Tastes of independence

Jul 13, 2008 at 11:56 a.m. ET

My pre-teen is desperate for freedom, freedom at a level for which I don't believe he's quite ready. He thinks he should be able to do just anything on his own, without a second thought. Riding his bike down busy winding streets, staying up as late as he wants, going to friend's houses that I don't know, surfing the Internet without restriction.

Preteen Boy
I remember that feeling. I remember trying so hard to pull away, thinking I was ready, and my parents tugging me back, knowing I wasn't quite ready yet. Now that I am a mother, I can see their point-of-view. But I can see Alfs' point-of-view, too. I want to give him that taste of freedom that he so desires, but do it with some kind of safety net. Is it possible for both of us to get what we need?

Wind power

There is one way I can give him a much wanted taste of freedom - sailing. There's a community boating center near us that offers summer sailing lessons; it's an incredible part of the community. Alfs started taking lessons a couple of years ago and has been slowly advancing in skill. This summer, he's sailing every day for six weeks and doing some racing. Although getting him to his lessons can be tricky (lesson time is dependent on tide), the effort is worth it for us. 

Out on the water, Alfs is in control of and responsible for the boat - though under the watchful eye of (young adult) instructors in motorboats nearby. While there are drills and skill development, he can decide his line to take the boat to the downwind mark or how he's going to tack up wind, or whatever. He can choose to be very focused on a given day, or let his guard down and play games with his friends in other boats.

A happy illusion

While Alfs is in absolute control of his boat at a given moment, and tastes that freedom in the wind in his hair and sun on his back, the overall control and freedom is a well-planned illusion. While not risk-free, he is out there with back up and responsible eyes on him, just in case.

The whole family has noted that when Alfs goes sailing, he comes off the water happier. If he was having a generally good day anyway, he's practically ecstatic when I pick him up; if it's an otherwise grumpy day, he comes home calm and relaxed. The combination of wind, sun, water and relative independence is enough to satisfy his yearning for freedom for now, and in a way that is acceptable for both of us.

Sailing might be a real ticket to freedom for Alfs. Many of the instructors at the center learned to sail there themselves. Some come back and teach for a few summers and then go on to other things; others continue to sail, all over the world. Who knows where the wind will take Alfs?

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