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From Boys to Men: Spiritual Rites of Passage in an Indulgent Age

Overview

A guide to restoring the successful models used by ancient cultures the world over to raise adolescent boys

• Explains the negative effects of Western youth culture and how it can be transformed

• Offers instructions for integrating basic rites of passage into modern family life and youth programs

For tens of thousands of years all across the globe, societies have been coping with raising adolescents. Why is it then that native cultures never had the need for juvenile halls, ...

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From Boys to Men: Spiritual Rites of Passage in an Indulgent Age

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Overview

A guide to restoring the successful models used by ancient cultures the world over to raise adolescent boys

• Explains the negative effects of Western youth culture and how it can be transformed

• Offers instructions for integrating basic rites of passage into modern family life and youth programs

For tens of thousands of years all across the globe, societies have been coping with raising adolescents. Why is it then that native cultures never had the need for juvenile halls, residential treatment centers, mood-altering drugs, or boot camps? How did they avoid the high incidence of teen violence America is experiencing, and how did they prevent their youth from relying on drugs and alcohol, the use of which has become so prevalent in Western society?

In From Boys to Men, Bret Stephenson shows readers that older cultures didn’t magically avoid adolescence; instead they developed successful rituals and rites of passage for sculpting teen boys into healthy young men. From Aleutian Eskimos to Polynesian Islanders, from tribal Africans to Australian Aborigines, each culture found archetypal ways to initiate their boys into the adult community. Stephenson explains the basics of rites of passage and offers insight into how to reintroduce these successful practices and traditional understandings into modern family life and programs for youth. He discusses the damaging effects of our youth culture and the negative teen products that are fueled by corporate America and reveals how we can counteract these negative forces by using meaningful rites of passage to create a society with happy and healthy adolescent boys.

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Editorial Reviews

Michael Gurian
From Boys to Men is a crucial read for parents, teachers, grandparents, and everyone who makes policies about young men. Bret Stephenson is masterful in his presentation of how to help boys “slay the dragon” and thus find a contributive, healthy, and successful manhood. I highly recommend this book!”
Religion Bookline
“[Stephenson] offers practical models, methods, and activities for changing problematic behavior that draw on a wide range of transition rites that he has recreated for the modern teenage boy. A broad audience will find this a fascinating and hopeful glimpse into the contemporary struggles of American boyhood.”
Joseph Chilton Pearce
“If the vast sums currently spent on trying to keep teenagers in a failed and punishing school system were spent on projects such as this, a major step toward social health would unfold. Buy this book, put it to use and spread the word.”
Malidoma Some
"This book builds a much needed bridge between contemporary knowledge and the wisdom of indigenous elders, utilizing tools that are familiar to the western experience and infusing them with ancestral spiritual wisdom."
Ralph Metzner
"Society needs to know these ideas and practices."
Diane C. Donovan
"[This book] offers up something different: a book which blends cultural and magical insights with parenting and youth reflections for maximum benefit. Any who want an alternative way of coping with adolescents will find FROM BOYS TO MEN packed with spiritual and social insights taken from older cultures versed in rites of passage."
Curled Up with a Good Book
"This book should be read by all parents of male children in the affluent world."
Aaron Kipnis
“Bret Stephenson takes a hard look at how we are raising boys and explores how ancient wisdom and traditional practices can be used to help adolescent males become healthy young men and active members of the community.”
Angeles Arrien
"A brilliant and practical resource and guide for stewarding adolescent boys into responsible leadership and manhood . . . a must for parents, teachers, leaders, and managers."
Malidoma Somé
“This book builds a much needed bridge between contemporary knowledge and the wisdom of indigenous elders, utilizing tools that are familiar to the western experience and infusing them with ancestral spiritual wisdom.”
Malidoma Somé
“This book builds a much needed bridge between contemporary knowledge and the wisdom of indigenous elders, utilizing tools that are familiar to the western experience and infusing them with ancestral spiritual wisdom.”
Dec 2006 Religion Bookline
“[Stephenson] offers practical models, methods, and activities for changing problematic behavior that draw on a wide range of transition rites that he has recreated for the modern teenage boy. A broad audience will find this a fascinating and hopeful glimpse into the contemporary struggles of American boyhood.”
author of Magical Child and The Biology of Transce Joseph Chilton Pearce
“If the vast sums currently spent on trying to keep teenagers in a failed and punishing school system were spent on projects such as this, a major step toward social health would unfold. Buy this book, put it to use and spread the word.”
author of Healing Wisdom of Africa and Of Water an Malidoma Somé
“This book builds a much needed bridge between contemporary knowledge and the wisdom of indigenous elders, utilizing tools that are familiar to the western experience and infusing them with ancestral spiritual wisdom.”
author of Maps of Consciousness and The Unfolding Ralph Metzner
"Society needs to know these ideas and practices."
From the Publisher
"This book should be read by all parents of male children in the affluent world."

