This year, to get motivated for my son’s late January birthday, I decided to look for something out of the box. Like most parents of kids born in January, I face my kid’s birthday battle-weary from the holiday madness that beat us down in December. The thought of loading up one more cart with one more thing I will have to wrap makes me want to take a nice long nap. But of course, I don't because he deserves a sixth birthday celebration fit for a child born in the summer months, when Christmas and Hanukah are distant memories.
Searching for the holy grail of presents, I asked around for toys and games that were engaging but fun, educational but entertaining, reasonably priced but not cheap. I had no idea what it would be, but I would know it when I saw it.
Then I came across Fisher Price’s newest offering: The Think and Learn Smart Cycle, a tyke-sized stationary bike with a tablet stand mounted on the front. If kids want to play the attached game, they have to pedal the bike.
Honestly, I thought it was a joke, something from The Onion or Stephen Colbert. But nope, the good folks at Fisher Price have invented a stationary bike that will allow preschoolers to earn their screen time by pedaling the bike. This contraption retails for $150 and comes with one free game which offers a literacy curriculum. Additional apps will cost $5 each and will supposedly include educational games.
When I saw this toy, I three words came to mind: Oh. Hell. No.
My objection to this bike is also three-fold.
First, why do I want my kid in a spin class? I started spin classes in 2004 and have gone regularly since then. Guess what? I don’t do spin classes because I love to exercise and feel strong. I do it because I’m scared of getting fat, which I’ve been taught is one of the worst fates that could befall a person in this country, especially a woman.
If I hand my kid a bike that says, hey, keep up the screen time, but for God’s sake don’t get fat, he would get the not-so-subtle message about what kind of bodies are acceptable.
I force myself to attend spin class because I’m super fucked up about eating and food and exercise, and I know full well that a spin class will burn upwards of 500 calories. I know this because my gym has a little monitor attached to my bike and I watch the numbers rise as I push, push, push ever uphill and ever harder, even though I’m not actually going anywhere. I’m just sweating in a dark, packed gym with other people chasing their demons and burning their calories.
Even if other people have a healthier relationships to spin classes and their body images than I do—and I sure hope they do—my children aren’t being raised by them. They are being raised by me. And I’m nuts, thanks to the messages our culture has inundated me with since before I could talk. So, no, I’m not in the market for a kiddie spin bike.
Second, do we really need to encourage more screen time? At my house, screen time is already a constant battle and the very last thing I need is to fuel to arguments by adding yet another device we can power struggle over. I have my hands full with the computer, the tablet and the phones. I don’t need to add the bike-with-apps to the list. Don't pretend, Fisher Price, that you're trying to help with the childhood obesity epidemic. You're trying to improve your bottom line.
Finally, do we want our preschoolers focusing on their weight? How well has that worked for us adults? And focus on weight is the message behind this bike. Studies show that by age three, kids are already having negative body image issues and one third of nursery and school staff have heard children label themselves fat.
Body dysmorphia is real and the kids suffering at age three and four are not likely to be cured as they make their way out into the world. More likely, their feelings about their bodies will grow more negative with time.
If I hand my kid a bike that says, hey, keep up the screen time, but for God’s sake don’t get fat, he would get the not-so-subtle message about what kind of bodies are acceptable. There’s no way I’m putting this pressure on my son or his sister. And despite my best efforts, they're already dealing with that pressure.
When my daughter joked that my son’s belly was “super round” one night after dinner, he started crying. He was devastated at the prospect of being fat. He’s six.
He’s already scarred by our fat-shaming culture that provides so little healthy modeling on body image, food, and exercise. This bike is a disastrous idea because it invites kids to think about their bodies as something to perfect, work on and manipulate in order to earn more screen time, which is problematic in itself.
The good news about my birthday gift research is that it resulted in something more than one more mother being outraged by something toxic being peddled to our children: We decided to buy my son a bike. An actual bike that he can ride out in the world with our family because bike riding can be fun, and kids should be allowed to freely enjoy it—with no strings attached.
Photograph by: Fisher-Price