Children, bicycles and risk-taking.

What a good looking bunch.

What a good looking bunch – of bicycles.

I got to talk to the media last month about two of my favourite topics: raising children and riding bicycles. As I indicated previously here, those two things overlap a lot in our household.

The article was about how children are now growing up in a social environment that is far more constrained than in previous decades. I see it in my school setting. I see it in my community setting. The sense of freedom and independence that previous generations enjoyed, is being lost. Over recent decades, a child’s zone of play has shrunk considerably. Children are spending more of their free time stuck inside the house, rather than outside exploring the world. We also know that they are being ferried to and from school by car much more than they used to be.

I learned at a young age, that life looked very different from behind the handlebars of a bicycle to that of the windscreen of a car. Modern transport has the ability to annihilate space. So I have tried to impart that experience to my own children. I have tried to give them the chance to play independently, travel independently and be independent in their thinking. Making mistakes along the way is a great pathway to making good choices. Falling out of trees, falling off bikes, experiencing conflict with friends is all part of that process. I fear that the first time young people get to experience risk-taking is when they are put behind the wheel of a motor car. From Grand Theft Auto to hooning down the motorway, with no in-between steps.

Modern economic imperatives have to take some responsibility for this situation. Many parents now have no choice but to ‘drop their children off and run’. They have jobs to go to. Bills to pay. And even if money is not the issue, all that work is going to mean they are time-poor. But there is still a lot of ‘cotton-wooling’ going on. I see it in the school playground. The prevalence of adult intervention in playgrounds is not always beneficial to the children.

Unfortunately, the down side of the article was the way in which it played into the refrain, ‘riding a bicycle is risky’. As a result of the article, I got a not-so-gentle ribbing from my brother-in-law, for being a ‘risk-taker’. “Yeah, right!?” were his words. He knows me as being considerably risk averse. And he’s right. I am. So how is it that someone so risk averse as myself uses a bicycle on a daily basis and is happy to encourage his own children to do the same. It’s about assessing what risk there is, and dealing with it appropriately. That’s the learning our children are being deprived of.

Riding a bicycle should not automatically imply hurtling oneself down a tree covered hillside on a mountain bike. That’s risky behaviour. And I fear that that is how the non-cycling public perceive cycling to be. This is my version of cycling-I mean ‘riding a bicycle. And that’s why it’s so important that the self-appointed promoters of cycling take care that their messaging is spot on.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

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