How Do You Teach A 14-Year-Old Girl To Play?

by Jenny Schulte
Originally Published: 

Recently, we took our 14-year-old daughter to the North Shore of Oahu for a week. For some parents, the prospect of being trapped in a condo with a teenage girl might reduce them to quivering jelly, but we actually think she’s a pretty nice kid. She doesn’t throw fits. She isn’t rude to her parents, teachers or friends. Her eye rolling is kept to a minimum.

My husband and I had already had a week to ourselves on the Big Island, so we were relaxed, tanned and ready to show the girl a good time. We’ve visited the North Shore often and are very familiar with its charms, most notably its laid-back vibe.

Maybe we were too enthusiastic, or maybe we just acted like annoying tour guides. All we knew is that she seemed very nervous. She said she felt “out of place.” She worried about her sun exposure (uh, that would be my job). She couldn’t seem to really look at anything, really be in the moment. This worried me because, as far as I can recall regarding my now ancient adolescence, enjoying my leisure time was no great difficulty.

Anna, on the other hand, seemed distracted all the time. And not by the eye candy on the beach, but by some internal recording of must-dos and must-worry-abouts that kept her very preoccupied. She said she was concerned about the start of school, applying out to high schools and taking the ISEEs. I told her all those things would be there when she got back, so why not enjoy her time away? She shook her head no.

I walked her down the beach in Haleiwa, where giant Hawaiian Sea Turtles lie on the sand for daily naps. There’s basically nowhere else on earth where turtles do this and don’t care about people, so it’s this magical opportunity. She looked, saw, nodded and then turned around to walk back to the condo.

The next day, at Sunset Beach, it was the same deal. She fussed about the waves being too big (they were not; the beach was idyllic) and the sand too hot. She complained that no one would help her with her boogie board. We just hung in there and ignored her, figuring that if the old people continued to play, maybe the young sprout would catch on.

The tipping point seemed to come at Waimea Bay. During the winter, Waimea Bay has 30-foot waves and surfers, but during the summer, the beach is transformed into the silliest place on earth. There are usually turtles swimming, there’s good snorkeling, and there’s amazing swimming with no risk of hitting rocks. Often, there are pods of spinner dolphins putting on a show, you know, just because.

Another big attraction at Waimea is the rock. The rock is a gigantic black lava boulder that rises up from the beach and extends into the bay. At its highest, it’s probably about 30 feet. Every day in the summer, it’s covered with people who’ve hauled themselves up there to jump off, but are now stuck in a sort of terror-stricken jump limbo. It looks very high from up there. I know this through experience: I’ve jumped from it twice. In both instances, there was enough time to contemplate the wisdom/folly of what I’d done, before hitting the surprisingly concrete hard water at an uncomfortable angle. I call the rock the Hawaiian kick in the ass.

Anna had heard about the rock and had dismissed it immediately, saying it “wasn’t her thing.” Yet, once we were there, she kept looking over at it, watching all those formerly brave souls huddled in uncertainty up on that rock, watching kids younger than her doing belly-flops off the thing.

Finally, she told my husband, “I’m going to go jump off that rock.” She climbed up there behind a huge guy (if he’d slipped, she would have been toast), and then stepped up to the highest point.

And jumped.

She survived. She later told me that her impact, since one of her legs was out a bit, was like “landing on a bidet on the highest setting.” She seemed no worse for wear, and her mood improved dramatically. Cheers to the Waimea Bay rock bidet treatment!

I keep hoping that, by watching her middle-aged parents lolling on the beach, snorkeling, swimming and turtle gawking, Anna can relearn how to relax. For most of our vacation, she seemed more like a stressed out movie studio executive than a teenager, and this worried me. There will not always be a rock to jump from, an impact to jolt her into the moment like there was on that beach. In the end, perhaps the most important lesson I can teach her is to remember how to play. I have my work cut out for me.

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