Coming of Age In Faith
December 21, 2015—I finally got around to watching a movie on Netflix that’s been on the “to watch” list. The movie was “House of D.” In the movie a thirteen-year-old comes of age through loss, grief, and escape. As an adult, and a father, he returns to the place of his childhood in order to reconnect and move on.
Coming of age stories touch on powerful issues related to identity, self, and emotional process. At around age 10, something shifts developmentally within us. For the first time we become self-aware in new ways, and, we become more keenly aware of the emotional process at play in our families and relationships. The genre can be very effective as a vehicle for teaching about self, identity, and family emotional process.
Here’s a list of some coming-of-age stories, in books and films. How many do you know?
- Road to Perdition (12 year old boy and father)
- National Velvet (13 year old girl and her horse)
- Shane (10 year old boy, father, and gunslinger)
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (13 year old girl and father)
- Treasure Island (10 year old boy and pirates, leaving home)
- Johnny Tremain (10 year old boy and revolutionary war)
- Where the Red Fern Grows (10 year old boy in depression-era Ozark mountains)
- The Navigator (Disney film. 10 year old boy and lost family)
- Harry Potter (10 year old+ boy and lost family)
- Huckleberry Finn (10 year old misfit and absent father)
- Seabiscuit (10 year old boy separated from family, grows up to race the famous racehorse)
- Tom Sawyer (13 year old orphan)
- Madeline (Of his books, author and illustrator Ludwick Bemelmans said, “We are writing for children, but not for idiots.”)
- The Kid (Fantasy-comedy, 2000. 8 year old boy meets himself as an adult)
- David Copperfield (10 year old orphan)
- Great Expectations (10 year old orphan)
- The Sandlot (friendship among 10 year olds. Father-son issues)
- Stand by Me (a group of 10-year-olds form friendships)
- A Wrinkle in Time (10 year old boy and 13 year old girl and lost father)
- Something Wicked This Way Comes (10 year old boy small town)
- Dandelion Wine (10 year old boy, family)
- The Yearling (10 year old boy, father, mother, pet)
- The Black Stallion (10 year old boy and his horse)
- Catcher in the Rye (late bloomer)
- How Green Was My Valley (10 year old in Welsh mining town)
- Angela’s Ashes (Memoir about coming of age in Ireland)
- To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee’s coming of age in the South novel)
- The Red Pony (Steinbeck novel of a 10 year old boy)
- The Ant Bully (10 year old boy learns life lessons)
- Oliver Twist (10 year old orphan story by Dickens. Said to be the first English novel to center on a child character)
- The Golden Compass (11 year old girl)
- Unbreakable (Movie. 10 year old and dad hero-worship. Awareness of mom & dad’s relationship)
- Persepolis (10 year old Iranian coming of age memoir)
- The Lord of the Flies (10-year-olds isolated from society come of age)
- Anne Frank: Diary of a Young girl.
During the coming-of-age years children’s spirituality and faith-orientation also develop in new ways. James Fowler described this development as moving from “Stage 2 Mythic-Literal Faith,” in which faith is captured in the stories that children hear and tell about God, and the meanings that their literal but logical interpretations teach about human relations and with God, toward a “Stage 3 Synthetic-Conventional Faith.” In this later elementary school age faith stage children’s faith is encompassed in an uncritical, tacit acceptance of the conventional religious values taught by significant persons in their lives (parents, church, etc.) and is centered on feelings of what is right and wrong, especially in interpersonal relationships.
Ways To Help Children Come of Age in Faith
Thompson and Randall offer the following way to foster positive ways for children’s faith development:
- Respect for the ways that spiritual reflection changes with age and growth in thinking, judgment, and personality. This means that the ways that children interpret religious matters are accepted as suitable for their age.
- Provide opportunities to participate in religious observances that are calibrated to a child’s capacities for understanding and involvement. This means that children have roles that are meaningful to them and respected and recognized by adults within the community.
- Provide opportunities for intergenerational involvement in religious activity, as well as activities that are oriented to the interests and needs of children alone.
- Provide for the growth and maintenance of meaningful formative relationships – particularly within the family – that inspire trust, security, and empathic human understanding.
- Respect children’s individuality in spiritual understanding and its development. This means that pathways for growth of faith are individualized based on life experience, individual personality, and how persons interpret their own spirituality.
- Provide support during periods of difficulty or crisis, personal despair, or transition during which familiar beliefs may be tested and reconsidered.
- Offer acceptance of personal searching as part of the process of spiritual development. This means a willingness by others to engage constructively with the child in questioning and exploring more deeply the fundamental beliefs that are socialized by parents and others in the majority culture, without inspiring fear of rejection, denigration, or expulsion from the family or community.
What are some of your favorite coming-of-age stories?
What was life like for you as a ten-year-old?
What helped shape and sustain your faith when you were coming of age?
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Education at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.
His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H), and Theories of Learning for Christian Educators and Theological Faculty.
Thompson, R. A. & Randall, B. (1999). A standard of living adequate for children’s spiritual development. In A. B. Andrews & N. Kaufman, (Eds.). Implementing the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. A standard.