Mom On Board: Encouraging Freedom Now, For Good Transportation Choices In The Future

Screen shot 2014-06-12 at 10.22.37 PMA recent Mobility Lab column posed this question: are fearful, lurking parents a reason for uninspired transportation choice?

The column highlights findings by researcher Dana Boyd, who has written a book (It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens) about teens’ freedom to move around – or lack thereof.

“From wealthy suburbs to small towns, teenagers reported that parental fear, lack of transportation options, and heavily structured lives restricted their ability to meet and hang out with their friends face to face,” Boyd says in the book. “Even in urban environments, where public transportation presumably affords more freedom, teens talked about how their parents often forbade them from riding subways and buses out of fear. At home, teens grappled with lurking parents. The formal activities teens described were often so highly structured that they allowed little room for casual sociality. And even when parents gave teens some freedom, they found that their friends’ mobility was stifled by their parents.”

Speaking as the mother of a preschooler, I can attest that the “helicopter parent” phenomenon is one many parents are aware of, and it’s not seen in a good light. Fellow parents share reams of publications about how kids don’t move enough and are rendered unable to make their own critical decisions due to hovering parents. Playground conversation often turns to how to raise kids “free range.” We get it, we do.

Breaking out of that mindset is easier said than done. Nonetheless, if we’re going to raise self-sufficient, healthy kids – and combat new congestion problems that previous generations haven’t faced – we need to try.                                            

I don’t purport to have all the answers, but I can share some of the steps we’ve taken to get the ball rolling. Since my son is four years old, he can’t yet ride the bus by himself, but we can ride together. For a preschooler, nothing makes a trip special like taking the bus or train to get there. He’s especially taken with the new MetroRapid buses and their accordion midsection!

Riding bikes is another way to introduce what will later bring some great freedom for him. By riding together, or by pulling him behind me in a bike trailer, he’s learning safe practices that he can someday remember when it’s time for him to stretch his wings and go bike riding on his own or with friends.

Even just encouraging activities like playing with neighborhood kids in the park, instead of booking a day with lessons, gets him playing and moving in a way that doesn’t require lots of car trips and doesn’t put me in the parent-as-chauffeur rut.

That’s not to say we don’t get in the car and drive places, too. But there are simple choices parents can make that might help kids break out of the fearful mold, and someday become independent decision makers able to make smart choices from a variety of travel options.

Photo by Thinkstock

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