I don’t say much about my work here, in the interest of keeping work life separate from personal life. Most days, I feel fortunate to be in a line of work that is in keeping with my interest in active transportation and health. Other days, I just want to bang my head against the wall . . . .
I recently conducted a survey on walking and biking to school, and I couldn’t believe this response from the parent of a 9-year-old who lives six or seven blocks (residential blocks with sidewalks and low speed limits) from the school:
Reason for disinterest in walking school bus or bike train: “prefer to drive [child] myself”
Sadly, there were other, similar responses. In my mind, this is inexcusable, both from a health and a resource standpoint. There’s a reason we have a huge childhood obesity problem and the attitude behind statements like this play a big part.
I know, I know, there are millions of excuses, some legitimate, but most not. Parents’ fear the risk of very rare events that get lots of media coverage, like kidnappings, and fail to see the much more real risk of a sedentary lifestyle: obesity, type 2 diabetes, and a host of other chronic diseases and health problems.
Don’t want your child to walk alone? Okay, then get off the couch and walk with them. You’ll be doing something good for yourself and your child. And I could cease the head banging over here.
Ha! I was just visiting with my parents yesterday and we were having the exact same conversation. I walked to and from school pretty much every day from the time I was in kindergarten until I graduated from high school, and you know what… IT WAS FUN! Walking to and from school was like another recess, it was where you got to hang out with your friends and where you got to just be a kid.
I’m a big football fan (still mourning the demise of my beloved Broncos – although I can’t say it was a surprise.) Anyhow, the NFL has a campaign called “Play60” where they are encouraging kids to get outside and play for at least an hour every day. This boggles my mind. When I was a kid, you couldn’t keep me from going outside and playing!
My friends and I were always out playing on our bikes or our skateboards or our roller skates, or with our pogo sticks, or hula hoops, or jump ropes. Our neighborhood didn’t have a park, so we haunted the playground of the local school. We were always out exploring the neighborhood creeks and vacant lots, or making expeditions to the drug store for penny candy, or… if we felt like a really big challenge we’d conquer the hill and ride our bikes all the way to the mall so we could pet the kittens at the pet store.
I just can’t figure out what has changed. Has some physical reality about life altered so much in the past 30 years that childhood has become unrecognizable, or is it all just a cultural thing? Part of me believes that we, as a culture have infantilized our children to a completely unhealthy level.
These days, it’s viewed as a sin to let your kids play outside unsupervised… but when I was a kid, that’s what we did every single day. I was NEVER home… my friends and I were always out exploring something or going somewhere, or even just playing touch football in the streets. When it would get dark, you’d hear a chorus of mothers hollering for their kids to come home. If you parented that way now, somebody would probably put you in jail for child abuse!
It really bothers me on a deep and profound level. Aside from the obvious physical and environmental ramifications, it’s like we’re teaching our children to be little drones who are incapable of doing or thinking for themselves. In my more cynical moments, I think that none of this is an accident, and it’s all just the great corporatocracy brainwashing the next generation to be mindless automatons who will happily join the ranks of its slave labor pool, while tethering themselves to life long debt and a mire of hopeless consumerism. I do have more upbeat moments though… in those moods I just think people are lazy and stupid.
I think the shift occurred during or just after my generation (although it was set in motion long before that). Your childhood sounds a lot like mine, and I hope to give the The Dude the same freedom to play, explore, and get around independently. Instead of keeping our kids inside all of the time, we need to teach them to safely navigate their environments, first with parents as role models and for supervision, and then, as they get older, on their own. Working on building environments (human-scale; walkable neighborhoods; “eyes on the street;” places where people get out,know their neighbors, and participate in their communities) that support and encourage parents to make these choices is also key and has been lost in many places.