Suzanne Klein

Guest Columnist

The View

Moab is an active town. Whether it’s motorized, pedal-powered, climbing shoes or a pair of hiking boots, this town is an adventure-sports destination with a steady flow of pilgrims. Growing up around these sports has given them a sort of everyday feel.

When my son started to crawl, then pull himself up and teeter from one piece of furniture to another, the questions naturally arose: when will we get him on his first bike? Dirt bike? Will he want to go climbing? He’s a natural — he’s trying to clamber up the toy chest already! My husband and I even joked about building a toddler climbing wall for our active munchkin. But since then, the thought has taken root and grown into a bigger question. How will I handle this? As he gets older, do I rein it in and keep a close eye? Do I teach him to ride a motorcycle as soon as he can balance on one? All sports come with their risks, and I’ve taken those risks myself. Still, I couldn’t come to terms with putting my son in that position. To help answer this question, I did what I’d been doing every day since the little one was born: I Googled it.

You won’t be surprised to learn that searching “benefits of sports for children” brings up quite a few hits. The general internet consensus? Sports are good for kids. The same list of reasons was cited over and over: sports provide health benefits, develop coordination, encourage stress management and enhance self-discipline.  

By the fifth article, I was nearly convinced to put my son on a bike as soon as he could take two steps. The evidence was there. There was so much good to be derived from sports and outdoor activities — certainly more than enough to make up for the odd scrape or bump, I thought. Almost on cue, my son pulled himself up on the toy box, wobbled and tipped right back. He hit the ground with a thud. For a moment, there was quiet as his little face scrunched up and he stretched his mouth open in a silent squeal. When he finally took a breath, the shriek pierced the whole house, sending dogs into hiding and eliciting an “All right in there?” from my husband’s office.  

“Ka-boom!” I told my son as I scooped him up. The shake of a colorful rattle and my chorus of “We’re okay, we’re okay” calmed him down. Soon he was back to his exploration of the room, pulling himself up in the spot where he’d just taken a tumble.

On the one hand, I never, ever want to see my son hurt. Absurd as it sounds, a broken wrist from a dirt bike fall and a bonked head from a toy box tumble don’t feel so different to me. I never want to see him in that moment. On the other hand, to avoid those things is to avoid everything; it’s staying safely away from the outdoors, new experiences and unfamiliar challenges.  

Having considered the many benefits and one very major detriment, I thought my question may have no answer (a recurring theme in parenting). I did have one more resource when Google came up short, though: my own parents.

I started riding a dirt bike when I was eight, and had perched on the back of my dad’s for years before that. Looking at my son, I can’t imagine him in charge of a motor vehicle at that age, yet my brother and I are still here in one piece. So how did my parents do it?

When I think back on it now, I can see the track around our yard in Breckenridge, Colorado. It was a winding loop through the trees, across the grass, over a  boggy patch and back up the driveway. Before we were allowed on that track, we stayed in the long dirt drive practicing the clutch: start-stop, start-stop around in figure-eights. Next we practiced falling. My father would hold the bike with us seated on it and lower it to the ground.

“Hop off,” he’d call. “Get your leg over the seat and get away from it.”  

The last step was a mining road in the woods, and when we came to Moab, the old highway. Each step was practiced clearly and carefully before we headed out on the trail. Slowly, clearly and carefully until we were ready. Of course, I have crashed more than once since my early instruction, but I’ve also come across every one of those benefits listed on Google, and had a great deal of fun, too.

So, here’s my answer: yes, it’s frightening to introduce my son to something in which he can get hurt — something out of my control. Still, I hope to learn from my parents’ example. When he’s ready, we’ll take it step-by-step, balancing the risk with the reward.

Suzanne Klein is from Boulder, Colorado, and has been exploring the Moab desert for more than a decade.