Sumner Burstyn on All The Timid Children

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Girls playing.
Girls playing.
Girls playing.

IF YOU’RE ON FACEBOOK, you’ve probably seen the heart warming clips of Budi the 9-month-old orangutan kept locked in a tiny chicken coop. Budi’s muscles and overall development were so damaged by being contained he had to learn to do all the things orangutans do – like play and swing and climb and explore and feed himself.

There’s been a huge outpouring of sympathy for Budi. And yet every day we see human versions of Budi in our city streets. They are the kids constrained in strollers. Not babies or toddlers, but big kids; four, five and six-year-olds, slumped, dull-eyed and incurious in rolling containers.

So in demand are big kid prams that manufacturers have upped their weight loads from 40 to 70llbs, and they’ve added iPad docks and drink containers.

Just ask Jessica, a mommy blogger in Boston who describes herself as a working mother juggling career, family, fashion, and fitness (running half-marathons) as she seeks work life balance.

She hired an XXL stroller for her then 6-year-old son (coincidentally called Buddy) for a family trip to Disneyland. .

“You walk 7-8 miles a day at Disneyland,” she says, “you’d be ‘CRAZY’ not to hire one.” She goes on to say that sometimes Buddy will just stop and sit down in the middle of the sidewalk. And then, says Jessica, there’s the issue of ‘flight risk.’

It seems obvious, at least from my grandmother’s perspective, that Buddy sits down when walking because he’s unused to walking. Or that he runs away and hides because he wants some fun.

Kids learn by exploring. They are tactile and curious and engaged with the world around them. Left alone they learn to make their own fun. But strapped in a stroller, this boy and thousands of others kids like him experience the world as a spectator from the comfort of a padded chair.

“It’s all about helping parents with busy lifestyles accomplish their goals,” says New York Parenting magazine. In an article called ‘Strolling to Obesity,’ they discuss how strollers have become part of that problem. They suggest parents down-size their to-do lists. “Give up a little bit of efficiency to get your kids more active,” urges James O. Hill, Ph.D., director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Sciences Center in Denver. And shop solo.

There are a few patently wrong ways to parent, but there are a million right ways, and God knows it’s hard enough to be a parent.

Except this trend is not about parenting, it’s about convenience. It’s not about the kids and their needs. If it were, then the parents would slow down to their child’s speed. Instead of the whole park, they’d visit two or three attractions at Disneyland, which is surely about as much stimulation a child can handle. They’d dump training for a half-marathon and strollercize and take their kid to the park instead.

By all accounts, Budi has recovered after months of intense physical therapy.

But when did we stop believing in the abilities of our kids? Why are we wrapping them in incompetence and treating our older children like toddlers? And what happens to those kids when they eventually migrate from strollers to the real world of physical activity?

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  1. Hear hear! Good lord I do wonder when I see kids over 2-and-a-half year’s in strollers… And our family doesn’t have a car, so if anyone might be in the market for a justification, it’d be us. Kids need to walk: To pat random cats, inspect plant pods, and generally muck about – all of which enrich their minds and immunity, to say nothing of getting a little exercise. It’s not rocket science. It’s the societal, parenting version of slow food. …Now if I could just get a hang of that: give the kids (and your relationship) more attention, and to heck with the housework.

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