For a few years now I have been involved in Leavers. One year a few years ago a particular youth stood out to me. He exhibited all the signs of being rather inebriated. This is, of course, not uncommon during leavers celebrations. It is also not uncommon that the time was approximately midday. It is also not uncommon that he was randomly walking around, not really sure what he was doing. What was a little uncommon was what he was carrying. A 2 litre sauce bottle. Upon seeing this I thought to myself ‘that is actually a rather ingenius way of carrying around one’s alcohol.’ Due to the fact none of this was uncommon I continued walking, not thinking for a moment I’d see this youth or the sauce bottle again anytime soon.
The next day, about the same time I noticed the same youth carrying the same sauce bottle walking around in the same manner in around about the same place. Again I continued on doing whatever it was that took me to that spot. When this happened a third day in a row I thought I might engage him in conversation and ask him about the sauce bottle. I expected to get some story about needing to ‘hide’ his booze, about the ease of carrying it around in the bottle etc. What i discovered was a lot more disturbing.
We started out with the usual questions. Name, what school he was from, what he was going to do next. These initial questions continued for a little while until I finally asked ‘so what is the deal with the sauce bottle’? His reply? ‘Well, we spent all our money on alcohol…this was all we could afford for food for the week’. Yes, that is right, inside the 2 litre sauce bottle was indeed…sauce. This was to be his nutritional intake for the week. Scary.
Leavers, or schoolies as it is called in the rest of Australia, is an amazingly jam packed environment that over the last few years has almost become a ‘right of passage’ for teenagers desiring to enter adulthood. The major provider of alcohol for teenagers celebrating the end of school is not illegally purchased with fake id’s OR an ‘older brother’ but generally is provided by parents who want their kids to have a ‘fun week away discovering themselves’. The modern day right of passage for teenagers in Australia is…binge drinking and sexual experimentation on a scale not experienced anywhere before or after, to the same extent. This right of passage has the ability to take a completely rational, sane, smart teenager and turn them into someone who, in normal circumstances, would be seen as immature and making bad choices. I remember a school dux(top student) telling me ‘normally I don’t drink and I until now planned on waiting till marriage to have sex, but this week I don’t care what i do!’ Indeed, he believed to enter ‘adulthood’ he had to have a week of craziness.
This is but a snippet of something I plan on discussing in my book on ‘Why Youth Ministry?’. We really do lack any semblence of worthwhile rights of passage in modern, western society. An article I was reading today suggests that where normalised rights of passage are lacking, adolescents will create their own, often less beneficial forms. Another article from youthspecialties.com suggests that
“It’s unfortunate we don’t have an official Christian coming of age ceremony for our boys. For most young men there’s no “well done, my man” moment. The Jewish culture has the bar mitzvah. The first nations people have ceremonies—an African friend of mine told me about his three-day gathering. The closest thing to a rite of passage in our culture is the party at the bar when they reach legal drinking age.”
The same can, and is often said, for girls. Perhaps one area that youth ministry really could provide something ‘unique’ insociety is some form of ‘right of passage’ that is more useful and less destructive than the usual ‘Get drunk, party, discover my limits’ form that currently exists. Perhaps we’d get less Peter Pan’s…teenagers who never grow up and are still, effectively, adolescents into their 30’s! Just something I am interested in exploring.