Micah made his bold and resolute proclamation at the dinner table stating, “Dad, I would like to ride my bike without training wheels tonight.”
Children often look forward to the next rite of passage; that moment that marks a transition from one stage of life to the next. It could be getting to start kindergarten, putting on makeup for the first time, receiving a first cell phone, going on a first date, or taking that driver’s test. The striking way my 5-year-old distinctly made his proclamation let me know this rite of passage needed my full attention, and it needed to happen soon. Around the dinner table, the family changed plans for the night, intending to see this monumental achievement in the life of a child done properly in a sloped parking lot.
We arrived at the White County High School parking lot about 7:30 p.m. If you haven’t parked there yet, I’ll let you in on a bicycling tip, the hill the school is built on makes the parking lot perfect for coasting. That’s right, I said, “coasting.” The act of gliding on a bicycle without pedaling is key to riding a bicycle and leaning into turns without training wheels. Many parents get frustrated with their children when trying to teach them to ride without training wheels by going straight into pedal power.
A youth minister years ago told me the secret truth to removing training wheels: remove the pedals first and focus on coasting.
Gabriel (my eldest son) snagged the 16mm wrench, and we removed pedals while raising the training wheels. Micah, who’s been pedaling for years on trikes, big wheels, and his “big boy bike” with training wheels didn’t understand why we removed his pedals and placed his bike at the high end of the parking lot. “Get on and coast” was the only instruction we gave. Micah studied the situation, looking down at his pedal-less bike then up at the parking lot. His eyes lit up bright as the mental light bulb turned on. With both feet on the asphalt, he pushed forward and began to pick up speed with me jogging along beside. “Coasting is fun, Dad,” Micah yelled as he flew down the hill for his fifth time, learning to lean into the turns. We put the pedals back on, and Micah was a blur of smiles and speed the rest of the night as the entire family cheered him on.
Helping Micah achieve the next step of cycling prowess reminded me of a fundamental principle of child rearing. To give your kids the most freedom they can safely enjoy, we need to purposely give them safety nets and training to help them on their way.
Before you turn your daughter loose with that pursuing young man, consider the “training wheels” you can use to help stabilize her until she’s ready to coast and pedal. Ensure that she’s got the proper expectations of how she should be treated by giving her regular dates with her dad, uncle, or grandpa. Consider keeping the training wheels on as first dates in public places can chaperoned by mom or an older sibling. While you give her freedom to coast, make sure safety devices are in place, such as a fully charged phone, curfew, and “code emojis” so that she can send a quick message to get her out of trouble. Training wheels and coasting practice will go a long way to ensure she isn’t scarred for life from dating disasters.
Before that first cell phones hits his fingers, consider training your son on proper internet usage by keeping a desktop computer (I know, ancient right?) in a public place in the house for early internet usage training. Make sure to openly put safety apps on the cell phone such as time limiters and internet accountability apps to give them an extra safety net when the temptation to access unsafe material arises. Consider having a “cellphone cabinet” in the kitchen or living room where kid’s cell phones get charged and stored during bedtime hours. As studies show, the potential pitfalls and dangers for young kids and teenagers, proper training, and coasting practice will pay big dividends in your teens’ development.
I’m fond of the current tiered driving regulations in Tennessee, and I’m a big fan of parents keeping kids accountable to them. Before a teen is turned loose with a car and no restrictions, they must follow the training wheel/coasting regimen which is as follows: 1) Pass a road knowledge exam to get the learner’s permit; 2) Keep a learner’s permit for 180 days, have 50 hours of driving experience with a parent or instructor, and pass a road skills test to receive an Intermediate Restricted License; 3) Hold an Intermediate Restricted license for one year without having accumulated more than six points on driving record before obtaining the Intermediate Unrestricted License. If you’ve completed these three milestones of training safely by the time you’re 18, then you’re ready for the Class D regular driver license. Tennessee is getting better at providing training and safety nets when kids get behind the wheel.
Wise King Solomon shared, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov 22:6) To enjoy the most freedom in life when we are older, it takes purposeful incremental training when we are younger. Pray for wisdom, do some research, and ask other parents how and when to take the pedals off and let your kids coast on the path of life. May you find success as you as you learn to train your family to enjoy the freedoms life has to offer.
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:11