Reflections on banana seats and free range kids
She was wearing a swimsuit and shorts and had clearly just come from the pool too.
I noticed that no other kids were with her and there wasn’t even a parent in sight!
My mind immediately flashed back to the early and mid-1970s, when I and the other kids in the neighborhood routinely rode our banana seat bikes all around the neighborhood…and beyond.
Ahhhh, banana seats. Remember those? My bike was early-1970s shades of green and yellow with a floral banana seat, white basket and streamers coming out of the handlebars.
Eventually I ditched the basket and streamers and swapped out the floral seat for an edgier black one, so I could fit in better with all the boys in my neighborhood.
Of course I coveted my cousin’s green Schwinn banana seat bike because it had five speeds and one of those cool stick shift things, like this:
I also liked those seats with the high chopper style bars in the back:
Anyway, back in my day, a young child riding a mile home on a bike from the pool would’ve been completely routine.
Now it’s not normal at all.
So I silently cheered this little girl. Kids from the Millenial generation are the most over-parented kids ever so I thought that maybe there’s hope after all. There’s at least one girl out there who gets to taste the same independence we middle aged folks (and older) did at that age.
She continued to bike down the street and, eventually, I noticed a car slowly pull up and drive alongside her.
The girl reached the intersection, turned right, and the car kept slowly following her.
Was she being followed?
As it turns out she was… a parent eventually got out of the car. Alas.
Kudos to the parent for at least letting the child experience that much independence (I haven’t done that much). And, like any parent, I, too, haven’t ever let my kids bike alone at that age. Sigh.
The book Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) talks about this phenomenon.
The author let her nine-year-old son take the subway home alone in 2008 (something that was routine in the 1970s and 60s) and caught so much flack about it she ended up on national TV shows defending herself.
She gives all kinds of statistics that show how crime rates are lower now than they were in the 1960s and 70s yet parents today marinate in anxiety.
She even shows how if you actually wanted your kid to be abducted and put him in your front yard in the hopes that someone would snatch him, it would be more than 700,000 years years before someone would come along and take him.
Here’s a map that shows how much kids’ freedom to roam has been reduced over the generations. An eight year old boy in 1919 often walked alone to his favorite fishing spot six miles away. Fast forward to 2007 and his eight year old great grandson is only allowed to walk 300 yards away from home alone:
There are all sorts of things to blame for our anxiety – things that didn’t exist a generation ago: 24 hour cable news shows, the stories that circulate on the internet making us more aware of every crime out there, true crime shows and shows like Law & Order, etc.
Last week I spotted a banana seat bike in an antique store that was in terrific shape. I’m tempted to buy it for my six-year-old. If we can’t bring back free range kids, maybe we can at least bring back the banana seat?
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