Last week, I found myself entangled in a one hour battle with two of my boys about going for a bike ride.
A FREAKING BIKE RIDE.
We were having a spectacular weather day, had nothing else to do, nowhere to be, and they were bored. (Also, I took away the Xbox because if I have to hear about the game Fortnite one more time I’m going to build my own fort during the night. On a beach. Near a bar.)
Anyway, as far as I’m concerned (or was brought up to think) all those things added up to the perfect reason to go on a big, long ass bike ride. So I dared say (as we stood in the driveway staring at each other and the perfectly blue sky), “It’s such a nice day out, why don’t you two go for a long bike ride?”
You would have thought I asked them to go trap a raccoon, skin it, and then grill it for dinner.
A bike ride!! OH, THE HORROR OF SUCH A THING!!
I even went so far as to give them cash, and tell them it would be fine with me if they rode to our small town’s convenience store and buy candy and soda. I mean, how the hell is there a single kid on the planet who would whine and say “Nah!” to that offer? And in my case, how the hell were there two kids who would say no to that?
Oh, they had all kinds of excuses…
“It’s too hot.” (It was a 72 degree Florida day, and for the record, I grew up in Florida where mid-July five mile bike rides at high noon were the daily norm.)
“There are too many hills and I get too tired.” UMM, WHAT? You’re ten years old. There is no such thing at that age as being too tired move your body. EVER.
“I don’t want to wear this helmet.” Sorry, buddy. Wear the damn helmet, and be grateful we have the technology to make it lightweight and with superheroes on the side. See this scar on my forehead? You don’t want one of those. Stop complaining and wear it.
“It’s just not fun riding our bikes.” And there it was. That statement right there made me want to weep with sadness for this generation. When did riding bikes become not fun? When did the chance to feel the wind in your hair, to be free from your parents’ watchful eyes, to explore your neighborhood and go wherever you want, for however long you want, become not fun?
When did the chance to just be FREE become not fun?
I grew up in a decade that lately sees most of our generation often waxing nostalgic about how much better we had it when we were kids. Which is actually ironic when you think about it, because look at what kids have today! They have the coolest and best entertainment technologies! They have live TV that they can pause! They have on demand movies! They have the ability to listen to their favorite songs on demand! The entire world’s catalog of information is available in the palm of their hands, not in town at the library.
They have everything we, as kids in the 70s and 80s, could only dream of having — stuff that looked right out of a Star Trek episode. And yet it’s exactly all those gadgets, techie wonderments, and screens that they have which have inadvertently hijacked their freedoms, and even any desire for them.
And it’s not only smartphones or gaming consoles that’s keeping today’s kids off their bikes. It’s actually this generation of adults as well. Take, for example, a school in Saratoga Springs, NY that punished a middle-schooler for riding his bike to school. School officials said it was well within their right to tell families what types of transportation they can use to get to school, and since biking on roads was inherently “unsafe,” kids were never permitted to ride bikes to school. School officials said it was all about safety, though statistic after statistic tells otherwise, and children riding their bike to school has way more benefits than it does risks.
I finally got my boys on their bikes that day, and although what I hoped would be be a two-hour bike ride ended up being a 20-minute whirl around our block, at least they went. Their bikes are thankfully back on their radar, and little by little, I plan to stretch that 20 minutes into two hours, even if it takes a cool $20 bill and the promise of convenience store candy and soda to do it.