“[Stephenson] offers practical models, methods, and activities for changing problematic behavior that draw on a wide range of transition rites that he has recreated for the modern teenage boy. A broad audience will find this a fascinating and hopeful glimpse into the contemporary struggles of American boyhood.”

From Boys to Men is a crucial read for parents, teachers, grandparents, and everyone who makes policies about young men. Bret Stephenson is masterful in his presentation of how to help boys “slay the dragon” and thus find a contributive, healthy, and successful manhood. I highly recommend this book!”

“If the vast sums currently spent on trying to keep teenagers in a failed and punishing school system were spent on projects such as this, a major step toward social health would unfold. Buy this book, put it to use and spread the word.”

“This book builds a much needed bridge between contemporary knowledge and the wisdom of indigenous elders, utilizing tools that are familiar to the western experience and infusing them with ancestral spiritual wisdom.”

“Bret Stephenson takes a hard look at how we are raising boys and explores how ancient wisdom and traditional practices can be used to help adolescent males become healthy young men and active members of the community.”

"[This book] offers up something different: a book which blends cultural and magical insights with parenting and youth reflections for maximum benefit. Any who want an alternative way of coping with adolescents will find FROM BOYS TO MEN packed with spiritual and social insights taken from older cultures versed in rites of passage."

"A brilliant and practical resource and guide for stewarding adolescent boys into responsible leadership and manhood . . . a must for parents, teachers, leaders, and managers."

"Society needs to know these ideas and practices."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594771408
  • Publisher: Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
  • Publication date: 12/15/2006
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,134,637
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Bret Stephenson is a counselor of at-risk and high-risk adolescents and a men’s group facilitator. In addition to his duties as executive director at Labyrinth Center, a facility in South Lake Tahoe offering classes and workshops on adolescent issues for teens and adults, he is currently working on designing and implementing youth employment and youth entrepreneurial projects for teens. He has been a presenter and speaker at the United Nations World Peace Festival and the World Children’s Summit. He lives in Lake Tahoe, California.

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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter 3

Loss of Initiation

Adulthood vs. Manhood

Initiations were designed to help create a healthy and successful transition for boys from adolescence into manhood. One of the underlying concepts to these practices is the understanding that there is a marked difference between becoming an adult and becoming a man. In modern Western society we tend to lump them together.

Becoming an adult is reasonably easy in our country. One need merely live long enough to gain the appropriate age-related reward or responsibility: getting a driver’s license at sixteen, signing up for the draft or, in some states, drinking at eighteen, or getting the whole package dropped in your lap the day you turn twenty-one.

While it may seem harsh, I contend that this philosophy of “everyone succeeds” builds false self-esteem and conflicts with the reality of survival of the fittest. The recipients of these modern rewards and responsibilities “earn” them by merely collecting enough birthdays. There is no trial, no test to show that the young person has the maturity and understanding to use his newfound privileges wisely.

Becoming a man requires a deep emotional and spiritual transition, an internal shift that cannot come from an arbitrary bestowing of legal rights. This self-transcendence is most likely to take place in the course of an extraordinary experience, often in a single, memorable moment in time. In our Western culture, we have lumped age-related rewards and self-transcendence together, mistakenly believing that one naturally leads to the other.

So what are the results of allowing arbitrary, age-based signposts of manhood to replace authentic initiatory practices? One is that we get a never-ending version of adolescence, for without any clear finish line, boys are never really sure when they make that transition—or if they ever do. Another is that we are now seeing multiple generations of uninitiated men. It’s similar to making a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy: each copy loses clarity and quality from the one before it. Without a culturally accepted norm for the transition, how can anyone know if they’ve made it? If a boy, or an arbitrarily rewarded adult, is uncertain of his manhood, how can he know how to behave? Without an accepted picture of how and who they should be, many men tend to wander aimlessly down the path of manhood. There is no closure, so the process persists.

Even more basic than that, perhaps, is simply having the feeling of belonging and being needed. In past generations, teens were constantly in the throes of responsibility, which was necessary for family and community survival. Today our modern education gives them abstract skills that they may or may not use in the future: “one day you may need this algebra . . .”

