As children grow up, they expand their territorial range (Andrews, 1973). This increasing autonomy allows them for reaching new places of activities, thereby attaining further developmental tasks. However, less is known about what children and adolescents do that makes them familiar with an increasing area. Various means such as walking, riding a bicycle, taking a bus or getting a lift by car differ in the mobility and the knowledge about the environment they provide (Rissotto & Tonucci, 2002) and in the motor, perceptual, and cognitive skills required to use them. Thus, these means of transportation may not only be tools for autonomy development, but becoming able to use them might be a part of autonomy development (Bullens et al., 2010). Thus, the frequencies of walking, riding a bicycle or a bus, and of being given a lift by the parents, will be explored in two domains: transportation to school and to spare-time activities. The former focuses on the use of means of transportation to a mandatory destination whereas the latter explores the twofold autonomy to make use of a means of transportation and to access targets which might change with age.
A total of 715 children (54.4% girls) attending grades 4, 6, and 9 (ages 10, 12, and 15) and 497 parents of children (51.5% girls) attending grades 2, 4, and 6 (ages 8, 10, and 12) filled out questionnaires. Both parents and children indicated on how many days of the week the child walked, cycled, took the bus, and was driven to school and to free-time activities, respectively. Multilevel analyses were used because participants were nested in 16 schools which were nested in 6 municipalities in adjacent regions of Denmark and Southern Sweden. Predictor variables were grade, gender (dummy-coded), and distance to school (four categories, recoded to approximate kilometers). In the next step, country was added into equations, in order to explain part of the variance between municipalities. Finally, theoretically meaningful interactions between grade, gender, and distance from school were added. The final model for each dependent variable was the one with the best fit (AIC, BIC). Variables had been transformed to approach normal distribution.
Walking and riding the bicycle (especially in girls) were mainly used for shorter distances. In contrast, bus and the family car were used for more distant destinations. Danish children used more active, individual ways of transportation whereas Swedish children used public transport. Girls tended to use more passive means such as being driven by car or riding the bus whereas boys, at least at certain ages, walked more or rode their bicycles. Although age effects were similar on a global level, such as that children depended less of their parents’ help to get somewhere, details differed. The youngest children did not any longer need the car ride to school, but it were the oldest ones who did not any longer get lifts to spare-time activities nearby. Thus, age trends in how to get to school did not explain age trends in accessing spare-time activities. On the contrary, when controlling for getting lifts to school, the absence of net age effects in parent-reported car rides turned out to be the sum of the opposite trends towards independence from parents and towards having more destinations to reach.
The results show that children choose varying means of transportation according to their development of needs and skills. The differences between the age trends for the two types of destinations suggest a larger flexibility than known previously. Still, gender and cultural differences affect this facet of autonomy development.
autonomy development, means of transportation, gender differences, cross-cultural differences
Society for Research in Child Development 2013 Biennial Meeting, April 18-20, 2013.
The project is co-financed by a grant from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the European Union’s program for Interreg IV A Oresund-Kattegat-Skagerrak. Lead Partner of the project is Skåne Regional Council.