Risky Business

I am all for children taking risks. I think it is essential that all children grow up being encouraged to take risks. It is only through taking risks that they can learn how to manage risks.

We all want to keep our children safe all the time. No parent wants to see their child hurt. But they have to learn to keep themselves safe.

We can’t always be there to catch them, they need to learn how to fall.

I don’t mean that we should encourage them to jump down the stairs or run in front of buses. In fact it is a daily battle to prevent my daughter from engaging in just such acts of assured self destruction.

I mean measured risks.

If the consequence of taking a risk and failing at something is a bruise or a scrape then I will let my children take that risk. Bruises and scrapes are not that big a deal. If the consequence could be broken bones or being flattened by a bus then I will not let them take that risk.

I see it as my job as a parent to keep my children safe and I take that responsibility very seriously.

But it is not my job to prevent them from ever falling over.

I am happy for my children to take risks and discover their own limits.

Two weeks ago, my nearly-five year old son decided it was time he learnt to pedal his bike. He got a balance bike for his second birthday. When he got too big for it, we got him a pedal bike. But he insisted on riding it as a balance bike with the pedals off. Until now.

In typical my son style, he decided out of the blue that he was ready to pedal, and that was that. Off he went. He is brilliant on the bike. He handles it really well and is absolutely flying.

He is clearly a child after his mother’s heart – he loves to cycle.

He is used to bikes for transport. We have been using the cargo bike to get most places for over two years.

So naturally, he wants to ride his bike everywhere we go. After all, that’s what I do.

So far, this has worked fine with his bike attached to the cargo bike. He goes in the cargo bike on the roads and on his own bike on the cycle paths. Another huge benefit from owning a cargo bike. We get to race along the paths and ride together chatting.

But, he doesn’t really want to keep getting on and off. He just wants to ride his bike.

He wants to ride on the roads, just like Mummy and Daddy.

I’m not talking main roads. I mean the ‘quiet’ roads that are part of the cycle routes.

I am happy for my children to take risks and discover their own limits.

But this doesn’t feel like my child taking a risk. It feels like other people (drivers) taking risks with my child.

And the potential consequences are huge.

I am not happy with that. Not at all.

So what now?

Do I:

A) Let him start riding on the roads with lots of instruction and guidance.

or

B) Explain to him that the roads are unsafe so no, he cannot ride on them.

The trouble is, neither of these options sit well with me.

Here are my issues:

Option A:

I know how some drivers choose to drive. On a daily basis, cars cut me up, pass with centimeters to spare, pass on blind corners, drive straight at me, and share their views on my chosen mode of transport with some colourful language.

I know really that this is the minority of drivers. Most are absolutely fine. But that minority of drivers are taking a risk with my life. The potential consequences of that risk are very very serious.

I cannot let them take that risk with my son.

Option B:

There are so many problems with this option.

I want my children to love cycling like I do. I want them to love cycling like Danny does at the moment. If cycling becomes a frustrating experience of being told no all the time I am going to take this away from them.

I want my children to grow up believing that people are inherently good. We all make mistakes but people are good at heart. I try to believe this despite the close passes and colourful language. I cannot expect my children to believe this if I tell them that some drivers make the roads unsafe for cyclists. They make the roads unsafe just so they can get where they are going 2 minutes faster.

And then, how do I answer questions like:

“But you and Daddy ride on the roads, does that mean you are not safe?”

“But you ride the cargo bike on the roads with us on it, does that mean we are all not safe?”

“When will I be old enough to ride on the roads?”

And here’s the thing. When will he be old enough? My mum regularly tells me how much she hates the thought of my cycling on the roads. I’m in my 40s.

So option A and option B are both unsatisfactory.

I need an option C.

Anybody got an option C?