Bill Kerewsky, editor of The Early Adolescent Magazine, writes:

We are the only civilization in history to have created a whole category of people (adolescents) for whom we have no real use. In times not long gone by, fourteen-year-olds helped on the farm. They assisted with the animals, cared for younger siblings, and helped get the crops in before the frost. If they lived in the city, they found jobs as apprentices, helpers, stock clerks, or custodians. They had a role in society—and they understood that hard work and responsible behavior were the keys to future success.

Now, however, we have “protected” them out of jobs, and relegated young adolescents to the roles of pizza consumer and videotape junkie. . . . Children this age need to be needed, but we have institutionalized our rebuff to their pleas to be of service.

Once again, we see how taking away someone’s responsibility has simply made them irresponsible.

Survival vs. Thrival

Survival seems paramountly important in preparing our children for entry into the “real” adult world. In the traditional cultures using initiatory practices, it was clear to all that children needed to be taught survival skills for that culture, and that they were not “promoted” until they were ready and had been properly tested. This seems to be almost the opposite of our educational approach.

About 50% of all 19-year-olds return home at least once. What this tells me is that both good kids and bad kids are unprepared for what lies ahead, and that their survival skills are lacking. In traditional cultures, the initiation was more of a confirmation that the initiate knew what was needed to know. Upon entering his initiation or rite of passage, it had been determined that he was prepared for life as a full adult and a man. The initiation was the culmination, the blend of training with implementation.

For example, if a 14-year-old Apache boy passed his initiation, he was declared a man and an adult. It had already been determined he knew the survival skills necessary to live as an Apache, or he wouldn’t have been allowed to pursue his initiation. In theory, if all the rest of his tribe disappeared somehow, he would be able to survive. He would know how to feed and clothe himself. He could create and maintain some sort of shelter, and he could read seasons and weather patterns. In essence, he could survive on his own with the knowledge he had been given while growing up.

Now imagine a typical 14-year-old American boy, who finds himself the sole survivor in his community for some reason. Has he been given the direct knowledge needed to take care of himself? Where would he plug in his boom box, buy new CD headphones, or get a new skateboard? Does he have the technical skills to fend on either a survival level or a societal one? Will his nine years of classroom education be enough to propel him successfully through the demands of adult life? Is this where that algebra will finally be of use? As evidenced by the above statistic regarding the high percentage of 19-year-olds being unable to survive on their own, it seems we are not preparing our children properly.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by Stephen and Robin Larsen

 Preface

Acknowledgments

Introduction
Are Our Kids Different? • The Lost Art of Initiation • The Kids Are Not Alright • What You'll Find in This Book

1 Adolescence 101
Developmental Issues of Adolescent Boys • The Search For Identity • Individuation and Leave-Taking • Paradox and Abstraction • Egocentrism • Idealism • A Sense of Pride • Puberty • Sexuality • Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness • Ceremony & Ritual • The Labyrinth or the Maze?

2 The State of the Adolescent Nation
What the Heck Happened? • Them versus Us • Sobering Statistics • How It's Been Done Elsewhere

3 The Loss of Initiation
Adulthood versus Manhood • A Dubious Role • Adolescence Is a Process, Not a Phase • Elders: The Missing Link • Where Are the Fathers? • The Burden of Single Moms • Life, Death, and Rebirth • Embracing Mystery

4 Rites of Passage Then and Now
The Essentials • Pseudo-Initiation • Public or Private?

5 The Hero’s Journey
An Archetypal Model for Rites of Passage • Stages of the Hero’s Journey • Refusing the Call to Adventure • Using the Hero’s Journey with Your Adolescent • The Hero’s Journey as a Treatment Model • The Hero’s Journey Continues

6 Modern Rules in An Ancient Game
Adolescence as a Cultural Shadow • Fatherlessness • ESL: Emotion as a Second Language • Education or Isolation? • School as Parent • Television as Parent, Teacher, Drug • Shifting Life Stages

7 Nuts and Bolts Approaches
The Brick Wall • Redefining Success • Communication Strategies • A Healthy Dose of Humor • What Really Changes Behavior? • The Importance of Consequences • Choices and Control • Some Rules about Making Rules • For Behavior Professionals

8 A Transpersonal Approach
Setting the Stage • Outdoor Rituals • Tapping Unconscious Imagery • Writing Poetry and Lyrics • Storytelling • Bundles and Boxes • Creating Tangible Symbols • Putting It All Together

9 The Last Resort
A Desert Camp for Desperate Boys • War Stories • What Behavior Management Doesn’t Teach

Afterword

Bibliography

 Suggested Reading

About the Author

Index

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