Behan, of S/V Totem is one of the most well know sailing family writers out there today. I few months back, near the end of 2018, she came to me to ask about writing up something on raising a teen on a boat. Yes, she’s already been there and done that, but she was writing and article for Yachting World Magazine and wanted the input of other sailing families with teens. I was happy to ponder her questions of current “hot topics” for sailing with teens. Having had writers block for some time, this was a perfect way to prompt me to write something new! Behan’s article should be coming out in this month’s (March) Yachting World Magazine. I’m excited to get a copy in my hands and read what different insights she got and how she compiled it into an article. Thanks again Behan for the inspiration!
While you are now anxiously waiting to pick up a copy of this months Yachting World Magazine, here is what I came up with for raising a teenage on a boat:
“Wow, you are sailing the world with three kids on a 40 foot boat?! And your oldest is 16?! What is it like with a teenager on such a small boat? I can’t imagine being in such a tight place with a teen. Does she have the normal teenage outbursts? What does she think about it? What does she do for school? What about social life? Does she help out?” Pretty much every conversation I end up having with non-sailing or soon to be sailing families about our life consists of the questions mentioned above plus many more. Raising kids on a boat is one thing, but raising teens, is a whole other ball game. Our kids are 16, 11 and 5. We get questioned about all age groups with such age gaps as we have, but the teen questions come up most frequently. Topics most often brought up are regarding what we do for school, whether she feels deprived socially and materialistically, whether or not we see similar situations for other boat teens, and how do we deal with teen “frustration” and moods and what do resolutions look like in these moments.
When we left for our world sailing adventure life, our oldest daughter, Nina, was 12 1/2. She was in 6th grade and we transitioned her out of private school halfway through the year into boatschool, 6 months prior to leaving. We knew that with her very social temperament, she would benefit with a transition that allowed her to continue to be close to her friends, and at the same time warm her up to schooling on the boat. Looking back at it now, this was probably the best thing for us to do. The transition to a less social life and more parent time over 6 months helped tremendously compared to other stories we’ve overheard from the families that did it “cold turkey”. The academic part of it had its own learning curve. The first year we pulled from various resources attempting to keep the Waldorf/Steiner style education. We ALL struggled with that. Not only did we find areas where Nina’s prior education might have missed her not understanding some subjects, but we also had to discover for ourselves how she best learned and what style of teaching/learning would be best for her. Once we found that, it was so much easier. In fact we have gotten to the place where she primarily teaches herself. We are just there as resources and to correct her math and papers.
“Does Nina ever feel socially deprived?” I think we better let her answer that question. (see her self recorded boat teen speech from December, 2018 here) . I think she’s had ups and downs with feeling deprived, but when does a teenager feel completely satisfied? One of the goals as parents raising our children in this environment, was to lead them away from FOMO (fear of missing out) phenomenon. It seems to be the case with the increased connection through social media that children feel the need to stay connected and fear that if they don’t, they will be missing out on something and possibly missing out on some “better” opportunity. Nina had an IPOD at the age of 12, for email, skype and google chat. The main goal was to stay present with our own adventure, and allow her to stay connected to family and the friends she “left behind” and the new friends she met along the way. There were many times she asked for Facebook and Instagram accounts, but we were able to hold off until she was 15. So now, she is on Instagram, but she’s also 16. When there is wifi available, we allow her limited time slots to do her social media thing and then we get back to being present. As for in person interactions with other teens, it comes in waves. There will be weeks, sometimes months without having interactions with other boat teens. And other times, it’s non-stop teen extravaganza! When there are not other teens around, she interacts with either adults or the younger kids. She’s very adaptable as far as that’s concerned. We would like to think that is because of the lifestyle we are raising her in and we have noticed the same characteristics in other boat kids. When we do meet up with other boat teens, there usually is an immediate connection between them. It doesn’t take to long to realise that once on cruising mode, it is necessary to meet and make friends quickly. There are no clicks, no super judgemental/harsh teen dynamics going on. It’s a breathe of fresh air to know that our children are being exposed to supportive and healthy relationships along our journey.
Other ways we helped Nina’s transitioning to sailing life: she’d already lived on a boat, at least part time, since she was 2.5 years old, so she was already accustomed to limited “stuff” aboard and tight living quarters. She moved aboard full time when she was 11, pre-teen. She had plenty of space. She shared the v-berth (the front of the boat) with her, then 6 year old sister, with two separate bunks, which they each call their own “room”. Their room, called a cabin on a boat, was equipped with a door for privacy and a second head (bathroom) that they are both responsible for upkeep on. Having her own space and something to be responsible for helped give her “ownership”. Now the girls are 16 and 11. They still share the v-berth and surprisingly still have enough space. Does Nina wish she she had her own room? Definitely. But didn’t we all when we were growing up, no matter how big the room was.
