Let me start by admitting two things:
- Of the many parenting issues I’ll likely face in my lifetime, this one is minor
- This issue definitely falls into the ‘first-world-problem’ category
Even though this issue seems trivial in the grand scheme of parenting woes, it’s one that Tim and I have been pondering, discussing, obsessing over and pondering some more: What does a ‘bike family’ do when their teen rejects her bike?
Let’s be frank: Teen-bike-rejection is a huge pain in the ass. It personally affects me, my transportation and activity choices, how I choose to spend money, and more. It’s thrown an enormous wrench into my blissful family bike life. (Not quite this huge, but close.)
That said (deep breaths!), I know that rejection of bikes is a minor blip in the grand scheme of raising a teen. Surely I can flex my nimble parenting muscles and roll with it. If this is as bad as it gets in the next 10 years of parenting, I’ll count myself lucky. (I threw that in for all of you seasoned parents who are likely chuckling to yourselves about my petty little teen-bike issue. Go ahead and enjoy a knowing smirk or laugh at my expense.)
Other than a few Twitter and Facebook rants, I’ve been pretty silent about this issue. Because, even though I (occasionally) write a very public blog about my family bike adventures for the world to read, I aim to balance sharing useful information while keeping the kids’ personal thoughts and emotions out of my story. This article gives a pretty good lowdown on how I try to (mostly) refrain from talking about my kids online “out of respect for their autonomy”.
Without completely dragging my kids personal story into this post, I’d like to share some of our struggles with continuing our family bike life now that one of our kids is a teen, and the other a tween.
I know at least one parent who shares my frustration. A few weeks ago, our blog friend, Stacy, commented on an Instagram photo I posted where I admitted that I’d ‘forced’ my son to join me on a ride. Stacy wanted to know how I did that. Turns out Stacy has a kid who doesn’t want to ride either. Maybe there are other parents of teens out there, who are going through the same frustrations, and might benefit from some solidarity (sister)?
If you’re a parent who rides bikes for transportation, raise your hand!
If you’re also doing transportation biking with your kids, give yourself a double fist bump! And if you’ve already raised kids on bikes all the way into their adulthood, jump up with your hands in the air and let out a loud ‘Whoop’!
You all deserve kudos, but the last one there, Wow. You get super kudos. Oh, and while I have your attention, maybe you’d answer some questions from your number one fan?
Yes? OK, here they are:
- Did your teen like riding bikes for transportation?
- Did they stop riding at some point?
- Did they ever hate bikes?
- If they stopped riding, did they go back to bikes? Or did they continue to hate bikes into adulthood?
Please write back soon! I’m dying here and need answers.
Kids and the Fall of Bikes
These stats, that highlight the decline in the number of kids who walk and bike to school, are repeated often; “In one generation, the percentage of children who walk or bike to school has dropped from 50% to 15%. Safe Routes to School National Partnership, 2007 – Safe Routes to School: 2007 State of the States Report
Lately national bike organizations (People for Bikes, National Center for Safe Routes to School, The League of American Cyclists) along with local walk and bike organizations (Bike Works, Cascade Bicycle, Washington Bikes, Walk.Bike.Schools and Seattle Neighborhood Greenways), have worked to encourage more kids and families to ride bikes.
The million dollar question/mission: How can we all work together to get back to the bike and walk participation percentages from the 1960s and 70s?
Why don’t we see more kids on bikes clogging our neighborhood streets? It seems most bike advocates wonder (and talk) about elementary aged kids. After ushering two kids through elementary school, I’ve learned that the decline in elementary bike-to-school participation is more of an indication of parental reluctance than kid. Elementary aged kids LOVE to bike. And they’d probably ride every day, if only they could get their lazy-ass parents to ride with them, (or let them ride alone).
What about teens? We all know that teens eventually stop believing everything their parents say. (As they should!) Parental needling aside, don’t teens want some of the freedom that bikes provide? I’d think that once teens had a sweet taste of independence and freedom, they would want to ride bikes. If nothing else; bikes provide a quick get away, enabling teens to quickly gain distance between themselves and their parents.
Speaking of stats, how do the stats look for teens?
I couldn’t find national stats specifically related to teens. But I do have some anecdotal information. Our friends and fellow Bike to Bryant elementary-bike-to-school organizers; Clint, Leslie and Lisa, continued bike to school promotion in middle school through Eckstein Bikes. While a decent percentage (I don’t know the number, but my eyeballs tell me it’s pretty good) of Eckstein kids walk to school, the bike numbers are still pretty bleak, with under 2% of the student population regularly riding bikes to school. On dark winter days, that percentage dwindles even further. This group of parents has discussed at length the methods to crack the middle school, bike-to-school-code. But maybe the code cannot be cracked. Maybe teens simply don’t want to ride bikes?
Why don’t more middle and high school students ride? Does school start too early? (yes!). Are parents afraid? (yes!). Do kids have too-heavy backpacks and musical instruments to carry? (yes!). Maybe middle-school kids just don’t want to ride bikes to school. (yes! More on this phrase and it’s origins later). Like I said, our daughter certainly doesn’t want to ride; she rejected her bike-as-transport-to school more than a year ago and now vastly prefers walking. Though she’d prefer a ride (in a car, not on the back of a bike!) even more.
I know some teens who ride bikes to get where they need to go, but not very many. I see more teens on foot and on buses in the neighborhood than on bikes. I’m not sure why more teens don’t ride, but I can make a few guesses. Social pressure. The cool factor. Maybe even parental concerns about safety or perceived safety.
