The Adventures Of Fatherhood – May 22, 2020

Solo bike rides are one of Beckett’s favorite things of late.

Though he’s usually up for company, most of the time he’s hitting the streets by himself because he doesn’t want to wait until the time is right for everyone else.

For a couple weeks, our 12-year-old has gone where he said he was going to go and checked in often back at the house. In most cases, the check-in was not needed because Pam or I, and sometimes both, were on our porch looking out for our preteen to make sure he was safe. Even when we were not on the porch, we were peering through an inside window.

This is a difficult age to parent. I am resigned to the fact it’s going to be a constant struggle on how to best give more independence to our preteen. He desperately wants to be able to go where he wants when he wants without restrictions. I’m sure I was that way when I was his age. I get it. In fact, most of the entire country wants that kind of independence these days amid this pandemic.

There have been times when we have even used the health crisis as an opportunity to roll back some of his calls for independence. Now is not the time to meet up with friends at the playground because it’s closed. We are now seeing the consequences of all this quarantine time. He desperately needs social interaction with people his age. It’s an important part of his maturation process.

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While the social piece will come in time as parents all try to figure out how to ease up on the restrictions from friends, I think Pam and I have done a decent job of granting Beckett some freedoms he has not had before. We have slowly allowed his solo bike rides to expand in duration and geography. Maybe it’s being overprotective, but we want him to confirm our trust with small steps and to prove to us he will be safe. It’s important for him to demonstrate he knows when to wait on traffic at a stop sign and where he must use the curb.

The rub here is he always does what’s right when we are riding with him. The challenge is trusting he will continue to make these same decisions when he’s alone or better yet when riding with friends, who may or may not use the same judgment.  It’s a chance we are going to have to take because he must learn for himself. We can teach him about safety all we like, but he ultimately will make his own decisions.

It’s a balance. An article on brighthorizons.com dived into this question of balance. The article read, “how do you balance your child’s desire for independence with his need for safety and limits? 

This issue is one that doesn’t go away as your child gets older but continues to emerge. Think of sleepovers, extracurricular activities, teen dating, sports, and perhaps the scariest of all — handing over the car keys to your teen driver. 

The communication and relationship style you develop when your child as a preschooler will continue to inform your parenting for many years to come.”

It continued, “Think about the experience of parenting as slowly releasing responsibility over time, starting when your child is in preschool. Your child should learn from an early age that you are her best advocate and cheerleader. 
At the same time, it’s your job to keep her safe and healthy by setting reasonable limits. Mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation guide every interaction.”

I was thinking about this article as I was driving around looking for Beckett Monday night. He had only been gone about 20 minutes, but it should not have taken him that long to do a loop through the library and the fire house and back home.

When Pam came home from work, I asked her if she had seen him. I was suspicious when she said she had not. I told her I’m going out looking for him if he’s not back by the time I make our dinner smoothie. Since he was not back, I took my drink on the hunt for our kid.

I tracked the ride he said he was going to take and looked in all directions. I even looked behind a bush that was near a handicap ramp in case he wiped out while trying it out. I then broadened my search to different rides we have taken recently, leading me toward Stephen Decatur Park. Across Route 113, I saw police lights and my heart sank for about 20 seconds until I was able to see all the lights were for a traffic stop.

My relief amid the now frantic search turned quickly to agitation with our son when Pam texted he just pulled up. He told her he was at the library. There was no way I missed him. I even told him I looked behind a bush in case you fell going down the ramp. He quickly said, “yeah I know that bush, they need to cut it back. It almost cut my arm.”

It turns out he was close by but not where we agreed he could ride his bike without us. It was a hiccup on this independence journey, but one thing we learned he must take his phone with him so we can track where he is if we need to get him.

It’s safe to say we are still working on this balancing thing, and we all learning as we go.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.