We all know that the word “teenager” is largely associated with emotional frustrations and irrational outbursts. Not sure if its our parenting, growing up on the boat, or just plan luck, but we have it pretty easy so far on this topic. Yes, there are moments of complete meltdowns and frustrations and there isn’t anywhere to run to, literally. So… we are forced to work it out quickly. And we learn to be ok with emotions. Sometimes we grow more if we accept them, let it ride, and then reflect. On a boat, we all, not just the ones involved, get to see them, experience them, feel them and then, most importantly, let them go. Usually it plays out as trying to calmly talk about it first, then on occasion the outburst happens, usually proceeded by a stomp to the v-berth and slam of the door, maybe some shouting, then hours of quietness. Nina journals, ALOT. Usually withing a few hours of in-room time, she returns to wherever we are, usually in the cockpit, to calmly talk out her frustrations. It seems to us, a very healthy means of working things out. We can only hope that we are giving our children quality coping and interpersonal relationship skills.
How much choice do we give our children, especially the teenagers, on what path we take for cruising? This is a tough topic and answers vary widely amongst other cruising families. We understand that our answer to this may not be agreed upon by others. Our way of thinking stems from both past experience and advise from others. Christian grew up sailing with his father. His journeys, albeit not around the world circumnavigation, covered many miles and covered many of his formative years. After completing the South Pacific loop twice, his father and mother sailed him down through the Panama Canal, at which point they gave Christian the choice to keep sailing, possibly to South Africa to surf or go up to Florida to do high school. He chose high school. He now says he wished his parents never gave him the option. He states that his high school experience was terrible. That being said, he does realise that he is where he is in life now with that as part of his path. But from having that experience and remembering how emotionally driven his choice was, we don’t feel like it is a good idea to give such a big choice to a teenager. We will listen to wants and consider them in our decision, but ultimately they can choose their path when they leave the boat. Our good friend aboard S/V Imani, Marc Gournard, once said after doing a circumnavigation with his wife and two kids, “You are the parents, your children do what you do, not the other way around.” Ultimately, as parents, we feel that we are responsible for raising our children the way we think is best in order to set them free, so that they can then live the life they want to live in confidence.
Skipping ahead 4 months from when I originally wrote this post….
We have found ourselves in New Zealand primarily to work and experience the country while we are making money before we continue on again. An added benefit to staying put here for a while is that Nina can go to high school (or what they call college here) and finish up her formal education before she goes off to University on her own. She entered school here as a year 12 student (equivalent to Junior year in the States), so she technically skipped half a year of school by starting the new school year here in January. Is this what she wants? She says it is. It happens to work for us as well as far as timing. Her transition into school has been great. She was very nervous to start, but within a few days she’d already established a good group of friends and a good understanding of how the education system worked. Nina found herself ahead in Math(s) and English and about right on par with Science. Yay, we didn’t fail as home-educators! What a relief!
We are always revisiting our choices and what we want next. We listen to our children, we listen to ourselves, we listen to what “feels right”.
Nina with two teens we met off of a charter boat that were out from Germany, cruising the Society Islands for a few weeks.
Tahiti: another place where many kid boats meet.
Hanging with younger kids from other boats… Above (Catherine from La Cigale)Nina loves free-diving. She’s reached a max of 59 feet. Above: Diving with Dad. Below: Diving with Mom.Snorkelling with her sister.
Marine Biology Boat school, tailored for all ages.
She’s outgrown me!Marc and Doreen from S/V Imani. Back at the cruising thing without their kids this time around.
Nina in the Galapagos with her Marine Iguana friend.
17 boat kids met in the Galapagos for Taj’s birthday party. NO lack of kids here.
Beach play in the Galapagos with fellow boat teen Anastasia off of S/V Lady Mary.
Equator crossing, 2018.
Arrival to the Galapagos, late March 2018.
Hanging with the S/V Totem teens in the park in Panama City.
Skating with boat teen Jack off of S/V Arc En Ciel in Panama
Braces are taken off in Panama!January 3, 2018 Costa Rica
Sailing into Banderas Bay, spring, 2016
Nina’s triumphant pose as she completes a 40 foot deep fin-less dive.
Nina likes her cliff jumping.
S/V Kenta Anae joined us in the Sea of Cortez with their boat teen.
Hanging with other boat teens
90% of the time, this is what Nina looks like 🙂 Reading in her corner.
Getting braces (brackets) put on in Mexico.
Hanging with the boys off of S/V Tribe in La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico.Mid passage swim
School at the beach in Mazatlan
“Boat hair, I don’t care”
Tenacatita Raft up with TONS of other boat kids (January 2016)
Back when we left in 2015, Nina still held our hands…
Rodeo show off of Morro Bay.
Heading down the coast of California.
Our first family photo after leaving San Francisco, August 2015.
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