The Case for More 9 Year Old Biker Gangs ͏ ͏ ͏ ͏ ͏ ͏

The Case for More 9 Year Old Biker Gangs ͏ ͏ ͏ ͏ ͏ ͏




A couple of summers ago, when my oldest child was 9 years old, I decided to push her out of the proverbial nest. No, no, I did not kick her out of the house permanently. I merely informed her that the only way to spend the afternoon at her friend’s house was if she biked the four blocks there on her own. In broad daylight. In a sleepy neighborhood. Safe as safe can be.

Based on her reaction, you would have thought I had asked her to bike home on a dark night in Hawkins with demogorgons ready to attack from the shadows. (Side note in her defense: my daughter and I had started watching Stranger Things until I realized that it was going to backfire on my plans of fostering independence. She didn’t make it through one episode. Parenthood is not all forward motion.) Wiping away tears and excuses, we talked through the low likelihood of worst-case scenarios (kidnapping, car crash, falling off her bike) until she accepted my tough-love push and, eventually and uneventfully, biked to her friend’s house and back home in time for dinner. It was uncomfortable, at first, but she faced her fears of venturing out on her own.

This was a big step toward her independence and autonomy in a way that was fun. Being able to explore your world by bike is an expression of unparalleled freedom. A chance to explore the surroundings at your own pace, without having to depend on an adult to transport you or tell you what to do. Once my daughter got a taste for it, she didn’t look back. She began to run errands for me, escorted her siblings to activities, went on a bike ride simply to get out of the house. She’d return and sometimes tell me about her adventures and how she had to overcome difficulties such as getting lost or a bike chain coming off. I felt as if I was watching her mature before my eyes.

There was a small problem though. She had taken this important next step forward, however I realized that none of her friends in the neighborhood were doing the same and she didn’t have anyone to share her newfound freedom with. I sent a group text message to the mothers of her close friends in which I asked them to join me on this parenting quest to allow our daughters to grow up as we had before scheduled playdates and supervised activities became the norm. I’m happy to report that every parent was ready for this next stage with their oldest children and encouraged their daughters to bike around the neighborhood after school and on weekends. Soon, we moms were calling them the local biker gang and giving each other a heads up when they were on the loose and stopping in each other’s home looking for refreshments.

In a recent Vox article, Anna North outlines the problems that are linked to a decline in American playtime and how we can resurrect it. She concludes on this hopeful note that tracks with my experience with the other biker gang parents:

“A collectivist view of children’s play might acknowledge that we all have a role in creating communities that are not just safe but joyful, that provide children with opportunities to grow and explore without fear. Most communities in the US don’t look like that right now, but Gray and others believe they can be built, if we have the will and the wherewithal to build them.”

Like with most things, it’s an easy lift to share articles and talk about why we should be doing things differently. It’s another story entirely to go against the seemingly benign inertia of the masses. When the majority of us now spend more time indoors, online, and in the comfort of climate-controlled homes, it makes it that much more difficult to convince anyone (and especially our children) to do otherwise. Even when we know that is what makes us less healthy and happy.

Who wants to go against the tide alone? I don’t and neither does my daughter. Not only is it hard to sustain, it’s lonely without others. It does actually take a community to join forces and face these cultural adversities together. To realize that we are not individually wrapped familial units but humans who happen to live on the same street in the same town in the same country on the same planet. So let's have more biker gangs for children. Time-travel back to the 80’s not required.