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Updated: Mar 27, 2019

Teaching kids to ride a bike

We live in a society that promotes distraction and isolation. Ubiquitous technology, social media and video games are literally shaping the way kids grow, learn and interact with one another. More and more we see our children choosing the comfort of their bedroom and the company of a screen instead of outside play and real life interactions.

I am the mother of a 14 years old and I can attest first hand to the daily battles against screen time and video games. And I can’t help thinking of the days when, a kid myself, I spent all of my free time outdoor, building and living imaginary worlds with the kids in my neighborhood.

While most of the childhood entertainment has evolved and changed, there is still one thing that we both enjoy, the one thing that seems to breach any generational gap and, for many kids, is still the most coveted Christmas present: the bicycle!

Biking is for everybody and every body—it’s equally enjoyable on a slow, comfortable, flat ride as it is at the highest competitive level. And it truly crosses all generations, enjoyed by kids, parents and grandparents alike!

Encouraging kids to ride their bike is for sure a great opportunity to promote a healthy life style thru exercise and outdoor activities. We all know the health benefits that fresh air alone can have on our physical and mental well-being.

But biking offers much more than that and for kids there is much more to be learned:

1. Sense of Responsibility, Freedom and Independence

Bikes are kids’ first real opportunity to experience freedom. Being able to control a mean of transport is one of the most grown up things kids can do, as they learn to operate on their own. They begin to get a sense of themselves as able and capable, and begin to build their self-confidence for many more life experiences to come. But with freedom and independence comes responsibility--taking care of the bike, of the safety equipment, learning the rules of the road are all opportunity for our kids to cultivate a sense of responsibility and for us adult to show them our trust and appreciation.

2. Common courtesy and respect for others

While we mostly bike on our own, we never bike alone. Kids, as well as adults, share the road with pedestrians, runners, skateboarders, motorists. And yes, even with a Bird or a Lime or two, motorized scooters that are making their appearance in more and more areas of our city.

Kids have an opportunity to learn that there are other “players” on the road, and that we must all work together to ensure everybody’s safety. Showing courtesy while riding involves recognizing and accepting some responsibility for their actions while making allowances for the actions of others, ultimately realizing that everybody will benefit when this goodwill is reciprocated. An important lesson, easily applicable not only to riding but to every aspect of our lives.

3. Common sense and the importance of safety

Safety on the road start by developing a sense of awareness. No longer shielded by a screen or a video game, riding a bike is a 3D real life experience that requires kids to be fully engaged, constantly observing, and anticipating what might happen. A simple mistake or a distraction can have disastrous consequences. While there are numerous documents and courses on traffic rules, and I encourage every parents to ensure their child is aware of them, I wanted to offer a few, less common recommendations:

  • Headphones—if your kid is listening to their favorite music, they most likely aren’t listening to a car horn, a fire truck or police siren or even a pedestrian or another rider calling for their attention.

  • Driveway danger—for kids that drive mostly in residential neighborhood, it’s imperative to pay attention to cars backing out of driveway. Their visibility is limited and a bike is easy to miss.

  • Lighting—as much as possible I encourage my kid never to ride at night. Motorist’s eyes are trained to recognize two headlamps and more often than not, a single bike light is easily ignored. If unavoidable, kit your kid up with multiple flashing lights as well as a reflective jacket. They may not make a fashion statement, but they can keep your child safe!

In conclusion, learning to ride a bike is one of the most significant and memorable experiences for both kids and parents (or grandparents!). Riding a bike is a rite of passage, a chance to explore. Bikes represent fun, freedom, and fresh air – everything that’s good about being a kid. But again, with freedom comes responsibility and with responsibility a chance to learn important life lessons.

Marta Armida, RDF Board Member

“A child who learns about traffic rules and road discipline will grow up to be a law-abiding citizen. The habit of obeying traffic rules teaches a person a sense of responsibility, empathy for others and respecting the other person’s rights,” (Unknown)

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