Some of you may want to make me eat shredded Uncommon Sense columns after I say this, but I think some kids spend too much time in strollers these days.
I realize that strollers are handy tools with a definite place in the world of parents and kids. When our kids were young, we used them. If you have lots of stuff to carry, besides kids, or you’re in for a long day at the theme park, then it’s hard to be without one. I also understand that the extent to which any parent is dependent on a stroller has to do with where you live, how close in age your kids are and how much you have to walk with them.
So I’m not anti- stroller. But I am anti overuse of strollers. Today’s mega strollers, with their activity bars, storage areas and go-anywhere wheels, are so utilitarian that we’re seeing the inevitable consequence — kids are sometimes in strollers when they could be in arms, on a lap, or walking along holding mom's or dad's hand.
I’d like to put in a word for slings, backpacks and strap-on front carriers, which are a cheaper, sometimes more practical and more cuddly way of toting kids around. However, the marketing-to-parents machine has largely eschewed carriers and has successfully made a high-end (and profitable, no doubt) stroller the lynchpin product, the status symbol, of parenthood. Many parents use carriers with their newborns, but I sure don’t see them in public a 10th as often as I see strollers. In fact, when I see a kid in a sling, I often feel compelled to dash over and congratulate the parent. (The Canadian website, thebabywearer.com, has reviews on just about every sling going and information about how to get them.)
A stroller should be a tool. The problem is the tool sometimes defines how people go about a task or activity. Strollers promote distance, not closeness. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years of parent immersion it’s that physical contact — lots of it — with little children is good. It’s good for a child’s sense of security, but also brain and physical development. That’s why I’d like to see more use of carriers (not just with tiny infants), and less use of strollers.
When a child is in a carrier you can talk to him or kiss the top of his head absent-mindedly. He can even grasp your finger as you walk along. (OK, not in a backpack.) A carrier puts a child up at your level. He sees what you see, and hears what you hear. Great brain stimulation, I’d say. Kids, especially babies, love being in carriers. They often enjoy riding in a stroller too, but I rarely see babies in carriers crying. I see kids squirming and fussing in strollers regularly.
I also believe that baby wearing, as some have called it, is good for parent development too. Spending lots of time in physical contact, or at least close to babies and toddlers — even just holding hands as you walk along together — helps us know and stay in touch with our children.
I’m not saying kids have to be in arms constantly or that carriers work in all situations. But I see toddlers contained in strollers, when they should be out staggering around, the way toddlers do, figuring out how their large muscles work and burning calories. A shopping mall (preferably one that isn’t too busy) is a great open place for a toddler to revel in the freedom of movement. But I almost never see toddlers on their feet in malls anymore. They’re always in strollers. And let me add that I often see parents struggling to get big honkin’ strollers through crowded aisles and I think, Man, you could just zip through here if your kid was in a carrier.
I don’t begrudge parents their strollers. I just think that we need to watch how much time kids are spending in them — often at the expense of exercise, exploring the world and being touched by their parents.