When I was a kid my bike was my ticket to freedom. I couldn’t wait to get out of school and meet up with my neighborhood friends and just ride around having a good time and digging up mischief. Unfortunately, overtime it seems that the little biker gangs are less and less prevalent on the streets these days.
I understand the reasoning. As parents we want to keep our children safe, supervised and generally off the streets. There are so many dangers in this world. But are we sacrificing some major developmental and psychological benefits for our children? I think so.
The technology boom around 2005 with smartphones, xboxes and i-everything also called our children in off the streets to be glued to little screens in front of little boxes engaging their little imaginations for several hours and also keeping them mostly out of trouble and out of our hair. Less frequent are the blood curdling screams as children limped into the house with activity-related injuries.
Yet, childhood obesity has become an increasingly major issue in the United States. Research shows that students who ride a bike to school are more focused and ready to learn, compared with those who are driven. Taking part in regular physical activity also has links to increase happiness, as well as giving kids more opportunities to make social connections.
Personally speaking, as one of four children; I saw how the lack of bike riding directly affected my younger sister in comparison to myself and my older siblings. My younger sister was between 10 and 12 (the most popular childhood bike riding age), when hand-held technology really took off. She was an entirely different child than the rest of us who were out riding around all afternoon and summer-long. She was slightly over-weight, ate far more junk-food, had very few friends, was socially awkward, lazy, very immature, more dependent on adults and generally unhappy. It was very clear that this was mostly due to the lack of physical activity and interaction with other children.
Having a bike and a way to get around gives children the opportunity to learn valuable life skills such as taking direction, using caution, working as a team, making decisions and just plain experiencing life outside of the screen.
When you ride a bike as a child, you are cutting that chord of needing to be told exactly what to do and monitored every moment. You have to start figuring out things like, “if I ride this far out I have to ride this far back” and how long it will take you to get to and from places. Another important skill is to know your way around your neighborhood. Heaven forbid a child is ever abducted but it’s a big help to know where they are and where they are going so they can escape and get back home.
Is it difficult to trust your child with all of this independence in a dangerous world? Yes, it is absolutely terrifying. But it is of the utmost importance to gradually prepare a child for adulthood rather than to hand an overgrown tween the keys to a two-ton moving vehicle as their first taste of freedom.