How the Autocentric Lifestyle Hurts Our Kids

Last week, several of our Streetsblog Network member blogs picked up on a recent policy statement
from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), "The Built Environment:
Designing Communities to Promote Physical Activity in Children." It
examines how sprawl harms the nation’s children by reducing physical
activity, and how denser development, traffic-calming measures and more
parks could result in better health for America’s young people.

3025887076_4e66f0d69b_m.jpgAnother way to schlep the little ones. Photo by raffik via Flickr.

Today, we’re featuring a post from the Fresno Bicycle Coalition
about another pernicious effect of the autocentric lifestyle: the
over-dependence of children on their parents, and the frenzy of
structured after-school activities made possible by the automobile:

I don’t know when it started, perhaps when my daughter was two years
old and I started driving her to swimming lessons just a few miles away
from our house. It started a parenting cycle that finally stopped the
day my daughter got her driver’s license.

Shuttling my kids from one event to another became a lifestyle for me and my children. It was "expected."

I
was dating my children’s father when I first witnessed the benefits of
the car-centric, shuttle service childhood — a four-year-old that
could sing and dance on cue! I didn’t stop to wonder what the child —
and family — were giving up in exchange for such "talent." Instead, I
blindly followed this insidious parenting experiment — and I hated
every moment of it! The whole constant craziness not only eliminated
free time for my children to play, but it created a lifestyle that
required "fast" or processed foods. It became a sick feedback loop that
also required more work hours to pay for all of their talent
development. Did I mention that I had to hire a counselor when my child
was in second grade — in order to help her process her stress. Sick!
And I still didn’t catch on!

The
catch:
this crazy child-rearing lifestyle is only possible if you drive a car!
Cars alter the natural rhythm of living. The best gift you could
possibly give a new family would be to save them and their family from
a car-centric lifestyle. The children pay the greatest price; they
become accustomed to dependence. Trust me, it is a miserable cycle!

There’s
no question that you can overschedule your children even without a car.
But if you’re not driving them, they’re going to be getting the
"utilitarian" physical activity of walking, biking or scootering to
their activities (the AAP notes that type of activity is an important,
and often lacking, part of daily life for children and adults alike).
They’re going to have more sense of independence, and be able to make
the trips on their own at a younger age (the virtues of that kind of
autonomy are well-argued in Lenore Skenazy’s new book, Free-Range Kids).
There will be an organic limit on how far, and how long, you’re willing
to travel. And the kids won’t be looking at the back of your head
during the journey.

In related posts from around the network, Walk Bike Berks County
writes about how Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell has at last announced
the release of $76 million in Safe Routes to Schools funding, and Bike Commute Tips Blog discusses bike commuting while pregnant.

  • Children also learn spatial relationships when they travel on foot or bike in a way that eludes them when they’re chauffered around. Bruce Appleyard found startling differences in the maps drawn by children that corresponded to their mode of travel:

    http://www.missiondispatch.com/news/view_article.html?article_id=974550f8612b276bba7b1e3568e49347

    The relevant paragraphs:

    Appleyard’s son Bruce returned to this issue in 2005 with a paper that focused on how traffic affects child development. He compared cognitive maps drawn by children who either traveled around their neighborhoods on their own steam or were driven everywhere. He found that kids who see life only through the windshield drew maps that lacked connections between destinations. On the maps, one route leads from home to school, another from home to the store or a friend’s house. But links between school, store, and friend’s house are blank. Children who walked or bicycled understood their environment and could fill in connections between various locations.

    “These examples show how neighborhood design . . . can affect children’s sense of place. As parents are forced to chauffeur their children throughout their childhood, children can become cognitively disconnected from their community,” Appleyard concluded. He added that children’s independence and ability to engage in spontaneous play are also harmed.

  • MrMission

    Thank you for the child-rearing advice, but I think most people can make their own decisions about what trade-offs they want to make when raising their children. For many people, a car is a necessity in order to live in the City and give their children the opportunities they want them to have. Anti-car fanaticism will only drive more families out of the City.

    The fact that the quoted author was too clueless to figure out how to raise her children tells us more about her than about public policy. And we certainly don’t need your “gift” of confiscating our cars.

  • Eighteen days later, a group of aliens appears. ,

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