When you hear the term ‘rites of passage’, do you think about young men diving off crude wooden towers in Vanuatu with vines tied around their ankles, Aborigines and the Maasai warriors circumcising their boys at 15, or perhaps boys in the Brazilian Amazon sticking their hand into a glove woven with bullet ants and withstanding their stings for 10 minutes without making a noise?

Steve Biddulph — author, psychologist and one of the leading authorities on parenting and boys’ education says that mid-teen boys need to receive mentoring from caring adults and participate in rites of passage that define and honour their transition to the disciplines of adulthood.

I don’t think Biddulph is suggesting that we introduce these ancient traditions, however he does argue that this sense of being welcomed into the adult world in a meaningful way is so important that if not provided, our young will create their own.

“Our rites of passage today are dismal and without any sacred dimension – get drunk, get laid, get a driver’s licence, the aimless emptiness of ‘schoolies’. These lack the key messages of adulthood – learning to care for others, and how to be good and valued.”

The opening story in the attached article is an extreme example of the effects of fatherlessness; a young man abandoned by his father looks for validation and a sense of value but finds it in the wrong place – in a terrorist group; his misdirected search for belonging ultimately ending in his untimely death.

Biddulph writes that terrorists, crime gangs, random killers, delinquent kids, violent partners and dismal male political leaders, are all on a continuum – all lost boys.

If you’re like me, it can sometimes be overwhelming to read an article like this, wondering how we start to address such a huge issue. Yet Biddulph breaks it down to some simple actions that are surely within reach for all of us. 

If one of our kids’ friends don’t have an active or present father in their lives, include them in an activity such as a camping trip, a sports game or a concert. If there’s a young man in our workplace or community who might be at risk, get involved and mentor them. Spend time showing them what makes a real man; teach them the love and respect of a woman and other key life skills. “And convey to him that he has worth.” 

The article ends with a warning that if we don’t address this dilemma and actively steer our boys towards becoming real contributing manhood, “the village, and planet, will burn.”