Parents Need to Stop Making Excuses About School Drop-Offs

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Portland Bureau of Transportation

Kids deserve a better example than that.

Children who walk themselves to school are an increasingly rare breed. Over the past thirty years, the number of school walkers in Canada has decreased by half, while the number of those getting driven has tripled. So what's going on?

Parents cite fears of abduction and dangerous traffic as key motivations for driving kids. There is a perception that kids will be safer when chauffeured from door to door in a metal box on wheels, but as Naomi Buck points out in the Globe and Mail, this is inaccurate: "In purely statistical terms, a child in Canada is more than four times more likely to die in a car collision than to be abducted by a stranger. And in driving to school, parents are only contributing to the congestion and real dangers of the streets."

The real root of the problem is something most parents don't want to admit – failure to pull their act together in the mornings. That might sound harsh, but Buck cites a series of focus groups held in the heavily urbanized area of southern Ontario, which found that many parents opt to drive their kids to school (even distances as short as 800m/0.5mi) because of the "rush and stress" of the morning routine:

"Kids failed to execute their routine – described by parents as showering, eating breakfast, assembling lunch, finding homework, packing knapsacks, gaming and texting – in time, leaving families 'no choice' but to drive."

As Buck puts it, "Whose failure is this really?" While justifications for driving do exist, such as families coming from far outside bus zones, attending special programs, or coping with disabilities, there are far more situations in which families are perfectly capable of walking or cycling to school, but don't because they haven't gotten out the door in time.

This is a ridiculous excuse, especially in light of the climate crisis and the ever-growing danger of our streets, and when it happens day after day. Like it or not, parents are role models for their children in every aspect of their lives, including transportation choices. Buck writes:

"It doesn’t make sense for our kids to learn about the fragility of our planet in school, and then climb into idling SUVs to be driven to ballet. These habits are formative. As a growing number of climate-conscious Canadians reconsider eating beef and taking flights, it’s worth recognizing that, according to the federal government’s 2017 National Inventory Report on greenhouse gas sources, our preference for SUVs and pick-up trucks has made passenger vehicles a larger contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in this country than agriculture and air travel combined."

Parents are responsible for teaching their children time-management skills, too. By showing them how to get out the door at a certain time each day, not to mention prioritizing physical activity (which is also at an appalling low among Canadian kids), they can establish life-long healthy habits. Nor do parents have to do this forever; they only have to accompany kids for a few years to teach the safest route and establish street-wise behaviors, then they can let the kids go on their own. This is a rite of passage that kids love, and it frees up considerable time for parents who no longer have to do school drop-off.

This isn't meant to be a tear-down of well-meaning parents who are already trying hard to manage busy family lives, but rather is an encouraging call to reevaluate priorities and challenge the status quo. More often than not, it's possible to restructure one's life in a positive, beneficial way – and establishing a daily walk to school is a no-brainer.