There's no question cycling provides physical benefits for children but, critically, it helps them make decisions and develop skills they need to survive later on in life, a clinical psychologist says.
Nigel Latta, who also presents The Politically Incorrect Parenting Show on television, says unfortunately, modern parenting dictates an over-prescription of caution and supervision, especially when it comes to learning how to ride a bike and some children never feel the achievement of making decisions for themselves.
He told the 2Walk and Cycle conference in Hastings on Friday "how kids on bikes could save the world", adding that parents needed to see that cycling was important and more than just physical activity.
"The physical stuff is important but beyond that our job as parents is to teach children how to be little people in the world and that does involve sending them out by themselves.
"But you don't go from never leaving the house to, off you go. You structure how you do that and make them show you they can make sensible decisions and, if you can, give them some more room to explore."
Mr Latta said walking and cycling used to be a part of everyday life for children and parents in New Zealand.
"I think we are becoming so consumed with risk that we're not letting children ride their bikes, build their huts, climb trees or go playing with their friends," he said.
"But isn't falling out of a tree or off a bike part of the cost of being a child?
"We've come to limit our children to riding their bikes to the end of the driveway and they're not learning any skills that can help them later on in life, like how to cross a road by themselves."
Computer consoles and digital music players had rivalled the traditional bicycle in terms of recreational pursuits for children while stereotypical views of cyclists also played a part in "why kids don't cycle".
"When you talk cycling, you think it's people trying to save the planet. Or it's a bunch of Lycra-clad middle-aged men getting off their bikes at cafes," Mr Latta said.
"But there's a vast group in the middle that want their kids to cycle and would do it themselves if the opportunity was there."
Mr Latta believes in the "build it and they will come" regarding cycling initiatives. "When I lived in Dunedin, the council there decided to build a cycle track around the harbour and, finally I thought, they are doing something worthwhile with my ratepayer money.
"I don't think councils should sit back and wait for demand to build up, we should just go ahead and do it. It's good publicity for the council, good for the community, a win-win situation for all."
From Hawkes Bay Today