Beach House Diaries: Smells Like Teen Spirit

pile of backpacks

How long would it take for nine teens who seem to have stepped out of a High School Musical re-make to morph into Survivor castaways?

On Pictou Island, the answer was about 48 hours.

Before you could say "grab a torch," grime had been embraced. Hair products were discarded (they're useless when your 'do is full of sand, crusted with salt and sprinkled with pine needles); sleeves were hastily severed from t-shirts to create an effect that was shabby without the chic; oh, and underwear became optional. I half expected Jeff Probst to round the corner bearing tribal buffs.

The fact that my daughter and her crew went "native" so fast was all the more surprising given the volume of stuff they'd brought from home. Limited car space meant each carried only a single backpack, but these functioned like Mary Poppins' bottomless carpet bag, and I marveled at what they pulled out. One produced an ER-quality first aid kit; another drew forth a guitar; and a third unpacked a fat, furry bathrobe that made him look like a cross between a spa fanatic and a Berenstein Bear (sartorial considerations aside, it was a curious choice for a spot that doesn't have a bath).

They also brought sleeping bags and beach towels, which were much appreciated considering no beach houser -- including those who insist otherwise -- actually enjoys sacrificing his or her holiday time to do 12 extra loads of guest-generated laundry. Plus they arrived with an array of repellents and sun potions (again very welcome, since constantly replenishing these items takes time as well as money); and they came outfitted for the weather, so that I wasn't required to frantically rummage for spare sweaters and raingear when those darks clouds rolled in.

teens at Lake PictouThat wasn't happenstance, however. On the contrary, they'd been invited because they were the kind of kids who could be counted on to do such things. Simply put, I've found that the key to success with any group, regardless of age, is assembling the right one in the first place. Princesses, for example, need not apply. Beach houses like mine -- where mattresses are lumpy, plumbing is medieval and air-conditioning is non-existent -- admittedly present special challenges for the pampered. Even at a five-star villa, though, certain guests will manage to pout about bugs or bad weather.

Gushing, love's-first-blushing couples, angst-ridden soul searchers and other types of teens who crave solitude are dubious additions, too, as their tendency to meander off alone messes up the group dynamic. (As a mom, it also wrecks my ability to relax because my shenanigans meter goes off and my herding instinct kicks in.) Ironically, one variety of teen I never worry about bringing to my off-the-grid island is the social media maven: the reason being that, for most, temporarily dispensing with Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook seems both a relief and a revelation.

Fueled by fresh air and the company of friends, their fingers freed from Lilliputian keypads, it doesn't usually take long for teens to remember why the great outdoors is, well, great. Although Pictou Island boasts no big ticket attractions, there are still secret coves to explore, fireflies to catch, beaches to doze on, rock formations that beg to be climbed and (since adolescents apparently don't outgrow their interest in sand dollars and moon snails) tidal pools to wade through.

Seeing our young guests together gave credence to my mother's old adage that "only boring children get bored." It also highlighted something the women of her generation intuitively understood -- namely that kids, when left to their own devices, won't instantaneously implode. Today's engaged parents are inclined to overschedule and micromanage, all in the name of keeping their offspring occupied (read: out of trouble). Yet, with their adult lives looming, teens also need a chance to practice independence. And there is, perhaps, no better place for that than a beach house.

Next: 8 Tips for Taking Teens to a Beach House

<<Previous Week: The Dog Days of Summer
Next Week: Eating the Pictou Island Way>>

Each week writer Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb will report on summer beach house life from her vacation home on Pictou Island, Nova Scotia. Follow along for a glimpse of the shore, plus tips on what to pack, how to entertain guests and how to relax at your own beach house.
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