By Anne Pitos
The transition from adolescent to adult is arguably the most difficult phase of our lives that we, as individuals, have or will face.
It marks an ‘in-between’ time when our physical, emotional and spiritual selves endeavour to make sense of the world and the expectations of society and peers.
It is a time when we truly learn about the balance between freedom and responsibility, personal desire and shared values.
It is a pathway marked with conflicting signposts, the occasional pothole or unexpected curve in the road, but it’s a path with a promise that the destination will be liberating and full of possibilities.
Our youth do not face this great transition and its challenges alone.
Parents, families, friends, schools and the Church all have vital roles to play to ensure the journey out of adolescence is one where the young adult becomes a confident, compassionate, committed and Christ-led member of our community.
I am of the strong belief that it is the enduring partnership between parents and schools, working together with complementary purpose, that delivers the best result.
It is not a perfect partnership, just as the society in which we live has more than its fair share of flaws, false promises and tribulations.
However, it is a partnership where the failings of one can become the success of the other.
At a time when our adolescents are immersed in an increasingly interconnected world, of near-instant communication, of exposure to unfiltered concepts of behaviours and attitudes, our parents and families have never had it tougher.
Whatever the excesses of the world, parents are challenged to make sense of it all in the home and instil the values and model the actions we wish to see in our children.
Some families are spectacularly successful at it – and their children are testament to the love and devotion that raising a family requires.
Sadly, some families and parents hit rough waters and much support and help is required.
For most families, however, it is an ongoing ‘work in progress’ marked with highs and lows, steps-forward and set-backs.
The love may never waiver, and the faith may remain strong, but patience and hope is often tested as we battle our parental desire to protect and comfort, with the need to build resilience and independence in our teenagers.
It is in this environment that schools – and we can be particularly proud of our Catholic schools – work to educate our adolescents in mind, body and soul.
These schools seek to instil and reinforce in students the Catholic ethos, to support the values and aspirations of their parents and families, to prepare them to understand the society in which they live, and how to survive and thrive.
This is an endeavour that lasts an entire childhood, from pre-school to primary to high school, and then beyond.
That transition from adolescent to adult is formally marked by many Rites without Responsibility, with a significant number of them school-based.
Dr Andrew Kania in his article “Rites without Responsibility” (The Record, November 4, 2012) refers to two in particular; the school ball and the post-school ‘leavers’ or schoolies week; however, there are numerous others, such as Graduation or Speech Night, various formal farewell activities, and the WACE examinations themselves.
All of these events have a purpose and even some symbolism, offering parents and schools a specific opportunity to educate our young adults on societal expectations, appropriateness and responsibilities.
The school ball, for example, offers a tremendous final opportunity for teachers and school leadership to educate our students on how to behave and what is appropriate in a formal social setting.
Catholic schools go to great lengths to ensure that school balls reflect our ethos in terms of cost, dress standards and general behaviour.
Furthermore, they provide opportunities for our students to be trained in social etiquette, and many schools include a charitable donation as part of the ticket price, which reinforces the focus of our schools on social justice.
Our schools issue strict guidelines on the avoidance of alcohol, the organisation of pre-ball and post-ball gatherings, and on the demeanour of students and their partners at the event itself.
While I wholeheartedly support the notion that the highest standards of dress and behaviour must be paramount in all activities provided by Catholic schools, and I recognise that on some occasions, students do not live up to our expectations, the impression could easily be gained that our schools are entirely negligent in this matter. This is far from the case.
The cooperation of parents is always sought and almost always given in delivering appropriate outcomes and while they are generally on-side, this is an area where schools do not have complete control.
For parents and families, the school ball is often a shared ‘rite of passage’ and marks another change in the relationship between child and parent.
Occasionally the parents have a difficult time in calibrating their own expectations of an event such as a school ball, between restraint and the desire for it to be a most special shared occasion.
We may not always agree with such choices. Sometimes that parent–school partnership falters or hits a bump on the road, but it is important that we who are school leaders and parents do not surrender at that rare stumble.
Given the great lengths to which Catholic schools go in order to provide enjoyable and uplifting Year 12 balls, their attempts to provide an alternative to the less appealing standards sometimes evident in our secular society deserve recognition and acclaim.
Similarly, we recognise there are less than desirable elements of the post-school experience that has become known as ‘leavers’.
Many of our Year 12 students, however, share those concerns and reject the excesses, instead seeking a more fulfilling and enriching way to mark the transition into post-school life.
This silent majority are unheralded for their choices to spend ‘leavers’ quietly in the company of their friends, demonstrating their work ethic by seeking out part-time employment or actively choosing to undertake community service projects.
Our Catholic schools have been at the forefront of developing alternatives for our departing Year 12 students, ranging from small group reflections on a Cape-to-Cape walk, to visiting missions for the poor and needy in Thailand or Laos whilst participating in a community-building program.
These are just two examples, where school, students and parents work to offer meaningful Rites with Responsibilities that have value beyond the moment.
The headlines of our press and the social commentators may, with some justification, highlight poor behaviour and the questionable activities of a number of graduating students.
However they do not do justice to the many who, without fanfare, act with maturity, restraint, purpose and a sense of responsibility.
These are the values that parents and schools, working together, strive to instil in our students.
So many of those students are amazing young men and women, and that is something to celebrate.
Those tasks are never complete, but have faith that your Catholic schools and their teachers are moulding a generation of young adults of whom we can be proud.
Anne Pitos is the principal of Iona Presentation College in Mosman Park