How Different Cultures Recognize a Child's Coming of Age

Hispanic family celebrating quinceanera in church
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Coming of age is a term used to describe the transition between childhood and adulthood. For some cultures, coming of age is determined at a certain age when a child is no longer a minor. Other cultures determine a child's coming of age when he or she hits puberty or a particular age (13, 15, 16, 18, and 21 are commonly thought of as significant ages for young adults). Most religions have an official coming-of-age event which involves both family and community.

Definitions of Coming of Age

The coming of age milestone is an important one, and can also be a difficult transition as some children are hesitant to leave childhood behind. Literature, the movies, and music often refer to the coming of age theme and the problems or challenges associated with the transition. There are many different ways to define the expression "of age." For example:

  • Confirmation of an individual as a responsible adult within a religious community;
  • Puberty (or, in some cases, loss of virginity);
  • Acquiring a legally significant age (in the United States, either 18 or 21);
  • Experiencing a moment of epiphany in which childhood is set aside;
  • Taking responsibility for oneself and one's personal choices.

How Coming of Age Is Recognized in Different Cultures

Most cultures and religions have specific events, ceremonies, or celebrations associated with coming of age. Depending upon your cultural and/or religious background, your child may celebrate one or more of these.

  • Bar or Bat Mitzvah: At the age of 13, Jewish youngsters take part in an important and joyful event called the Bar Mitzvah (or, for girls, Bat Mitzvah). This event represents the culmination of years of Hebrew and Torah study and signifies the child's entrance into adulthood. Of course, modern American 13-year-olds are not literally adults, but the event has great traditional importance.
  • Confirmation: Catholic teens are confirmed in their faith as one of the three most important sacraments (along with baptism and the Eucharist). Teens going through confirmation are sponsored by an adult and choose a confirmation name (usually a saint's name). As with Jewish teens, Catholic teens are not legally adults, though they are now adults in the eyes of the church.
  • Quinceanera: In the Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central and South American traditions, 15-year-old girls go through a semi-religious rite and celebration to mark coming of age. The event is usually large, including friends and family.
  • Sweet 16: Many American families celebrate their daughter's coming of age with a "Sweet 16" party. This is usually a large birthday celebration that includes both friends and family.

Challenges of Coming of Age

For parents, parenting a child in the midst of coming of age can be difficult, as they deal with broken hearts, disappointment, finding their own identities, and the challenges of increased responsibility, all for the first time.

For children, coming of age can be exciting as they separate from their parents and form new social circles. However, it can also be a sad time for children who fear the future and miss the safety of childhood.

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