"Sailing stinks. I hate sailing. I'm never going sailing again."
On Wednesday night, after sailing, I discovered that the son of one of my best sailing buddies had had a bad sailing experience at the weekend and had emphatically declared that he was retiring from sailing for good. The kid is about 11 years old.
Earlier this week in response to this post, Ward from about.com said ...
I would sincerely like to have answered by anyone whose children are safely past adolescence: How many years' hiatus from sailing with his father does the average teenager require? For the first season ever, mine apparently just wants to play (1) World of Warcraft online and (2) his guitar in his free time. Is the lure of a crew of naked women my only current hope, or is this the part where I am supposed to lean back and not let on that I miss his company?
And Carol Anne from Five O'Clock Somewhere said ...
I'd second Ward's request for a discussion on dealing with teenage offspring as crew. I don't have the problem of mine losing interest in sailing (you don't need naked women; a Dutch track star in a bikini works wonders), but there are some, uh, interesting dynamics at work.
Judging by the record number of comments to my post about Sailing Romance, you guys are somewhat interested in this whole question of sailing and its impact on personal relationships -- or vice versa. So I will write some posts on the topic of being a sailor and parent of teenagers who also sailed.
I won't make these part of the Ask the Tillerman series because that is a spoof agony column where I write pathetic attempts at flippant humor. It seems that this is too important a subject to treat in that way.
Let me first make clear my qualifications, and lack of them, for addressing this topic.
I do meet Ward's criteria of having children past adolescence. More importantly both of my sons learned to sail at the age of 7 or 8; sailed and raced throughout their school years, including those tempestuous teenage years; retained an interest in sailing through their years in college with one of them being an active intercollegiate racer; and now in their twenties with all the typical pressures on people in that age bracket -- building a career, dating, entry-level salaries, graduate school, marriage, mortgage, baby, fixing the leak in the roof -- are both involved to some degree in sailing at an age when many people give up or take a break from the sport.
I have also seen many other kids who weren't as fortunate as mine, both from the perspective of my work as a sailing instructor and as a friend of other sailing parents. Sadly, I've seen numerous kids turned off by the sport or who simply lost interest in sailing.
On the other hand I don't think I have any magic secrets. I count my own sons' continued interest in sailing -- no teenage hiatus there -- as amazingly good fortune rather than any particular parenting prowess on my part. Like most of us I stumbled through the years of being a parent of teenagers without an owner's manual, made a lot of mistakes, yet somehow survived.
But now I look back and realize how lucky I was, how lucky we all were. My kids stayed active in sailing and still enjoy it so we must have been doing something right. I think it's going to take several posts to tell the whole story -- the good, the bad, and the downright ugly -- and to discuss what works and what doesn't so I'll sprinkle them in with other posts over the next few weeks.
Some of the topics I want to discuss are ...
- How closely should a parent be involved in their children's sailing?
- How do you find the right balance between providing challenges and putting too much pressure on a kid?
- The social side of sailing.