Age of Accountability

For other uses, see Coming of Age (disambiguation).

Coming of age is a young person's transition from childhood to adulthood. The age at which this transition takes place varies in society, as does the nature of the transition.[1] It can be a simple legal convention or can be part of a ritual, as practiced by many societies. In the past, and in some societies today, such a change is associated with the age of sexual maturity (early adolescence); in others, it is associated with an age of religious responsibility. Particularly in western societies, modern legal conventions which stipulate points in late adolescence or early adulthood (most commonly 16-21 when adolescents are generally no longer considered minors and are granted the full rights of an adult) are the focus of the transition. In either case, many cultures retain ceremonies to confirm the coming of age, and significant benefits come with the change. (See also rite of passage.)

Coming of age is often a topic of fiction. In literature, a novel which deals with coming of age is called a bildungsroman. Similar stories told in film are called coming-of-age films.



Turning 15, the "age of maturity," as the Baha'i faith terms it, is a time when a child is considered spiritually mature. The youth is then responsible for stating on his or her own behalf whether or not he or she wishes to remain a member of the Baha'i community. Declared Baha'is are expected to begin observing certain Baha'i laws, such as obligatory prayer and fasting.[2]


Theravada boys, typically just under the age of 20 years old, undergo a Shinbyu ceremony, where they are initiated into the Temple as Novice Monks (Samanera). They will typically stay in the monastery for between 3 days and 3 years, most commonly for one 3-month "rainy season retreat" (vassa), held annually from late July to early October. During this period the boys experience the rigors of an orthodox Buddhist monastic lifestyle – a lifestyle that involves celibacy, formal voluntary poverty, absolute nonviolence, and daily fasting between noon and the following day's sunrise.

Depending on how long they stay, the boys will learn various chants and recitations in the canonical language (Pali) – typically the Buddha's more famous discourses (Suttas) and verses (Gathas) – as well as Buddhist ethics and higher monastic discipline (Vinaya). If they stay long enough and conditions permit, they may be tutored in the meditative practices (bhavana, or dhyana) that are at the heart of Buddhism's program for the self-development of alert tranquillity (samadhi), wisdom (prajna), and divine mental states (brahmavihara).

After living the novitiate monastic life for some time, the boy, now considered to have "come of age," will either take higher ordination as a fully ordained monk (a bhikkhu) or will (more often) return to lay life. In Southeast Asian countries, where most pracitioners of Theravada Buddhism reside, women will often refuse to marry a man who has not ordained temporarily as a Samanera in this way at some point in his life. Men who have completed this Samanera ordination and have returned to lay life are considered primed for adult married life and are described in the Thai language and the Khmer language by terms which roughly translate as "cooked," "finished," or "cooled off" in English, as in meal preparation/consumption. Thus, one's monastic training is seen to have prepared one properly for familial, social, and civic duty and/or one's passions and unruliness of the boy are seen to have "cooled down" enough for him to be of use to a woman as a proper man.


In many Christian churches, a young person celebrates his/her Coming of Age with the Sacrament of Confirmation. Eastern Orthodoxy gives Confirmation to infants, directly after baptism, is an important exception. This is usually done by the Bishop laying his hands upon the foreheads of the young person (usually between the ages of 12 to 15 years), and marking them with the seal of the Holy Spirit. During this sacrament the child (now an adult in the eyes of God) adopts a confirmation name which is added onto their Christian name.

In Christian denominations that practice Believer's Baptism (baptism by voluntary decision, as opposed to baptism in early infancy), the ritual can be carried out after the age of accountability has arrived. Some traditions withhold the rite of Holy Communion from those not yet at the age of accountability, on the grounds that children do not understand what the sacrament means. In some denominations, full membership in the Church, if not bestowed at birth, often must wait until the age of accountability and frequently is granted only after a period of preparation known as catechesis. The time of innocence before one has the ability to understand truly the laws of God and that God sees one as innocent is also seen as applying to individuals who suffer from a mental disability which prevents them from ever reaching a time when they are capable of understanding the laws of God. These individuals are thus seen, according to Christians, as existing in a perpetual state of innocence.

Ancient Greek religion

The process of coming of age usually began right at child birth. The child would receive gifts, riddles, and symbols of adulthood. In certain states in Ancient Greece, such as Sparta and Crete, adolescent boys were expected to enter into a mentoring relationship with an adult man, in which they would be taught skills pertaining to adult life, such as hunting, martial arts and fine arts.

