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It's only the first day back and a walking to school debate is already dividing parents.

As thousands of Aussie parents prepared their kids for the first day back at school for 2019 this morning, they were given the news that perhaps they’re not doing enough – or the right thing.

A new study, conducted by Australian Catholic University researchers, has found that 60 percent of children in Geelong and Melbourne, who live within 750 metres of their primary school, are driven by their parents, rather than walking or cycling there.

Because parents, who clearly don’t have enough to do, are finding ways to create extra work for themselves – not.

Today discusses the study’s findings. 

Speaking to The Age, lead author of the study, Dr Alison Carver, said parents seem to be dropping their children to school on their way to work, for time efficiency and convenience.

“We are not putting the blame on parents,” Carver said, whilst she stressed the well-known physical and emotional benefits of exercise for children, and added that parents need to think about what their kids are missing out on.

“These kids are literally being chauffeured around everywhere. They are the back-seat generation.”

Dr Carver’s solution is to suggest safe drop-off and pick-up zones 800 metres of schools  – which sounds excellent – but until that happens, the ‘back-seat generation’ will continue.

Ouch. Way to lay on the working parent guilt, because, you know, we don’t worry enough as it is that we miss out on all school gate and classroom activity.

As a working parent myself, who drops her son off at before school care to make it to the office by 8:20am each morning, I’d suggest that what most parents are thinking about in the morning is how can I ensure my kids safely make it to school and still get to work on time so I can, you know, earn a living to care for the said child.

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And, to be frank, it’s not an easy decision for me. My 11-year-old would love nothing more than independently get himself too and from school, and it’s an issue between us. But for me, driving him on my way to work is the easiest, simplest, and safest option for us. So, sorry, but I ensure my son gets his fresh air and exercise at other times – just not on school mornings before 8:30am.

I’m not alone in my response. The study was discussed on channel 9’s Today this morning, where it was agreed that working parents who drive their kids on their way to work are simply doing the best they can for their families, and time, not fear or laziness, was the biggest factor.

All over social media, this sentiment was repeatedly echoed by parents.

“SAFETY,” one mother wrote. “Most parents want to know their child made it safely into the school grounds…Let parents parent how they see fit.”

Many parents agreed, and were outraged by the implication they were not doing enough for their kids.

“Maybe focus on some real news instead of trying to make parents feel bad for having to work or not being able to walk their kid to school every day.”

Another frustrated parent added: “Parents can’t win…They choose to drop them at the gate on the way to work or drive them and walk in if they have time, especially at the start of a school year, to ensure they arrive safely and it’s deemed as a back seat gen…

“Then if they let them walk they get told it’s illegal and unsafe… and lack of parenting!”

The option of walking kids to school and then travelling to work was addressed my another mum, who noted that time is a privilege many parents don’t have:

“Most mums can’t stay home anymore [and] simply don’t have time to walk them there and back again before work.”

On the other hand, many people agreed with the findings of the study, and Dr Carver’s belief that parents were allowing safety concerns about traffic and interference from the community to dictate their mornings, and decisions for their children.

Some believed that walking is in fact easier than driving: “So much easier to walk than drive and try and park safely near the school. Too many cars on the road at this time of day. Kids should be encouraged to walk to and from school.”

“The problem is the parents,” one father wrote. “This generation of cotton wool kids are going to expect everything. You all whinge and whine about greenhouse gases but you all drive them to school. Childhood obesity is huge problem and it’s the parents who drive them to McDonald’s straight after school.”
Another said parents are too anxious; “Fantastic that this is getting more kids out and about on their feet and wheels. Once this reaches a critical mass and becomes more normalised again, hopefully we can quit the monitoring.
“Lack of independence and risk/resilience leading to the jump in mental health issues?”
A more reasoned approach came from one mother, who wrote, “You must do what feels right for you – but adventure and risk is part of childhood. It builds confidence and maturity.”
How do your kids get to school?  Tell us in the comments below.

If you’d like to hear more from Nama Winston, see her stories here, and subscribe to her weekly Mamamia Parents newsletter here.

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