Don’t Teach Your Child to Ride a Bike

Screen Shot 2018-03-23 at 9.45.48 AM.pngMarch 23, 2018

Dear Families,

I remember teaching Maddy and Hunter to ride a bike. I hated every minute of it. I couldn’t run fast enough to protect them. I quickly realized that “a best practice” for teaching a child to ride a bike is to use gravity. Starting off, headed downhill works best. I also realized that starting off in this direction led to excess speed. Speed that prevented me from keeping up with my novice cyclist.

As an English teacher, I embrace the opportunity to use this scenario to teach prediction and foreshadowing. I digress.

I navigated teaching Maddy and Hunter with fear and trepidation. I hated it. There wasn’t enough bubble wrap in the world to protect them from the wipeouts. (In your mind you just asked yourself, “Did she really wrap them in bubble wrap?” No. I didn’t. But only because the rational adult in the house at the time frowned upon the idea.)

Maddy and Hunter now successfully ride bikes with ease. Each recovered from the scratches and cuts. The blood dried and disappeared. Only one of them still carries a scar from a fall.

Why do we choose to teach our children to ride bikes? I pose this question more rhetorically than anything else. We want them to have fun, feel the wind on their faces, get exercise, demand that their brain facilitate balance and coordination at the same time. The list goes on…and on… The bottom line, we teach them to ride a bike because the benefits far outweigh the momentary light affliction of falling during the learning process.

All these years later, I look back on teaching them to ride a bike. I realize the magnitude of all that it represents. We willfully teach our children to ride a bike knowing that it will at some point invoke pain. We know that our children will fall off the bike eventually. The fall teaches them to get up and to try again. We realize that when balance and coordination come together, we give our children the gift of fun personified in a bike.

But, now, watching my daughter navigate college, I realize that the fall from the bike is so much more important than the fun. Navigating AND surviving the fall, allows the brain to develop resilience. Resilience is gravely missing from our youth. I chose the word gravely intentionally. As parents, we deplete our children’s resilience every time we rescue them. Every time we “fix” it for them. Every time we protect them from falling off their bike.

Why do we face this temptation day in and day out? The answer to this question is easy. We want to protect them. But should we? I would assert that by “protecting” them, we strip them of their ability to build resilience.

The world when we were young pales in comparison to the pain of theirs. They spend instructional time preparing to respond to active shooters. Their reality. Social media infiltrates their daily lives and robs them of focus on what actually matters. They learn their friends are cutting, attempting suicide, and juuling on the very same social media apps. These are the things for which they need protection. How do we provide protection from this? Ban it? Block it? Forbid it? Monitor it?

Maddy chose to come home for Spring Break this year. Externally, I celebrated. Internally, I knew something was amiss. Wednesday, I discovered my internal thoughts were correct. We learned Wednesday that another NAU student took their own life. What we didn’t know was this suicide was the third one in March. Ironically, Maddy “protected” us from this news. Three in a month. During our conversation, Maddy blurted out, “Death follows me wherever I go.”

Rationally, she understands this is not the case. Irrationally, it is all she sees. In moments like these, I realize yet again the importance of establishing resilience. How do we expect our children to “do this life” successfully in between all they navigate? If we truly desire to protect them, we must prioritize that from which they need protection. Protecting them from a “poor” grade only to allow them access to all things social media misses the mark.

I would argue the poor grade is the least of our worries.

Honored to Serve You All,

Janet Worley

Food for Thought: To be clear, the following resources are food for thought. I, in no way, suggest that these articles contain all you need to know about resilience. There are some points with which I disagree. But they provide a starting point for communication and thought.

Building Resilience in Children

Coping skills, resilience and teenagers

Resilient Teens: What makes one teen more resilient than another?

The 7 Cs: The Essential Building Blocks of Resilience

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