I just finished my annual two week cycling training camp at my place in Arizona. It's a place where the weather is more conducive to early season cycling, unlike my home town of Calgary where you can still get caught in a freak snow storm in the middle of a 100km ride. My feelings about Calgary weather are another topic and not what I’m writing about today.
As I was returning home and waiting for my plane in the Phoenix Sky Harbour airport, I stopped at the bookstore to get something to read for the 3 hours flight back to Calgary, so I picked up the current issue of Bicycling Magazine when I came across an article that I just have to share with you. The title of the article is: “Why Johnny Can’t Ride” and I’d like to hear from you on this one. I hope I’m not the only one that thinks the “Nanny State” filled with “Helicopter Parents” has gone too far.
I wrote a post a while back titled, "Childhood Fitness, Where Did It Go". The topic was about the absence of kids playing in the streets and parks because of many factors including, over-protective parents that can’t let their kids out of their sight for more than a nano-second, and the fact that today’s children are addicted to video games and monitors (TV, Computers, etc), which are both contributing to the probability if a child is under the age 16 they will live a shorter and less healthy life than their parents (if that can even be possible, judging by the current health of North Americans adults today).
The more I read this article about Adam's situation, the more piss-off I got. It’s a long article so let me give you the “Cole’s Notes Version”.
This is a story about a seventh-grader at Maple Avenue Middle School in Saratoga Springs, New York. His name is Adam Mario and he’s getting a firsthand lesson in civil disobedience. The 12-year-old and his mother, Janette Marino, are defying Saratoga Springs school policy by riding his bike to school; yes, you read that correctly, for biking to school. Something we as kids took for granted and were encouraged; in fact, we had two ways to get to school back then; you either walked, or rode your bike. Adam rides about 4 miles (6.4km), each way to school and his mother rides with him to ensure his safety. By the way, this is something my mother at that age would never do, nor would I want her because I enjoyed the confidence my parents had in me, not to mention the feeling of independence. So when Adam and his mother arrived at his school, they were met by school officials and a State Trooper who informed them that such an act was extremely dangerous, strictly prohibited and she would have to come back to the school and pick up his bike. They went on further to say the only two modes of transportation to and from the school were bus or car.
Janette Marino believes they didn’t do anything wrong and that it’s none of the state or school’s business what form of transportation she uses to get their son to school, as long as he gets there on time. Besides, Adam would be one less child why the school has to buy another polluting bus, or idling car that sits in front of the school during pick up and drop off time. The Marino’s are part of a small, but growing number of parents challenging the sedentary habits of today's youths and what they view as overanxious "helicopter parenting”, where “Free Range” children is considered irresponsible parenting. To these modern day parents, the thought of sending their children out the door to participate in unsupervised play, or to let them walk to school themselves is simply unthinkable. So the Marino's basically said to hell with you; try and stop us.
Riding his 21-speed Giant mountain bike to school benefits Adam Marino's health and the environment, but state and school believe that biking and walking (which is also banded, believe me, I can’t make this stuff up) are too dangerous for middle school aged children to handle, although no walking or bike accidents have ever been reported on the school’s road.
So that’s the summary of this story; read the full story to fill in the gaps and I’m sure you will shake your head like my wife and I did. There are many social issues one can comment on a story like this, especially given the health of the typical North American. Given the theme of my blog I will focus on two that I believe are contributing negatively to the health of our children:
1) Helicopter Parenting
2) Health is Not a Priority
Helicopter Parenting: I’m not sure when it happened, but over the decades since I was a kid, parents have become so protective of their children, it’s now affecting their health. And for the most part, they fear something that’s not real and only in their mind. This fear is further manifested when they hear about the one or two child abduction cases that are sensationalized by the media. They fear if their children play too out of their sight that bad shit will happen to them, when in fact this kind of smothering is one of the causes why we have so many obese children.
My father who’s now 87 told me a great when he was a young lad of 7 or 8 years old, growing up in Scotland. He and his best friend set out to ride their bikes from Edinburgh Scotland to Blackpool England a distance of 320km (one way) with no parent supervision. They had a map, (which they could read and understand), a few shillings in their pockets to buy some food and shelter, and good health to get them there and back! Remember, I’m talking about two 7 year old boys and the only thing my Grandmother said to him as he set off, was to ride safe (oh yea, and they weren't wearing helmets). This could never happen in today’s culture, because every stranger is considered a potential kidnapper, or worse and what would happen if their little sweethearts fell. Not to mention, most children are so out of shape they could never physically consider such a trip. Finally, today's children are driven to all their activities, so they have no idea how to navigate much further than a few hundred meters from their front door. If today’s Child Services ever caught wind of such parental freedom for their children, they would have locked my Grandmother up for being an irresponsible parent. (By the way, the two lads only made it as far as Carlisle in Northern England, because they realized they would run out of money. Even still, they rode a total distance of 320km and spent a couple nights on their own staying at youth hostels!)
This story is so extreme by today’s standards, were “Free Range” play for children is such a rarity. Except for organized hockey where my father was the coach, we never participated in any organized play, however we were always playing sports in the fields, climbing trees, riding our bikes, playing touch football and scrub baseball. And there was never a parent watching over our shoulder. This unnatural act that parents have developed prevents their children to roam free and play naturally. By restricting the movement’s like we see today, says to children that their parents can’t trust them to be responsible for their decisions and actions. No wonder children are so rebelious today. And when combined with the Nintendo Culture of sitting their little fat behinds in front of a monitor for 5 to 6 hours a day you have a major contributor to the obesity epidemic we find in our young people today.
Health is Not a Priority: the fact that the majority of North Americans are not healthy means that health is no longer a priority in many people’s lives. The statistics don’t lie and the costs to our healthcare system are out of control as a direct outcome. If health isn’t a priority for the parents, it’s certainly not going to be a priority for their children’s. Children emulate the actions of their parents, not their words. So if they see dad sitting on his fat ass all weekend watching sports on TV, while eating junk food and drinking beer, instead of actually participating in a sport, they will do the same. If the family eats highly processed, or fast food from one of the many unhealthy convenient fast food restaurants, because mom or dad are too lazy to prepare something healthy, well this sets in motion a lifestyle of poor eating habits, which leads to all kinds of degenerative diseases.
So as I read this article about Adam Marino and the Nanny State at the Maple Avenue Middle School in Saratoga Springs, I realize what a bizarre world we live in. A world that’s so up-side-down, that something as healthy and natural as walking or riding a bike to school is considered dangerous to your health and should be prohibited.
If you’re of a certain age, leave a comment and tell my readers about a story of “free range” play you used to do as a kid before the helicopter parents and the nanny state stepped in and ruined the fun we used to enjoy and take for granted as we explored our neighbourhoods and beyond.
Enjoy the Ride.....Rob