Ancient Rome

The puberty ritual for the young Roman male involved shaving his first beard and taking off his bulla, an amulet worn to mark and protect underage youth, which he then dedicated to his household gods, the Lares.[3] He assumed the toga virilis ("toga of manhood"), was enrolled as a citizen on the census, and soon began his military service.[4] Traditionally, the ceremony was held on the Liberalia, the festival in honor of the god Liber, who embodied both political and sexual liberty, but other dates could be chosen for individual reasons.[5]

Rome lacked the elaborate female puberty rituals of ancient Greece, and for girls the wedding ceremony was in part a rite of passage for the bride. Girls coming of age dedicated their dolls to Diana, the goddess most concerned with girlhood, or to Venus when they were preparing for marriage.[6] All adolescents in ritual preparation to transition to adult status wore the tunica recta, the "upright tunic," but girls wove their own. The garment was called recta because it was woven by tradition on a type of upright loom that had become archaic in later periods.[7]

Roman girls were expected to remain virgins until marriage, but boys were often introduced to heterosexual behaviors by a prostitute.[8] The higher the social rank of a girl, the sooner she was likely to become betrothed and married.[9] The general age of betrothal for women of the upper classes was fourteen, but for patricians as early as twelve. Weddings, however, were often postponed until the girl was considered mature enough. Males typically postponed marriage till they had served in the military for some time and were beginning their political career, around age 25. Patrician males, however, might marry considerably earlier; Julius Caesar was married for the first time by the age of 18.

On the night before the wedding, the bride bound up her hair with a yellow hairnet she had woven. The confining of her hair signifies the harnessing of her sexuality within marriage. Her weaving of the tunica recta and the hairnet demonstrated her skill and her capacity for acting in the traditional matron's role as custos domi, "guardian of the house."[10] On her wedding day, she belted her tunic with the cingulum, made from the wool of a ewe to symbolize fertility and tied with the "knot of Hercules", which was supposed to be hard to untie.[11] The knot symbolized wifely chastity, in that it was to be untied only by her husband, but the cingulum also symbolized that the bridegroom "was belted and bound" to his wife.[12] The bride's hair was ritually styled in "six tresses" (seni crines), and she was veiled until uncovered by her husband at the end of the ceremony, a ritual of surrendering her virginity to him.[13]


In Hinduism coming of age generally signifies that a boy or girl is mature enough to understand his responsibility towards family and society. Hinduism also has the sacred thread ceremony, called Upanayana for Dvija (twice-born) boys that marks their coming of age to do religious ceremonies. Girls often celebrate their coming to age by having a ceremony called a Ritushuddhi, upon receiving her first menstruation cycle. This ceremony includes dressing them in a sari, and announcing their maturity to the community.

Ifá (Yoruba mysticism)

In the traditional faith of the Yoruba people of West Africa and the myriad of New World religions that it subsequently birthed, men and women are often initiated to the service of one of the hundreds of subsidiary spirits that serve the Orisha Olodumare, the group's conception of the Almighty God. The mystic links that are forged by way of these initiations, which typically occur at puberty (although they could in truth be performed as and when the Ifá oracle demands if they have not already been done at a period beyond this stage), are the conduits that are used by adherents to attempt to achieve what can be seen as the equivalent of the Buddhist enlightenment by way of a combination of personalized meditations, reincarnations and spirit possessions.


Children are not required to perform any obligatory religious obligations prior to reaching the age of puberty, although they are encouraged to begin praying at the age of seven. Once a person begins puberty, they are required to perform salat and other obligations of Islam.[14]

In Dawoodi Bohra, there are two stages essentially to coming of age, firstly at the age of prayer a child undergoes a ceremony know as a Sehra, where the child is asked a series of question pertaining to Islam and the readiness of the child in which the child would reply "naam" (yes). At the age of 15 to 17, a similar ceremony is again held, again asking questions pertaining to the time since their Sehra as to whether they fully understands the expectation of Islam and Allah and is willing to stand as an adult, responsible for one's actions or words at which point he/she will reply "naam". The ceremony is usually held in a hall, with the family and close friends as witnesses to journey into adulthood. After the ceremony is complete, there is commonly socializing and celebrating.

Other sects generally has no coming of age ceremony.


In the Jewish faith, boys reach religious maturity at the age of thirteen and become a bar mitzvah ("bar mitzvah" means "son of the commandment"). Girls mature earlier, and become a bat mitzvah ("bat mitvzah" means "daughter of the commandment) at twelve. The new men and women are looked upon as adults and are expected to uphold the Jewish commandments and laws. Also, in religious court they are adults and can marry with their new title of an adult. Nonetheless in the Talmud; Pirkei Avot (5:25), Rabbi Yehuda ben Teime gives the age of 18 as the appropriate age to get married.


