Bicycling.com just ran a story that sums up the plight of children in our country today–kids are not allowed to ride bikes to school. Why? Helicopter parents and uptight school administrators believe it is safer for kids to get driven everywhere. But what they don’t understand is that it’s far more dangerous for kids to be inactive. Not to mention what kind of message this sends them about their mental health.
The story summed it up perfectly at the beginning:
Childhood obesity rates are soaring, youth participation in sports and other active pursuits is plummeting, and a generation is coming of age with little understanding of the joy and freedom of unsupervised play. There’s a simple solution—but all across the nation our schools earn a failing grade when it comes to letting kids ride their bikes.
Then they went on to disclose some really bothersome statistics: According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 40 years ago, 48% of children walked or rode their bikes to school. Today that figure is a dismal 13%. Even among students who lived within one mile of school, 88% used to walk or bike, while today only 38% do.
So why is that?
Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists explained in the article:
We’ve gotten so used to ferrying kids around in cars. And there are so many other distractions now—most of them involving a screen.
In addition, only about a third of American children get P.E. at school every day, despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ recommendation that children get 60 minutes of aerobic activity every day–something we know they don’t always get at home.
And we all know where this is going: childhood obesity rates that are out of control with everyone pointing the finger, but no one taking responsibility.
A whopping 17% of the kids in our country are obese–a number that has tripled since 1980. Not only does this set kids up for a very unhealthy future with increased risks of hypertension, heart disease, osteoporosis, and type 2 diabetes, but it also likely means a childhood–if not a life–of low self-esteem and low confidence. We know how mean other kids can be towards someone who is fat. That type of cruelty doesn’t just roll off a kid’s back. It can stick with them for life.
Which is why encouraging more kids to bike or walk to school seems like such an easy solution. Will it cure all childhood obesity? Of course not. But will it help? Definitely.
Parents and schools just need to stop being so uptight.
Case in point: A British study found that over the course of four generations, the distance that eight-year-old children in one family were allowed to roam from home had shrunk from 6 miles (for the great-grandfather) to one mile (for the grandfather) to half a mile (for the mother) to 300 yards (for her son).
Not only is all of this limiting the necessary physical activity that is essential for building a healthy body, but it’s also sending a message to our kids that they are incapable of taking care of themselves and thinking for themselves. By letting them sense our fear (and yes, all parents rightly have this) and succumb to it, kids are really being told that they are powerless and not smart enough to do something as simple as biking or walking to school. Sure there are schools located in the heart of cities where traffic is clearly dangerous, but for most suburban schools, letting kids bike or walk in a group, or even with their parent, seems like a perfectly reasonable solution.
Still, I have had other parents question (i.e., judge) my decision to let my two sons bike to school on the “busiest road in town”–even though they ride on the sidewalks, they have been taught the rules of the road, and they are 12 and 15 years old. Oh, and that “busy” road has a speed limit of just 35 mph.
There will always be parents who judge, just like there will always be parents who are over-protective. And of course we all want to keep our kids safe. But at what expense?