Let kids walk and bike to school

By Alan Viau

Is helicopter parenting leading to sedentary kids? There’s new evidence to suggest the tendency for parents to drive their kids everywhere is negatively impacting their health. A report from Active Healthy Kids Canada notes, “We may be robbing them of an important source of physical activity.”

Fewer kids aged five to 17 are walking, biking, skating or skateboarding to and from places they need to go. According to the 2013 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, only 28 percent of children and youth walk to school today. This is less than half the number (58 percent) of parents who walked back in their own school years. As a result, children and youth are missing out on an easy way to meet physical activity requirements for good health.

While walking has declined, there has been an increase in driving kids to and from school. “This leads to more traffic in school surroundings” which increases the risks of car collisions with other cars or children who are walking to school, the study notes.

This is absolutely true. I witness the daily traffic jams on Stonehaven Drive in Kanata as parents are dropping their children to one of five schools on this road.

Two reasons emerge as to why children and youth are not using active transportation. Distance between home and school is an evident one. A distance of more than two kilometers is considered the reasonable upper limit for children and youth.

The other reason is that parents are fearful something will happen to their children. As a result, they organize their kids’ journeys or drive them. This is even though 66 percent of Canadian adults feel their neighbourhoods are safe for children to travel back and forth from school. I think it comes down to helicopter parenting.

It is amazing when I compare how my kids traveled to and from school; mostly they walked. We were in downtown Guelph where they needed to negotiate busy streets, intersections and meandering routes. They walked to their music lessons and choir practices.

There were times when they would take the “shortcut” home. It was a route that was actually longer than the regular one, but they liked it because it was more interesting. It gave them some unstructured time to explore life a little. What it also taught them was awareness and street smarts. They figured out the safe ways to travel.

When they needed to take the school bus, they did that on their own as well. One day my five-year-old daughter got on the wrong bus to get home. She was deposited, luckily, at my older son’s school. She remembered that her brother got on the “bunny bus.” She had the problem-solving skills to find that bus and get on it with her brother to come home.

Of course, when my wife discovered she was not on her regular bus, she called the police with a missing child report. It is with amusement that I recall our daughter nonchalantly walking with her brother from the bus stop into our panicked home.

We are not doing our children and youth any favours by being overly protective. Some parents try to put virtual bubble wrap around their kids by driving them everywhere. It robs them of exercise, deprives them of unstructured playtime and takes away their opportunity to develop street smarts. Let them walk and bike everywhere they can.

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