Not so long ago, most large cities still retained pockets of neighborhoods where parents on the same block knew one other and their children. Boys played ball in the streets, girls jumped rope on the sidewalk. The postman knew most of the people on his route. Your morning paper was delivered by a tween or teen on a bicycle. In fact, while the bicycle was the predominant mode of non-ambulatory transportation for the average youth, there was little need for a bike theft task force or a bike accident lawyer. Things aren’t like they used to be.
Despite a rising bicycle culture spawned of a new millennium push for automobile emissions reduction, our urban youth are increasingly chauffeured by working parents to recreational activities outside of their neighborhood.
Yet, the new biking cultural thrust has facilitated municipally funded strategic incentives such as creation of bike-only lanes on city streets, special biking events, and low-cost bike rental stations. These enhancements have caused big city parents to look again at biking as a cost-effective, healthy outlet for their youths’ physical activity. But this big city biking culture is neither community-based nor particularly child-friendly. Here are common sense guidelines to which parents of unescorted pre-teen and teen bikers should adhere:
1. Don’t allow a youth to bike alone.
This is fundamental. Things aren’t like they used to be. A biking buddy is great. Biking buddies are even better – but no more than four or five. Any group larger than that should have someone older acting as chaperone, as a larger unsupervised group may become disorganized, be perceived as unruly, or otherwise attract unnecessary attention.
2. Make sure they know where they’re going and how to get there.
A travel plan should be laid out under a parent’s supervision. They should not just be out “riding around.” There should be a pre-designated destination, a direct route to that destination and a direct return from that destination.
3. Make sure they know they must stick to the itinerary.
The purpose of this trip was to engage in some activity. Whether it was “to visit a classmate” or “to go to baseball practice,” that’s the activity in which the bikers should be engaged. Any deviation from that itinerary should be approved by a parent, which obviously means that – .
4. There must be periodic check-ins via phone.
It has been said that this generation is tethered to their parents by technology. Overall, that is not an enviable state of affairs. One cannot “parent” over the phone. However, used with discretion, technology can allow parents to grant a limited but reasonable degree of autonomy to tweens and teens who have demonstrated the ability to be responsible and accountable. Every parent has to make that call with respect to their child; but requiring a periodic cell phone check-in during any non-chaperoned activity should be enforced, at a minimum.
High population density… high-crime rates… high-speed-high-volume traffic… they all add up to high anxiety for today’s parents in large urban centers seeking to encourage the simple pleasure of bike riding in their pre-teen and teenage children. Perhaps the most safe and effective means of reducing that level of anxiety is for parents to simply dust off their helmets, drag out their racks and join the kids out in the bike lanes.