Last summer I learned how to ride my bike with no handlebars, at twenty-six years of age. And, truth be told, with the wind in my hair and my hands bobbing up and down upon my knees, I felt pretty fecking proud about it.
Not so proud to admit that publicly. Why? Because kids can ride bikes with no handlebars from the get-go. There are primary school kids I see up Delancey Park and along the seafront cycling path doing it, and they don’t in the least bit scared about stacking it – as I must have for the first few times I dared to let go.
I was at the park with three nieces last weekend. The nine-years-old insists on going on the merry-go-round, by herself, and being pushed, “Faster! Faster! Faster!” I oblige her, but it’s not fast enough, not until the G force cements her wiry frame to the seat and she finally stops shouting “faster,” holding on for dear life. I say her eyes looked like they were going to pop out, to which she replies, dizzily, “I think they were.”
Meanwhile, my youngest niece, two-years-old, is going down the metal slide. It’s too frictious a material to get a good whizz out of it, as both I and my niece soon discover.
So what does she do? She does the same thing the young cyclist does, she does the same thing her older sister does: she explores, experiments and pushes possibilities past known limits. Quickly, before Uncle Beard and Nannie see! She takes the mini-scooter, about her size, and heaves it up the stairs to the top of the slide. This’ll be better, faster, funner! Nannie intercepts her before she can carry out her kamikaze slide ride.
Would you say these devices – the bike, the merry-go-round, the slide – are safe or unsafe devices?
I’m supremely confident in the safety of the bike, so much so I don’t wear a helmet. Yet, it becomes considerably less safe the second I let go of the handlebars, as kids will do..
The merry-go-round is a safe and secure device when used properly, but the second a kid recognises it as secure and safe and therefore uninteresting, the impulse will be make it go faster, faster, faster!
The slide? Certainly safe, toddlers climb up and slide down it everyday without issue. How about the slide multiplied by a mini-scooter? The sheer tenacity made me laugh and laugh and laugh, as my mother rushed over to intercept the little nutbag. The young part of me found it hilarious, an admirably inventive attempt at injecting some thrill into an increasingly dreary device. The adult part of me found it scary. Even now I think, “You couldn’t dare me to try that.”
Kids will make seemingly safe devices unsafe by their innate impulse to explore and experiment, without giving it a second thought. As adults, we lose that, we give things a second thought, we see danger everywhere, where it is and where it isn’t. Kids are blind to ‘the other side’ of boundaries we adults set, they don’t foresee the negative possibilities of pushing against the boundaries, and bounding over them the second your back is turned.
So here we are! We arrive at my point.
Do you think, in the context of our discussion, that giving a kid a mobile device with access to the internet and social media is safe or unsafe?
Despite my despair at the sheer quantity of time and energy and life wasted on these devices, I am a realist, and recognise that these ever-expedient devices are not forever-avoidable.
I want my kids – God willing I’m granted them – to ride and fall off bikes, to spin themselves into silly stupors, and attempt daredevil park stunts when I’m not looking. I will welcome those devices into their young lives.
I just don’t see a concomitant benefit for young kids. Except to keep them quiet; which is to some degree a valid use.
But, tell me, what is preferable.
A kid physically active, loud, and at times unsafe, who you can leave to their own devices, their imagination, their creations, playthings and merry-go-rounds and bikes and slides?
Or a kid that’s physically secure but sedentary, quiet, passively entranced by a mobile device?
I would tell you my answer, as if it mattered and as if it wasn’t all going to be nanochips and enhanced-social-media-reality by the time I have kids, but I will say something else.
The bike, the merry-go-round, the slide; these devices beat the mobile device every fecking time.