In the Shinto faith, boys approximately the age of 14, were taken to the shrine of their patron deity. They were then given adult clothes and a new haircut. This was called Genpuku.


In Sikhism, when one reaches the appropriate age of maturity, Amrit is consumed in a ceremony called Amrit Sanchar or Khanda-ki-Pahul



Apache boys and girls, when they come of age undergo a four day ritual to achieve their adulthood. This process is called "na'ii'ees". For the women, it is a grueling task involving multiple hours of dancing, prayer, and lessons of self esteem, sexuality, and healing.

Australia, NZ, UK, Ireland, Poland, Ukraine and Scandinavia

The coming of age in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Ukraine, the Republic of Poland and the Scandinavian Countries are celebrated at either 18 or 21. As the age of legal majority, being 18 legally enables one to vote, purchase tobacco and alcohol (wine in Norway), get married without parental consent and sign contracts. In comparison, turning 21 has few legal effects (except Poland & Ukraine, where all the laws are applied after 18). Eighteenth or twenty-first birthday celebrations typically take the form of an extravagant party; presents given are often higher than usual value, and champagne may be served, as at other formal celebrations. There are few set ceremonies or rituals to be observed, although if the celebrant is a male he may be challenged to consume the contents of a yard glass which is typically full of beer.

Drinking plays a large part in 18th birthdays, as it is the age where one can legally purchase alcohol. As such, many 18th birthdays are celebrated with a large party with friends, with drinking as a central motif. Despite 18 being the legal age of adulthood, most do not immediately take on the roles of adult, such as moving out of home or gaining full-time employment, instead studying or working as an apprentice. At New Zealand and Australian 21st birthdays, it is customary for family members to assemble embarrassing photos, videos or other childhood memorabilia to display at a celebration and for a good friend to give an equally embarrassing speech.


Historically, the Confucian coming of age ceremony has been the "Guan Li" for men and the "Ji Li" for women. The age is usually around 20 and during the ceremony, the person obtains a style name. These ceremonies are now rarely practiced in China, but there has been a resurgence, especially from those who are sympathetic to the Hanfu movement.


Main article: Secular coming of age ceremony

In some countries Humanist or freethinker organisations have arranged courses or camps for non-religious adolescents, in which they can study or work on ethical, social and personal topics important for adult life, followed by a formal rite of passage comparable to the Christian Confirmation. Some of these ceremonies are even called "civil confirmations". The purpose of these ceremonies is to offer a festive ritual for those youngsters, who do not believe in any religion, but nevertheless want to mark their transition from childhood to adulthood.[15]

Latin America

In some Latin American countries, when a woman reaches the age of 15, her relatives usually organize a very expensive celebration. It is usually a large party, called a Quinceañera in Spanish speaking countries and Baile de Debutantes in Brazil.

North America

In the United States and in Canada, when a child reaches the age of 16 he or she is allowed to drive and sometimes receives the responsibility of owning their own car. Girls' 16th birthdays are traditionally called Sweet Sixteen. Depending on the family's religion or family background, there may be a ceremony signifying their coming of age. A person 18 years of age is considered an adult in Canada and in the United States.


In Spain during the 19th century, there was a civilian coming of age bound to the compulsory military service. The quintos were the boys of the village that reached the age of eligibility for military service (18 years), thus forming the quinta of a year. In rural Spain, the mili was the first and sometimes the only experience of life away from family. In the days before their departure, the quintos knocked every door to ask for food and drink. They held a common festive meal with what they gathered and sometimes painted some graffiti reading "Vivan los quintos del año" as a memorial of their leaving their youth. Years later, the quintos of the same year could still hold yearly meals to remember times past. By the end of the 20th century, the rural exodus, the diffusion of city customs and the loss of prestige of military service changed the relevance of quintos parties. In some places, the party included the village girls of the same age, thus becoming less directly relevant to military service. In others, the tradition was simply lost.


Main article: Coming of Age Day

Since 1948, the age of majority in Japan has been 20; persons under 20 are not permitted to smoke, drink, or vote. Coming-of-age ceremonies, known as seijin shiki, are held on the second Monday of January. At the ceremony, all of the men and women participating are brought to a government building and listen to many speakers, similar to a graduation ceremony. At the conclusion of the ceremony Government officials give speeches, and small presents are handed out to the new adults.

