Getting my tech-obsessed kid connected to real-life

A ride on the wild side

Like many ‘tween and teen boys, my son played a lot of Fortnite. Okay, too much Fortnite. Hours and hours of Fortnite, sometimes through the night. When he wasn’t playing Fortnite, he was on group chats with his friends or watching TikToks.  I tried to get him involved in other activities, from power tumbling to unicycling, but at the end of the day, nothing beat screen time, until he got a minibike.

His dad bought him a Monster Moto Classic 105cc. It looked like the same minibike our neighbors the Wireman’s used to ride around the campgrounds of Westmoreland, Virginia, in the 1970s. It sat low to the ground, so when his dad rode it, he looked like a Shriner clown in a parade. But when my son was on it, he was a king.

My son loved this minibike, despite the fact it had no suspension and shook him like a rag doll on the muddy ruts of the fields behind our home. After long rides he’d come into the house bent over like an old man, complaining of back pain, but he still loved riding, and he became the kid to know on the block, giving rides to the other kids on the back, or even letting them take a spin, if they were lucky, and their parents said it was okay.

Scream Time vs. Screen Time

With his new-found outdoor hobby, I thought my son would lose interest in technology, but actually, he just began to use it in a different way; and this is when I learned to stop worrying and love the web.

He learned on YouTube how to tweak the governor to make the bike run faster.  According to an odometer app he installed on his iPhone, he reached speeds of 35 mph, which seemed way too fast for this little bike, but as I watched him zip around the trails, he seemed to handle the pace deftly.

Since he was approaching 13 years old, he felt he had outgrown the Monster Moto, and he wanted a more powerful bike, with suspension. He searched for weeks on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist until he found a pre-owned Coleman CT200U-EX CT200-EX Minibike with a camo paint job, and it seemed like a nice little bike. The seller offered to bring it on a trailer to us from Maryland, about an hour and a half away. When he arrived, I stood with my mouth agape looking at the size of this supposed minibike, which looked like a man-size motorcycle.

My son was jittery with excitement as the seller backed the bike down the trailer ramp onto the street. I hated that I hoped it wouldn’t start, so we’d have a good reason to not buy this enormous bike. With one kickstart, the motor roared, and then it purred. My son’s face shone like he had just won a Battle Royale.

Getting Geared Up and Plugged In

As I watched my son immerse himself in his new pastime, I realized how technology was not the enemy.  In fact, it was our friend.  My son learned about safety and basic maintenance by watching YouTube videos, and we looked up trails and the local ordinances and found where he could and couldn’t ride legally. He also read online reviews and shopped online for just about all the gear he needed.

Even the gear itself was high tech. After reading about smart helmets, we chose the Sena Momentum EVO; in fact, we got two of them. My son was thrilled with the idea that he could listen to music or talk on the phone or in real-time with a biking buddy over the built-in microphones.  It also has a mount for a Go-Pro, which he uses to make TikTok videos on his rides. His dad and I have even gotten into the action, as camera operator and on-camera comic relief, such as his dad’s whiskey throttle that rocketed him into my car bumper in the garage.

As with any diversion for the modern teen, an integration with tech keeps them from tiring of it. In my day, the putter of a minibike bumping along a woodsy trail was entertainment enough. Today’s teen rides fully loaded, with connected devices that enhance their enjoyment, and safety. By the same token, tech has made our lives as parents more stress-free, as the Life360 app I put on his phone allows me to track his whereabouts in real-time and even monitor his speed, and with Waze to help him navigate, he will never get lost.

My son still plays the occasional round of Fortnite, usually when the sun goes down, or it’s raining and he can’t ride. Then he entertains himself with YouTube videos of minibike racing and extreme minibike challenges, which we enjoy watching together.

In today’s connected age, parents must accept that banning tech is futile. The best solution is to embrace it in the most positive way. If you can beat it — which you can’t, join it, and go along for the ride. In fact, we just got a couple of road scooters for the adults. The family that rides – and connects by Bluetooth-enabled helmets – together, stays together.