Toy manufacturer Fisher Price recently introduced a stationary bike for kids, 3 to 6 years old. My first reaction was, “Does this mean children have abandoned the Great Outdoors completely?” There are those who will argue that some children live in apartments with nowhere to play outside, so isn’t it better to at least get some exercise indoors?
But exercise for a child is not just physical, the mental aspect is tremendously important. A child’s imagination is pure creativity. It is through games, imaginary situations, a child’s mind develops in preparation for a life ahead.
A real bicycle, or tricycle is often a child’s first taste of independence, and freedom. A chance to venture forth alone and unsupervised, if only to the end of the street. With a group of children, a bicycle becomes a horse to play cowboys and Indians, or a car to play cops and robbers.
Before the bicycle was invented I’m sure children used a broom or a stick to represent the horse, but the games were similar. Games that involve chasing each other, friendly competition. However, a stationary bike is already a pretend bicycle, so a pretend bike can hardly become a pretend horse. And how do you chase someone on a stationary bike?
To me the other thing this stationary bike represents is the ‘Fear Factor.’ It has completely taken over our way of life, and that is the real reason children no longer play outside. When I was a kid my mother told me, “Look both ways before crossing the road, and don’t talk to strangers.” Then she sent me out to play, and I was not expected home until it got dark.
I believe there have always been child predators and other dangers, but the problem is because of television and the media in general constantly dwelling on the negative, people are in perpetuity made aware of the dangers.
The actual danger becomes blown out of all proportion. It has even reached the stage where in some areas, parents who allow their children to walk to school unsupervised, are charged with neglect.
When 9/11 happened, people were fond of saying, “If we allow ourselves to live in fear, the terrorists have won.” I believe the ‘Fear’ had crept into our lives long before 9/11. I was reminded of this recently when Charles Manson was back in the news because of his health issues.
It was at the end of the 1960s, about the time of the Manson murders, that everything changed. Prior to that people left their doors unlocked at night, teenage kids climbed into cars with strangers, as they hitch-hiked across the country. After Manson, doors were locked, and people stopped picking up hitch-hikers. The “Bad Guys” had won. Long before there were Terrorists.
Today they have classes in High School to teach Social Skills. Social skills should be learned in pre-school, playing with other kids. It is where a child learns to share, and to fit in with others. Bullying is rife in schools, because kids have spent their early years with mommy, and are suddenly thrown in with a mix of other children, with no clue how to deal with the situation.
Whether a stationary bike for kids is a good or bad thing is a matter of individual opinion. To me it symbolizes the isolation that our children suffer from an early age. Pre-school should be the years to start learning social skills by playing, (Preferably unsupervised) with other kids.
School years are for book learning and strengthening social skills. By High School and into the teen years the individual should be honing social skills and learning how meaningful relationships work. However, if a child is a misfit from an early age, one who finds it difficult to socialize with others , it will be a burden he or she will carry the rest of their life.
Social skills cannot be learned from a book, only by experience. Real experiences that is, like riding a real bicycle.