They Just Don’t Want To
Most of the time, my teen doesn’t want to ride at all. For anything. When we plan family outings, her first question is usually, “Are we driving?” If we’re driving, she’ll come along. If we’re riding, she’ll often stay home. [I’ve been thinking about a future post about millennials and car ownership/drivership. Are millennials not driving because they are using feet, bikes and transit? Or are they choosing to stay home and socializing via smartphones instead of going out? Hmm…I might explore that later, this is long enough for now.]
The stars (all of them, not just the ones we can see from Seattle on a clear summer night) must align before our teen agrees to ride with us. Is the destination worth it (will there be ice cream or pie or good burgers or sweet coffee drinks when we get there?) Is it raining? Will it rain? Is there a possibility for shopping along the route? Will anyone see us who knows her? Can a friend tag along? (also quite rare since her friends don’t regularly ride bikes).
Other variables include typical teen challenges such as: mood, homework schedule, and whether or not she feels like spending time with us. (I realize not wanting to spend time with parents is par-for-the-teenage-course. But I imagine that adding bikes to the mix makes it even worse). Because our old blog pal Smudgemo is painfully spot on: most of the time, “They Just Don’t Want To”. ( A little aside, I know Smudgmo’s blog is defunct, but I still really like the title and the phrase, and I repeat if often)
I used to bike all over Seattle with my kids when they were young/small enough to carry on an Xtracycle. When the kids were young, my biking limits were self-inflicted: if I was willing to carry the kids, I could go anywhere I wanted on my bike. But now that I have a teen and a tween, who are independent thinkers (and seriously, hooray for this!) and who ride their own bikes, my limits are now determined by my kids’ desire to ride. And because their desire is low, our family-cycling adventures have all but evaporated. It’s not that I *can’t* ride certain places with my kids (because of safety or other external factors); my kids just don’t want to ride very much.
Side note: the teen factor is the main reason we rushed to complete our family two summer Pacific Coast Bike Tour before our daughter turned 13, while both of our kids still wanted to do it. I can’t imagine the bribes I’d have to throw down now to get her to ride 2000+ miles wearing stinky/ugly bike touring clothes for three straight weeks. (I won’t even mention sleeping in a tent with her family every night).
Finally, here’s some biking advice I’m qualified to dole out: If you have family bike touring dreams, get it done before your kids reach their teen years!
Peers and Social Pressure (or “I think my friends think biking sucks”)
For my teen, reluctance to ride mostly comes from perceived social pressure. Biking is still not a normal mode of transportation for families in Seattle. Yes, some families do ride. And if you believe the headlines, family biking is exploding in Seattle.
Truth be told, and despite the headlines, transport volumes are still heavily weighted toward family driving.
I don’t have stats to back up my claim, but I do have eyes, and I see a river of cars clogging my neighborhood streets on a daily basis, even in bike friendly North Seattle. The majority of the family bikers I do see include parents carrying their kids on some sort of cargo bike or tag-along attachment. I rarely run across bike families comprised of parents and kids riding independently. Maybe this is the disconnect between the huge growth in family biking and the river I see otherwise. We’ve been there; huge family bikers when we could carry the kids. Much less so when the kids won’t ride.
If our daughter had a peer group that also rode bikes, maybe she would want to ride more? Or maybe not.
Our bright spot of hope (though it totally messes with my theories) is that our 11-year-old son does have friends who ride both alone and with their families. He spent the entire Christmas break riding between friends houses, the library and University Village on his own and with his friends. It’s completely different for him, he likes to ride. (Right on!)
In general, I aim to ignore stereotypical gender differences, but I do wonder if this bike-hate is a teen girl thing? Please prove me wrong and shout at me if you have a teen girl who loves bikes!
Tim and I like to think we’re early adopters. We’ve been doing this family bike thing since 2007, before the headlines and before it was hip. Maybe we’re just too early to experience an all-ages Seattle family biking movement with our kids? Maybe when Brad’s and Davey’s and Julian’s and Leya’s and Madi’s and Sara’s and the kids from all the families on the Seattle Family Biking Facebook group reach full-time independent-rider stage, I will finally get to experience that river of awesome teen-bike riders flowing down my neighborhood streets. We can certainly hope.
Until then, we’ll make do. And try that thing they call parenting. That means we’re not going to cave to our teen’s wishes and stop riding (sorry Dear). But we’ve also decided that the teen-bike-battle is not the one we choose fight with all our resources.
We’ll still force both kids to ride with us sometimes. When it’s my birthday. Or they haven’t exercised in a day or two (or a week). Or the entire family is riding to get a Christmas tree. Or the sun is out and we think everyone should put down their devices and go somewhere. And when we just don’t want to deal with driving and parking.
But for the most part, we’ve settled back into being a bike couple, rather than a bike family; Tim and I plan many of our bike errands and adventures without the kids, and let them stay home more often than not. When we go somewhere as a family; to a destination farther than a walk, and we can’t call in one of the exceptions above, yes, we drive.
We have so many years and battles ahead that we don’t want to go to the mat over something that’s supposed to be fun . Nor do we want to risk snuffing out any (slight) flicker of a bike-love flame that may still reside (somewhere) in her heart. Because we’re still holding out hope.
High school College. Yeah, that’s when it’s all coming back to two wheels.
How about you? Do you have teen bike struggles? Do you have teens who like to bike? If so, please share in the comments. Or on Twitter. Or on Facebook, we’d love to hear your story!
– Anne (and Tim, whose edits make me look like such a better writer)