As I stand on the street corner watching my 22 month old son Ashton come flying down a steep driveway on his Strider run bike, I can’t help but feel proud and terrified at the same time. He picks up speed, wobbles a little bit, bumps off the curb onto the road and does a long sweeping turn all with his feet up and a huge grin on his face.
I’m proud of the fact that he seems so capable on his bike at such a young age and that he seems so natural and unafraid. I’m proud of the fact that he absolutely loves riding around the neighbourhood and at the local BMX track and that he likes to go fast. I’m proud of the fact that he shares my passion for motorcycles and riding and the thrill and challenge of maneuvering on two wheels, and yet I’m pretty freaked out at the very same time.
I see him come barreling down the hill and I’m freaked out that he is going to crash and bust a limb or smash out his front teeth. I see him copying older kids and throwing himself and his bike down small flights of stairs or over rocks and logs and I’m freaked out that he is going to have a new broken bone every weekend. I see him “racing” other kids on bikes, intentionally chasing them and passing them and I’m certain I’ve created a little monster who will want to be out racing bikes every single weekend. In one way he is turning out exactly the way I wanted him too (who doesn’t want a little ripper?) and in another way I feel so “mom’ish” and want to hold him back from going “too fast” and to protect him from any harm.
Being a parent has changed the way I feel about things that are dangerous in the sense that it is much much harder to stand by and watch my own child participate in these activities than I ever thought it would be. Dealing with the loss of my good friend and student 13 year old Peter Lenz in a motorcycle race crash hasn’t made these feelings any easier either.
What I realize though is that it is normal for us to be concerned for the well being of our loved ones and that allowing them to “follow their dreams” and to find things they are passionate about may not always be easy. We need to acknowledge the fact that it is going to be hard, that they could get hurt, and then suck it up and support them anyway.
The best way to support our kids when they choose to take up something like bicycling, dirtbiking or motorcycle riding, is to teach them how to go about doing so in the safest manner possible.
Ashton already knows that wearing a helmet is mandatory on his bike and when riding his little 50cc motorcycle with us. I’ve just ordered the smallest pair of dirtbike gloves I could find and he will always be outfitted with the proper riding gear, boots and pads. I have taught him about riding on the street and watching for cars and he knows now to move to the side of the road and to always watch the cars go by before he can continue riding. Even though he is young I read him the road signs, point out crosswalks and teach him the rules of the road.
I’ve had to let him fall down a few times in order to teach him that perhaps the very top of the driveway is a little too high to start from and that he might want to wait a little while before riding down the entire flight of stairs.
Being a riding coach, I’ve also already found myself saying things like, “relax your grip on the bars” when he gets into a bit of a speed wobble, and “look into the turn Ashton!” when he needs to make a sharp turn.
Most parents will be able to impart the riding basics to their young kids (they are never too little to begin learning) but there may come a point where you need to seek more professional assistance in teaching them specific skills and techniques. As they get older or transition from riding a dirtbike to wanting to ride a motorcycle on the road, riding courses or coaches might be necessary.
I think as long as we do everything we can to teach our kids how to participate in the sports and activities they choose as safely as possible then we can stand by with pride and trust in their abilities (even if we are still holding our breath!)
The same sort of philosophy should apply regardless of the age of the loved one we are trying to support. I’ve heard a few stories of grown children not understanding and/or supporting their older parents or siblings when they decide to take up motorcycle riding for the first time in their lives. Instead of being nervous and fearing for their safety we should encourage them to “follow their dreams” and to find their passion. We should encourage them by suggesting a riding course, buying them some riding gear or books and by getting out there and riding right along side them.
It’s definitely hard to see my little guy ripping it up on his run bike and knowing he is just going to get faster and more daring and move up to motorcycles but it is also so worth it.