Living on an island in your teen years

should I stay or should I go
Should I stay or should I go?

Growing up in St John has many advantages and a few disadvantages. I always felt it was an ideal place to be until your teenage years. Some teens may argue with me about this and actually I could come up with a few good arguments myself, but who better to argue with than myself.

Here it goes.

The beach is a great daytime activity for anyone of any age. There are walks on the beach and trails close to the beach for young and old; there is windsurfing, sailing, and body surfing. Depending on the weather there is surfing, skin boarding, and kite surfing. When you add an actual boat into the picture then you have dinghies, motorboats, jet skis and sailboats. A boat can pull you by ropes to wake boards and ski. You can go spear fishing and scuba diving.

A lot of this takes money and if the money’s not there, these kids still find a way; they work for the vendors for trade to use their boats, they find friends with boats or they just hang out at the beach.


Most the high schools have football, basketball, baseball, cross country running and volleyball. Most kids go to St Thomas for high school. There is one school that goes up to twelfth grade, the Gifft Hill School. This was not there when my oldest two were of high school age. It went to twelfth grade about nine years ago.

The out of school sports programs come and go. Some years there is an active soccer or baseball program, some years nothing. This varies depending on who’s living on the island and willing to put in a lot of time. It is all put together independent of any state or school program.

The two longest lasting programs on St John are KATS- Kids At The Sea and the Steel Pan programs. The steel pan programs happen both in the school system and out. KATS is a sailing program where the kids, ages 8 to 18, get together every Saturday for a few hours in the morning and learn water safety skill. First learn to row a boat then get promoted to sailing with Optimus then Lasers then Sunfish.  Volunteers run this.  Both programs have done so much for so many.

People come from all over the world to run the 8 Tuff miles race that happens every February. This is for all ages. The youth on the Island like to take it up as a challenge. Some just run it cold that day while others will train for it.

I shouldn’t forget the basketball courts. There is one in Cruz Bay that sometimes is closed due to water, and another in Coral Bay that is sometimes closed due to the owners (Moravian church) fearful of being sued.


You can see the daytime activities are plentiful. The real problem arises at night. Your choices are pretty much either hang out at a friend’s house or in Cruz Bay.

There are a lot of drugs and alcohol on the island. It is not unrealistic to say some of the parents are the problem, as with anywhere. Some of the non-local parents first came to St John to escape something and with that escape came the use of alcohol and/or drugs to aid the escape. Some of the local parents never got to escape anywhere so they use alcohol and/or drugs to do just that. I did see many fall into this type of escape and many not be able to get back out.

I also know many parents that are not into any of this.

It is not uncommon to see a 16 year old at a bar hanging out. All ages are allowed in the bars. They do check ID when you buy the drink but often a friend who is 18 will buy the drink and pass it over. Eighteen is the legal drinking age.

This is not to say they all do it. Some bypass the alcohol/drug activity. I know a few that avoid the whole scene by not being very social in the evening. They run around like crazy during the day and you never see them at night. Others are very social in the evening and just choose to refrain from drugs and alcohol.

Advantages: beach/water activities, being such a small island causes all ages to interact and get along, the small size of the island also causes many to have your back, a lot of culture still intact.

Disadvantages: so small you can get bored of doing the same thing over and over. You don’t have all the theater, museums, large stadium sports, and theme parks that tend to break up the monotony here and there.

I have to say that since living in the states for the last four years we rarely do any of these cultural activities, they are either too expensive or too long of a drive. The kids seem to be occupied with school, after school sports, movie and hanging out at shopping malls. The beach seems to only happen for those fortunate to live very close until they get their drivers license. My son who fishes, does that anywhere there is water.

I have lived in the states and on the Island of St John with my teens. As you can see, the argument as to which is better is an ongoing one. If a child is vulnerable he will find trouble anywhere. If a child is solid he will stay out of trouble anywhere.

When my son was getting into lots of trouble in St John, I sent him to the states to a Quaker boarding school. It was a 130 acre forested school where along with academics, they gardened and lived in cabins. The Quaker philosophy is peace. Every day started with group silence then into group discussion. It opened up his world and made it a lot bigger with more possibilities. Getting off the island to travel and see different cultures and meet different people can do this, weather it is one week or a few years.

My suggestion to parents of all types of teens would be: steer them toward wholesome activities and keep loving them.

What does your child dream of, what do they fear? It really is such an individual thing. Keep paying attention to them even when you feel they are old enough to handle things on their own. Everyone wants to be noticed, keep noticing them and guiding them when you can.

So what did this argument accomplish?

Multiple choice.

  • A reminder to keep paying attention?
  • The fact that it is a very individual decision?
  • The realization that in the end you might just make the wrong decision?
  • The realization that in the end you just might make the right decision?

All the above.

By the way, what were we arguing about?

One thought on “Living on an island in your teen years

  1. I have the same arguments with my spouse over homeschooling/sending them to real school. The same points–social isolation v. socialization, protection v. exposure–come up regularly.

    No easy solution. Sometimes it’s even different between two kids in the same household (as you found with your son).

    I’m not sure you can DO IT WRONG. Kids are remarkably resilient, and I think a lot of the time, they grow up in spite of us.

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