Rites of Passage: Young People Are Missing Out Vital Life Events During Pandemic
Sun, April 18, 2021

Rites of Passage: Young People Are Missing Out Vital Life Events During Pandemic


Graduation ceremonies, school week, summer festivals, formals, and other social events in different countries have either been restricted or canceled in an attempt to stop the spread of Covid-19. While the public health strategy is critical to flatten the curve, it is also important to consider things that could be lost when these events are canceled. Young people, for instance, are missing out on vital life events that help them make sense of change as individuals and communities.

Importance of rites of passage

Andy Bennett, a Professor of Cultural Sociology at the Griffith University, and Ben Green, a Postdoctoral resident adjunct at Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research, shared that many young people are now missing out on important rites of passage during a pandemic.

Rites of passage are rituals that accompany changes in their social status as individuals or groups. Social researchers have recognized the importance of these rites of passage for more than a century. For instance, it serves as a symbolic separation from normality, like costumes or travel. It is also a ceremonial confirmation of their new state of affairs, which usually come with symbols like a crown or ring. These events are considered in-between stages where hierarchies and social norms are cast off and people gather as a community spirit.

For young people nowadays, ceremonies like school trips or graduations are even more important compared to previous generations. The falling rates of religious affiliation also mean coming-of-age has declined in importance. Changing social norms like weddings or debutante balls are likewise no longer a common practice for those early in their 20s and teens. The traditional indicators of growing up, like starting a full-time work or moving out of their parental home, have also proved to be more elusive for the younger generation because of a challenging housing and job markets.



A transition to adulthood

Schoolies – an Australian tradition of high-school graduates having week-long holidays following the end of their final exams – and gap year travel serve as rituals to mark an often-ordinary transition to adulthood, Bennett and Green wrote. These rites of passage provide a meaningful break for young people with their past identity and their normal life. These are times when they can leave their comfort zone and experience a sense of community with their friends before they move to the next part of their life.

Musical festivals, parties, and nightclubs can provide these experiences. However, these are also significantly curtailed because of the pandemic. Supposedly, these events could offer spaces for teens to escape the everyday rules and feel the communal energy as they emerge into adulthood. The impact, though, is yet to be fully understood but the duo opined that the class 2020 could be disadvantaged for missing these important life events.

Without said cultural experiences, it may be difficult for young people to realize when the change happened. Since rites of passage foster a sense of renewal and belonging being that it is the start of a new phase in life, young people may be missing chances to bond as a group and reaffirm their commitment to the social order. Absence in the formal rites of passage, the young people of today may create their replacements but it could be for better or worse.

Last month, a kebab shop in Brisbane, Australia was fined after a large crowd of customers broke out in an impromptu dance at about 3 am. This “impromptu rave,” as referred to by Bennett and Green just shows how young people are finding other ways so they can cross boundaries together. However, by doing so, they are testing both social and legal norms.



Balancing social needs and safety

On a positive note, some studies highlight how young people are showing their creativity and resilience in times of pandemic. Some made music during Covid-19. This balances their social needs and safety. Some performed online, showing that they can still have a community experience through social media.

Rites of passage, such as graduation, also serve as a connection with our past. The ceremony tends to be highly ritualized and is passed from generation to generation, making it a connection with the past.

Secondary graduation rate

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, an intergovernmental economic organization founded to stimulate economic progress and world trade, shares the countries with the highest secondary graduation rate in 2017. It includes Korea (95.4), Ireland (94.3), Greece (92.2), Slovenia (91.6), Finland (86.8), and Israel (86.5).

This year, the class of 2020 gets creative with their graduation as they held virtual events or drive-through celebrations to make sure that the show goes on. Some schools even go to great lengths by delivering diplomas in front of their students’ homes. It became more personal and they have the whole family at home to celebrate with them.



Covid-19 cases by age group and sex

The Australian Government Department of Health published that as of January 2020, people who are between 20-29 have the highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases both for males (2,830) and females (3,103). This is followed by people age 30-39 with 2,285 males and 2,240 females tested positive for Covid-19 during the said period.

As of September, Australia is one of the countries that are testing enough to monitor its outbreak. It has a positive rate of less than 1%, which means they do hundreds or even thousands of tests for each case they find. Countries that do very few tests per confirmed case are unlikely to be testing widely enough to find all Covid-19 cases, according to Our World in Data. The World Health Organization suggested a positive rate that is lower than 10% as a benchmark for adequate testing. Other countries, aside from Australia, that are within said benchmark includes Malaysia (.10%), New Zealand (0.10), Finland (0.20%), Singapore (0.20%), Denmark (0.30%), and Latvia (0.30%). South Korea’s rate is 1.10%.

While community safety and health should still be our priority, we must also recognize things that may look risky or frivolous but can have a huge impact on young people as they transition into adulthood. In the long run, it may have a huge significance for our society.