Papua New Guinea

Kovave is a ceremony to initiate Papua New Guinea boys into adult society. It involves dressing up in a conical hat which has long strands of leaves hanging from the edge, down to below the waist. The name Kovave is also used to describe the head-dress.


During the feudal period, the coming of age was celebrated at 15 for noblemen. Nowadays, the age is 18 for girls and 20 for boys.


In Bali, the coming of age ceremony is supposed to take place after a girl's first menstrual period or a boy's voice breaks. However, due to expense, it is often delayed until later. The upper canines are filed down slightly to symbolize the effacing of the individual's "wild" nature.


In the rite of initiation of Baka Pygmies, the Spirit of the Forest ritually kills the boys to propitiate their rebirth as men. The Italian anthropologist Mauro Campagnoli took part in this secret rite of men's initiation in order to better understand its meaning. He became a member of a baka patrilinear clan and completed his trans-cultural coming of age.


In Korea, citizens are permitted to marry, vote, drive, drink alcohol, and smoke at age 19.

The Monday of the third week of May is "coming-of-age day". On that day, those entering adulthood are to receive three gifts: flowers, perfume and a kiss. There has been a traditional coming of age ceremony since before Goryeo dynasty, but it has mostly disappeared. In the traditional way, when boys or girls were between the ages of fifteen and twenty, boys wore gat, a Korean traditional hat made of bamboo and horsehair, and girls did their hair in chignon with binyeo, a Korean traditional ornamental hairpin. Both of them wore hanbok, and wearing hanbok on the coming of age ceremony can be sometimes seen even now.


Main article: Philippine Debut

In the Philippines, a popular coming of age celebration for 18 year-old women is the debut. It is normally a formal affair, with a strict dress code such as a coat and tie for the upper-middle and upper classes, and usually has a theme or color scheme that is related to the dress code. The débutante traditionally chooses for her entourage "18 Roses", who are 18 special men or boys in the girl's life such as boyfriends, relatives and brothers, and "18 Candles", who are the Roses' female counterparts. Each presents a rose or candle then delivers a short speech about the debutante. The Roses sometimes dance with the débutante before presenting their flower and speech, with the last being her father or boyfriend. Other variations exist, such as 18 Treasures (of any gender; gives a present instead of a candle or flower) or other types of flowers aside from roses being given, but the significance of "18" is almost always retained.

Filipino men, on the other hand, celebrate their debut on their 21st birthday. There is no traditionally set program marking this event, and celebrations differ from family to family. Both men and women may opt not to hold a debut at all.


Main article: Khmer Kom Lost/Kro Mom

In the Cambodia Kingdom of Wonder, a popular coming of age celebration for 14 year-old. A man will be called "ពេញកំលោ៖" Pheng Kom Lost and a women will be called "ពេញក្រមុំ" Pheng Kro Mom. At that day, the parents need to prepare a lot of foods for the celebrator and ask the relative to come and join the celebration as to show to other about their son/daughter is now turning to adulthood. With this event, it could be the every good time of the parents to open the getaway for other family who is looking for son/daughter in-law. The ceremony usually happened at night time, but from the morning the celebrator need to ware the best cloth of their choice and make up in their style and go to some place of their believe to show that they are now becoming adult.

Professional initiatory rituals


Medical School

White coat ceremony


In many universities of Europe, South America and India, first year students are made to undergo tests or humiliation before being accepted as students. Perhaps the oldest of these is "Raisin Monday"[16] at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. It is still practiced. A senior student would take a new student, a "bejant" or "bejantine" under his/her wing and show them around the university. In gratitude, the bejant would give the senior student a pound of raisins. In turn this led to bejants being given receipts in Latin. If a bejant failed to produce the receipt, he could be thrown into a fountain. The word bejant derives from "bec jaune" (a yellow beak, or fledgling).

Universities in Chile follow an annual ritual called "Mechoneo" (the act of pulling somebody's hair). First year students are initiated by theatrical "punishment". Freshmen are tied together while upperclassmen throw them eggs, flour, water, etc. Some universities have traditional ways of initiating freshmen.

Fraternities and Sororities

Fraternities and sororities have different processes for associate members, also known as pledges, to become a member. It usually takes place with one or more ritual that is specific to that organization.

Printing Industry

Among apprentices, the step from apprentice to journeyman was often marked by some ceremonial humiliation. Among printers this lasted until the twentieth century. The unfortunate young man would be "banged out" by being covered in offal.

See also



This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.