Earlier this summer, my son called me from his friend’s house and asked if it was ok if he went to Baskin Robbins for a cone. “Of course,” I said, assuming that his friend’s mom was taking the boys out for ice cream. But you know what happens when you ass-u-me…

Later, when he arrived home on his bike, he told me that he and his friends sat outside at Baskin Robbins and ate their cones. “Where was Mrs. So-and-so?” I asked. “Oh, she wasn’t there,” he replied. “We rode our bikes there and back.”  WHAT?  Although the ice cream shop is not that far from our house, there are some pretty busy streets to cross to get there – not to mention the crazy parking lot that you have to drive through where nobody looks when pulling in, or out, of spaces.

After my lecture on being clear with me about where he was going, and with whom, I thought about riding a bike and the freedom and independence it provides for pre-teens and teenagers. And, more importantly, the experience in awareness that it gives kids as they get to (gulp) driving age.

I remember my own youth, as long ago as it was, I rode my bike everywhere. I would hop on in the morning and return in the evening, my bike my only form of transportation around town. It’s interesting to watch my son as he rides with his friends to get ice cream, a hamburger, or go to the park to shoot hoops or bat a few balls around the baseball field. He no longer requires that I drive him everywhere. This is a big step for both him and me. At twelve and a half years old, he’s entitled to some independence, and as long as he continues to show me that he’s making good decisions, I’ll encourage it.

It’s also great practice for, as I mentioned earlier, driving. The simple fact, as crazy as it seems, is that in three and a half years, my son will have a driver’s license. How insane is that? Bike riding on the street builds awareness of your surroundings and an ability to anticipate what the other vehicles around you are going to do. You learn to follow the rules of the road – stopping at lights and obeying traffic signs and moderating your speed and ability to stop.  Plus, you certainly can’t text and ride a bike at the same time, so there’s that too!

When I think back to his first time on a trike, his inaugural wobbly ride on a bike without training wheels, and now, the independence of exploring the open road on his own, I realize that all these small steps are what parenting is all about – learning to navigate the journey on his own.