Every American generation has had it unfathomably harder than the cushy one that followed, at least to hear them tell it. It's become cliche to talk about how folks my age (I 'm 50) and older used to have no choice but to trek to school through weather so inclement that it'd make Sir Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic adventures look like spring break in Cancun.
I remember my grandfather comparing tales of woe with my father about their respective wintertime death-marches to the local schoolhouse.
Dad: "We walked miles and miles through such awful, freezing weather, that by the time spring came our feet would be bleeding and our shoes would be falling apart."
Gramps: "Shoes? You had shoes?!"
Tall tales aside, things truly have changed when it comes to how kids get to and from school these days, and I was reminded of that when I learned that today (October 8) is International Walk to School Day in the U.S. I read an article on Salon.com awhile back that said that in the 1960's, more than 90 percent of kids who lived within a mile of school walked or bicycled to school on a regular basis. Today only 30 percent do.
And at the same time, there's growing reluctance on the part of many children and their parents to use the school buses that pass by their doors every school day offering curbside service.
The net result of all of this is that today an estimated 30 percent of all morning traffic is attributable to parents driving their kids to school, a practice that was virtually unheard of a couple generations ago. Perhaps not surprisingly, another thing that was virtually unheard of a couple generations ago was the childhood obesity epidemic. Go figure.
I know, I know, I know: The world has changed and nothing's as safe as it used to be. BTW, there's very little statistical proof for that statement, but plenty to suggest that our response to today's increased risks -- real or imagined -- is way out of whack with the reality of the situation. For example, a child faces a 40 times greater risk of being killed in a car accident while being driven to school by a parent than of being molested while walking, bicycling or taking a bus to school. Factor in the pollution you're generating, the physical activity you're thwarting, and the money you're spending (money that might otherwise go to your kid's college fund), and you might argue that chauffeuring your children to and from school is downright reckless parental behavior!
Sure, there are lots of different family situations that might make walking, bicycling, or the school bus impractical or even impossible options, and I don't mean to downplay genuine safety issues, particularly pedestrian and cyclist traffic safety. But it's clear that most of the relatively recent trend toward driving kids to school is a matter of choice, not necessity, and it's a trend that's tough on both the environment and our wallets, and in the end maybe not what's best for our children. Check out the website Free Range Kids for a refreshing take on this and related parenting topics, along with practical information on how to make walking or biking t o school a safe, enjoyable, and eco-friendly choice.
Now, if you have a minute, let me tell you about how tough I had it when I was a kid...
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