by Dr Arne Rubinstein

Why rites of passage are vital to boys


We have the ability to create contemporary rites of passage where teenage boys are challenged to think about what sort of men they are going to be and what childish behaviour they need to let go of, writes Dr Arne Rubinstein.

According to beyondblue, 26% of young Australian males have experienced a mental health disorder in the past 12 months. Suicide is the biggest killer of young Australian men and accounts for more deaths than car accidents. Surely something is seriously wrong here.

Research collected by Deakin University shows that for Australian males, age 11 and 12 is when they are happiest.

This is not completely surprising. Your typical 12 year old goes to school, has little homework and few responsibilities, gets all his food provided, has computer games and mobile devices, goes on play dates, gets tucked into bed at night and has a free 24/7 restaurant at home, as well as a taxi service.

In 15 years working as a GP I was constantly amazed and distressed at how these happy-go-lucky young boys could turn so rapidly into sullen, shut down, trouble-seeking and openly angry teenagers.

In many years working in emergency departments I saw the tragic results when young men self destructed, through drugs, alcohol, cars, violence, or a combination of these.

I sold my medical practice in 2000 to devote my time to research and developing programs to support our young men. The conclusion I came to was that they not only need to be seen and accepted for who they actually are. 

They also need, on a deeper level, to transform from basic boy behaviour, which has them at the centre of the universe, to healthy man behaviour where they realise they are part of a community whose their actions affect others.

“Our lack of formal rites of passage has meant young men are learning how to be a man through the media and the internet”

Dr Arne Rubinstein, Bestselling Author

Rites of passage

In every Indigenous community around the world, boys have always gone through a coming of age rite of passage ceremony around the time of puberty. These communities did this to

  • acknowledge and celebrate the transition from boy to young man, and
  • recognise and name the unique gifts and talents in each of the young men.

Despite living independently and with no contact with each other, all these communities did similar things:

  • used stories as a way of passing on wisdom and knowledge
  • created appropriate physical challenges for their young men
  • recognised each of them for their individual gifts and talents, their genius and spirit.

Our lack of formal rites of passage run by the elders of our communities has meant that generations of young men are learning how to be a man through the media and the internet (porn now being the standard form of sex education). Our young men are increasingly engaging in dangerous risk-taking behaviours and they feel unseen and lost.

As a doctor, I believe properly facilitated contemporary rites of passage would be a highly effective form of preventative medicine that would significantly impact on levels of depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions in this country. Importantly, these rites of passage should become a normal part of our education system.

In an Australian first, Dr Arne Rubinstein and Brighton Grammar, an all-boys’ school in Melbourne, will form a 3-year partnership to deliver a school-wide rites of passage program drawing on their combined research and experience in helping boys make a safe, healthy transition from child to young man.

The Making of Men: Raising boys to be happy, healthy and successful Kindle Edition

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Source: Booktopia – The Making of Men, Raising Boys to be Happy, Healthy and Successful by Arne Rubinstein, 9781922057310. Buy this book online.


Brought to you by Brighton Grammar School

Dr Arne Rubinstein author of The Making of Men, is an expert on adolescent development. A father of two young men, Arne has 30 years’ experience as a doctor, counsellor, mentor, speaker and workshop facilitator. This article is about