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How the Autocentric Lifestyle Hurts Our Kids

9:05 AM PDT on June 1, 2009

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 yearsold and I started driving her to swimming lessons just a few miles awayfrom our house. It started a parenting cycle that finally stopped theday 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."

Iwas dating my children's father when I first witnessed the benefits ofthe car-centric, shuttle service childhood -- a four-year-old thatcould 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, Iblindly followed this insidious parenting experiment -- and I hatedevery moment of it! The whole constant craziness not only eliminatedfree time for my children to play, but it created a lifestyle thatrequired "fast" or processed foods. It became a sick feedback loop thatalso required more work hours to pay for all of their talentdevelopment. Did I mention that I had to hire a counselor when my childwas 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.

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