Have you ever wondered what “Coming of Age” is, and how it makes one person different from another? The “Coming of Age” process is a broad and contested social construct. After a significant amount of thought, questions, and research “Coming of Age” can be narrowed down into 3 fundamental categories: turning point experiences, influential relationships, surrounding culture and setting. These categories influence when and to what extent, someone accepts their identity and responsibility, or “Comes of Age”. This pivotal transition has an immense effect on who a person becomes later in life.
To examine this heavily contested construct, we must understand what it means. There are many different ideas about what “Coming of Age” is, when it occurs, and how it happens. In many cultures an elaborate celebration such as a Quinceanera, or a Bar Mitzvah marks Coming of Age. In our American culture there is no real mark that signifies a person’s Coming of Age conclusion. Milestones such as the privilege to drive at sixteen, and the entitlement to drink at twenty-one, mark a person’s “Coming of Age” process. The truth is that some people never “Come of Age” because they don’t accept responsibility for their decisions and actions. Along with that, many people don’t accept their identity because they believe they are inadequate and unimportant. Some people live around the “Coming of Age” responsibilities by passing decisions onto their family and loved ones. Parents sometimes raise their children, but don’t really care for them. They can give their children everything they want, and never teach them the hard lessons of life. Of course, some cultures wholeheartedly believe that everyone “Comes of Age” at a certain numerical age. This is not the case. No culture can decide when someone has a strong enough character to accept responsibility, and their identity. Every person is unique, and their coming of age results vary depending on their turning point experiences, influential relationships, surrounding culture and setting.
An important factor in the “Coming of Age” process is one’s turning point experiences. What makes an experience a “turning point experience” is questionable. Maybe an experience was delightful, traumatic, or maybe it taught a lesson? After listening to many childhood stories it can be concluded that a “turning point experience” is one that teaches you an important moral lesson that makes you change your ways. People develop characteristics that correspond to life lessons they’ve learned. As an example, Dennis Brink was born in Bellingham, WA on May 30, 1947. In his interview, he described how the people of his small town allowed kids to take on adult roles, and this fostered responsibility at a young age: “Those kids were growing up on the farm. My uncles at eight years old were driving the cows three miles! My mother at eight was babysitting her two-year-old brother!”. Adding to that, Dennis said, “I got to do things that were probably ahead of most kids today.” At nearly twelve years old, Dennis was running his father’s automobile repair shop. Dennis said this experience created a sense of “confidence” and a grasp of “responsibility” that Dennis carried with him through his missions in the Vietnam War and later on in his life.
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His experiences in his dad’s shop made him the confident and nimble leader he needed to be. During the Tet Offensive mission, the most perilous stage of the Vietnam War, Dennis’s regiment began losing troops that had important jobs: “At one point in the war, a radio operator was needed. Immediately, I stepped up to the job. That is what set me apart from any other soldier.” After the war, he received an abundance of praise for his prompt actions and keen thinking. His childhood experiences made him the person he needed to be eight years later. Many might say that Dennis was just a naturally confident and quick-witted leader and that he did not develop this talent. That may be true, but when I asked Dennis: “Were there any experiences in your life that made you who you are today?” He immediately, without contemplation, told me about his experiences in his dad’s repair shop. There was not a doubt in his mind that his adolescent experiences shaped who he was in the Vietnam War and beyond.
The dramatic and exciting experience Dennis went through made him feel as though he had “Come of Age”. He had accepted responsibility and made a tough decision without questioning his discernment. This experience is a thrilling story that the average person probably would not have. Coming of Age does not have to occur in a challenging situation, such as the Vietnam War. It can occur in our daily lives. The decision to have a family and care for that family is a choice that brings lots of responsibility on one’s shoulders. This is a common way to “Come of Age”. This person’s past turning point experiences, influential relationships, surrounding culture and setting led him or her to make the decision to have a family. One might say that your past has very little to do with one’s decision to have a family. This is not true for a few reasons. If someone grew up in a chaotic and stressful home with three brothers and sisters, they may lean toward never having children. Maybe they were traumatized because they didn’t get any attention, and the person’s parents were always struggling to keep the children happy and make ends meet. Maybe someone was friends with another person that always seemed stressed about their kids and never seemed to rest. A lack of rest and stress is not appealing to anyone. Though the effect of a person’s past may be unobvious in the present, no person can escape the effects. It is human nature to use past experiences to make present decisions.