Biking Independence

Updated on April 22, 2009
C.L. asks from Saint Paul, MN
16 answers

I know it probably depends somewhat on the individual child, but at what age is it appropriate to give kids greater independence riding their bikes on busy roads, etc.? Right now my 12-year-old is frustrated with me because I didn't let him ride his bike with two friends to a convenience store a couple of miles from our home. The only time he's ridden his bike outside of the neighborhood or on busy streets he's been with me. Visiting either of the nearby convenience stores requires them to cross a very busy 4 lane highway. It is rush hour on a work day right now and I thought the first time he does that ride he should do it with me or during a less busy time of day. I was also concerned that boys in groups tend to be less careful and more daring than boys alone. Am I being over protective? What have other parents done? Thanks!

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So What Happened?

Thank you for all of the responses. Wow--what a variety of opinions there are on this topic! I am generally o.k. with the idea of him getting a little more indepence and responsibility, but this particular intersection really terrifies me. It is the intersection of two busy 4-lane highways and would even make me nervous to cross it. Although there is a stoplight and a crosswalk there are also two merge/exit lanes that aren't covered by the light. Even with the light and the crosswalk what if they think they can "make it" or try to outrun the light? We are also near a large corporate headquarters that employs thousands of people and that intersection is their main access to the local highways and freeways. It gets pretty crazy during rush hour. I had actually suggested a biking route to all of the boys that would get them out of the neighborhood and allow them to go on a longer bike ride, but it would be all on paved trails and wouldn't require crossing any roads or highways. They rejected that idea because they wanted to get to the convenience store to buy candy and junk food. The maturity and judgment of the friends involved hasn't exactly impressed me either. Later that same afternoon I had to intervene when they were hitting a real baseball in the cul-de-sac, near parked vehicles, houses and other children. I think what I will do is check out the exact route they take and bike it myself and maybe with my son to test it and test him. If I allow him to do it without me it will be on a day with less traffic or a quieter time of day. I also like the idea of making him do something useful, like buy a gallon of milk for the family, rather than just ride there to buy candy or other junk. For the time being I think I'll have him stick to the neighborhood and the paved trails right outside the neighborhood. Thanks everyone!

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answers from Sheboygan on

Better safe than sorry! Kids are going to be upset when we set boundries, but that's out job!
Good luck!

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answers from Janesville-Beloit on

If you're still looking for ideas--ask local bike orgs or shops when an "Effective Cycling" class will be taught. Take the class, with your son. Or at least read the book Effective Cycling. As the wife of a daily 10-mile bike commuter, I believe it is essential that drivers and cyclists alike treat bikes as a vehicle, not a toy.

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answers from Milwaukee on

I remember as a kid riding two miles little stores when I was 10-12 BUT the streets I took were not busy. I do remember my mom riding with us the first few times till she was comfortable for us to take that route and on top of that we took a bicycle safety class (not sure if they do those as much as they use too).

You are just trying to assure your sons safety and it is your job to look out for him when he is still not mature enough to make the right decisions for himself. With that I would insist that you two do the ride together a few times on non-busy times as well as when they boys would most likely be crossing the busy intersection.

There are many bike trails where I am and they cross 6 lanes of busy traffic and the bikes just have to cross when they can (no light for them). If that is the case where your son would be crossing I would insist on finding a safer place to cross that has crossing lights and say that this is the only place he can cross no matter what the other boys do. Let him know it is for his safety and the right thing to do.

You know your son the best, if you think he can do this and make the right decisions about when to cross then after a few test runs let him do it. If you feel he is too wild or not mature enough to make smart decisions about when to cross then tell him you would be more then happy to go with them otherwise he can not go yet. At some point you will have to let him do more on his own but every child will mature differently in that area so talk with your son and let him know what you want to do so you are comfortably with him doing it and you know that he will be responsibly enough to be smart about it.

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answers from Bismarck on

Depends on the size of your town and how careful and dependable your son is. Where I live, kids roam the whole square mile of "town" at age seven and no one worries but in a bigger city there's more than just traffic to worry about. I'd definitely have parameters about time of day and I'd probably follow discretely the first time to make sure he follows the rules of the road.

I was just at a conference on disabilities and a father said his child should have the "dignity of risk". That is what your son is asking for. It is scary for the parent but you are sending messages of trust and capability if you let him do this. Rather than a joy ride, you should send him to the c-store to buy some milk on a Saturday morning.

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answers from Minneapolis on

Hi Cindy
I dont have any advice because my oldest is 9 but I wanted to tell you that you are not alone in your thinking I would not have let my child cross a busy intersection with friends.

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answers from Des Moines on

I do not think you are being overprotective. I am finding it interesting how often we are asking each other and ourselves this question. While there is such a thing as an overprotective parent, I don't feel like I've seen one yet here on Mamasource. We may once in a while provide a little more protection than was needed. But we also, at times, provide a little less than we really should have. I call this imperfection--a malady that we all have to live with:) I wonder who is giving this "overprotective" complex to us.

That being said, I think you can still trust your gut. It is true that kids get killed doing the very thing you are contemplating. It is also true that kids have loads of fun doing such things and they learn things that we could never teach them and the actual incidence of accidents is very, very low.

I personally was scared almost spitless by the scenario you described. But I live in the country and my children have not developed the skills and instincts to deal with that kind of traffic. I do let my 12-yr-old bike with his friends for miles and miles out here. So you would know much better than I if he can be depended on to guard consistently against the dangers of this ride. It is true with boys (I have 7 of them) as with dogs, that they change significantly when they travel in packs:) Be aware that he may get distracted, he may feel the need to show off, he is likely to be in competition of some sort a great deal of the time. Boys WILL be boys (and that is not a bad thing).

