community, and that is the point at which they are given the full freedom accorded to every human being. In my opinion, smart parents will give them a good deal of freedom before this point to prepare them, but once the person goes through the rite of passage, they are guaranteed both adult freedom and adult responsibility.

Unfortunately, in our country, we don’t really have something like this. Some religious organizations still have something along these lines — Bar Mitzvahs, Confirmations, or Rumspringa for example. And there are a few things we can point to — getting your driver’s license, graduating high school, turning 21 — that might give the young person an inkling that they are expected to be an adult, but all of these are based on age.

All people are different, and there isn’t a specific age at which people are ready to be an adult with all the rights and responsibilities that attach to it. Some people as young as 14 or 15 are ready, whereas others might not be ready until 22 or even older.

I’ve been trying to think of different ways that something like this could come about in our society.

  • John McCain has a plan for expanding a national service system, where people would volunteer to go into the military or into a domestic program like Americorps for two years before or after college.  Many think his idea is to make this mandatory, which I am dead set against, but if it were simply encouraged as a good idea it could fit this bill.
  • Rites like this have traditionally been some sort of test, either of strength, or courage, or moral turpitude.  It could be like that, sort of like the SAT of being a responsible person.
  • One friend suggests that it could be something like what a teenager in the video game The Sims II has to do:  choose an aspiration like love, money, books, or family.  Maybe they could have to do some sort of project toward that end, like an eagle scout would, for example.
  • Another possibility would be to have a program where people who die donate their estates to a fund that gives young adults some “starting out money.”  Once they take that money, their parents aren’t supposed to give them any more.  This could help to equalize society in a pretty interesting way, giving poorer kids a shot at making it and lessening the number of trust fund kids.  If you believe in taxation, you could create a system like this using taxes.

Any possibility, I think, should be purely voluntary, but that doesn’t mean they can’t start a tradition or even a strong social more to follow them, which after all, are pretty much what rites of passage are.
The whole reason for my idea is to eliminate the current levels of age discrimination in the law, those arbitrary ages preventing people from driving, drinking, voting, suing, buying things and all the things that responsible adults get to do, and responsible young people should be able to also.

Do you have any ideas?

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2 Responses

  1. There’s a lot of dissonance between the idea that everyone is ready to be an adult at a different time and the idea of a rite of passage. I think the former is correct, especially in today’s society where being an adult can mean so many different things. What does it mean anyway? Many people who violate the laws by being underage for something handle that responsibility just fine, many people in compliance with the law do not. I don’t think rites are a bad thing, but when they become blind tradition, they can force people to become what they aren’t ready for, or lose their meaning entirely. I’m sure at some point in the history of Judaism, it was really important to distinguish an adult from a child because society needed adults as soon as possible to go to work and keep the society thriving. I think that era of Judaism has long since passed and my bar mitzvah seemed totally foreign and unnecessary. I definitely didn’t feel like a man when I was still forced to do things I didn’t want to and still had plenty of restrictions placed upon me. If a rite is a test of strength or courage or moral turpitude, then people in a society like this are going to face rites every day whether they like it or not. I see no need to formalize it, and I don’t think people would take well to a formal national rite ceremony either.

  2. I’m not thinking it would be a formal ceremony, though I guess that usually comes along with the idea of rites.

    You do admit that the Bar Mitzvah probably did serve a useful purpose at one point, it is just outdated and no longer serves that purpose. If it was useful then, why do you not think that there isn’t something else that would be useful now?

    I guess rite might not be the right word. I think there needs to be some way to indicate you are responsible and have that indication be heard and answered by the greater community.

    You’re right that we go through trials every day, though, and I think those individual experiences should be recognized, too, but I wouldn’t know how. Maybe if everyone had a blog!

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