I did wonder about the activity itself. What do they do at a convenience store? If it is for the bike ride itself, that is good exercise and fun for a boy. But I would be cautious about encouraging an activity that centers around doing "nothing". If I did let him go, I would limit his time out to about 15 minutes longer than it takes to get there and back. But that is a different subject and not the one you asked about:) Trust yourself.



answers from Minneapolis on

It is always hardest to let the first one go. I didn't let my first one go at 12 unless he was with friends, but he always did great. It is appropriate to let him go as long as he isn't alone. (unless he gets stupid with those friends, lol, which happens)
I let my 5th child go alone at 12. I've learned to relax and trust and know my town better.



answers from Sheboygan on

Does the highway crossing have a light? Is it a divided highway with a busy intersection, or do cars just fly through with no reason to stop? If there's a light, I think he may be old enough to use it correctly, if not, and cars don't really use the intersection much (slowing down to take the turn, etc)then I would say no, or limit his time to the non-rush hour times. It depends on how busy the hwy is at other times.
There are some measures you can take. Petition that traffic lights are installed (especially if this is the only convenience store that most of the neighborhood uses). Call the police to limit the speed that cars travel, if drivers tend to speed on this hwy.
You can also coach your son on the driving rules that the drivers are using. I'm sure he knows the basics (turn signals, etc), but some of the other rules drivers go by can really help your son to gauge when it will be safe to cross. This is something that is necessary for older bicyclists to know, especially if he's crossing ANY roads. Besides, in 3 and a half years, he'll be DRIVING on that highway! Sorry, I know that's not the most comforting thought (deep breaths, deep breaths), but if he learns some of the driving rules now, and learns them for his own personal safety, then he'll be more ready when he's behind the handlebars AND behind the wheel. Hope this helps.



answers from Omaha on

I am sorry to hear that your son is frustrated with you right now, but you made the best choice for him. I think boys in groups are more daring and they have to be cautious around busy streets.
I don't have any great tips to help you solve this situation, but stick to your guns on this. You know best! If nothing else, give him some boundaries that are ok with you in which to ride his bike. Otherwise busy streets like the one you mentioned need to be stayed away from completely or traveled in your company so the correct way to ride safely can be modeled by you.

Sometimes our kids are NOT going to be happy with the decisions we make for them, but it is better to be safe than sorry! I would also explain your position on the matter. Your son will listen! Good luck!




answers from Minneapolis on


My kids are still young - so I don't know what I would do in your situation. But I can tell you what I did when I was your son's age. My mom was VERY strict and did not let me have much freedom at all. I felt that she didn't trust me and I didn't understand why. After being the only kid that couldn't do the stuff my friends were doing, I started resenting her for not trusting me. I started lying to her and doing what I wanted anyways - until or unless I got caught. We struggled with this for many years.

I am not saying that you should or shouldn't let him do this as your motherly instincts are probably right. Like some of the other poster's have said, maybe try going with him a couple of times without his friends and then lay down the rules. Explain that you may or may not be following him and that if you see him breaking the rules - his privelage to ride to the store is over and that will be on him - not you. He is going to keep pushing for more independence and the harder you try to stop him - the harder he is going to push. Try to talk to him about why you don't want him to do this and how hard of a decision this is for you.

Good Luck :)



answers from Des Moines on

Hi Cindy,

It's your job to be over-protective...what if you allowed him to do something you weren't really okay with, and something happened to him...could you live with yourself??? If the answer is "NO" then you've made the right choice. We only live once, so make your choices for your children accordingly. Yes, accidents happen, and sometimes we can't control that, but if you can, you should....usually your gut instinct is right....and I know there will be a point in their lives that you have to allow them more independence, but he's only 12, so, I believe, that you have made the right choice.




answers from Fargo on

It all depends on where you live. Obviously you being in Saint Paul made the right choice. We live in West Fargo and our kids ages 7 on up ride anywhere they go, but know many people along the way and all the road rules. Most people look out for kids here, but I don't believe that is so in bigger cities. We sned with a cell phone, and know where they are. Ride the route with him a few times. I had others drive by the area my kids were and CHECK UP on how they were doing without mom right by their side. You can't replace a child and I think you may have the feeling mothers are supposed to get when they say NO, not yet. I also do not let my kids drive cars in larger cities til they are 17, even though the state says our kids are ready earlier most are not.



answers from Eau Claire on

When my daughter turned 13, she was allowed to ride in our neighborhood and the bigger one next to ours. (We don't live on busy streets.)

Now this year, we have allowed her to branch out more and she has ridden quite a ways away, but still uses the back roads to get to where she needs to go. Luckily, the busy street she has to go across has a walkway under it, so she doesn't need to cross the actual street.

She is a very responsible kid, so I feel comfortable letting her do that.

BTW- We also had a 16 year old riding his bike near a busy intersection, hit a car and die within the last week.



answers from Omaha on

Personally, I would never let a 12 year old ride out of our neighborhood without me. 2 miles away from my home? Across a busy hwy or 4 lane road? With other 12 year olds? Even more reason for me to say "Not in my household".



answers from Minneapolis on

I'm gonna lean on this. Did you see the news last year about the boy in Shakopee who was riding his bike to Target? Crossing a busy intersection/traffic lights and was hit and killed?

I say kids just don't have the maturity to do things like that til about 16. Call me paranoid but I wouldn't feel comfortable.



answers from Des Moines on

Is there a cross walk there that he can go across? If so I don't see why not as long as his friends are there so that if something did happen there would be somebody to get help.

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