Posted by: Ticktock | August 16, 2009

Parenting Unleashed

My family has decided to add a new family member to our brood, a new jet black Schepperke Mutt named Lily.

car 007

I initially recoiled at the thought of the additional responsibilities that a dog might require, but the stubborn persistence of the women in my life proved that resistance would be futile. They were going to outlast me and pester me in all kinds of cute ways until I eventually relented. And why not? At least I would be the hero, right?

So, I ignored my logical little shoulder angel telling me that a dog would make vacationing impossible, that I would be cleaning it’s poop, that it would be loud and powerful, and that my home would have the odor of canine.

And now that Lily is a reality, I can admit that none of those problems have been so overwhelming yet that I’ve regretted the decision. Lily is quiet and cuddly indoors and curious and energetic outdoors.

We keep her on a leash, despite our neighbor’s implications that walking a dog on a leash should be considered abuse. I hadn’t heard this argument before. Is it not acceptable to keep your pet on a leash?

The reason that I bring all this up is not to brag about my new dog or to complain about my neighbor, but to open a discussion about keeping children on a leash. I know this is an old phenomenon (leashing kids) because I remember it being popular in the early 90s. Even then, the thought of publicly restraining a child really disturbed me. How controlling do parents have to be that they force their children not to stray further than the length of a leash?

I recently saw a leashed three year old at the aquarium. It didn’t seem like this girl had autism or any common behavior disorders, and even if she did, I would disagree with leashing her. The whole time she kept trying to break free of the restraints and explore the aquarium, but her controlling mother would not allow her the freedom to do so.

It’s a small thing to rant about, I suppose, but seeing children treated like dogs really rubs me the wrong way. I’d like to think that my dog is smart and special, that she shouldn’t be kept on a leash either, but she’s just an animal who would chase a squirrel into traffic faster than I could blink.

My wife disagrees. She doesn’t see anything wrong with leashes for human children. What do you think?

-Ticktock

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Responses

  1. Yeah, I think the leashing is awful and demeaning.

    While I can appreciate the thought going on there (to not let them get out of my reach), surely there’s got to be a better solution than treating your kid like a domesticated animal.

    Besides – this robs you of one of the great joys of parenting – holding your kid’s hand. Sure, sometimes it’s like your hand is pure acid the way they react – pulling, straining, screaming to get away, but honestly, there aren’t many better feelings in the world than when you’re walking somewhere, and your kid slips his/her hand into yours.

    Try *that* with a leash.

    • Why is holding your kid’s hand when they are straining and screaming better than using a harness?

      • @Lorry

        It seems more personal and humane to hold your kid’s hand than to use a harness. That’s just an opinion. I also think that when a kid is straining and screaming then that means it’s time to pick her up, head for home, and punish her in a safe, appropriate way.

      • When they are straining and screaming, it’s not any better. And it’s not any worse.

        I’m not saying they’re evil and should be abolished. I’m simply agreeing with Colin that they “rub me the wrong way”.

        I’m sure that for some parents (I’m looking at Jan Andrea, down below), it became a necessity.

    • We use a backpack with with an attached leash with the Highlander, and it certainly isn’t awful or demeaning, nor does it rob us of the joy of holding his hand.

      The Highlander loves having his backpack. It gives him freedom to roam a little, but he knows that he won’t lose me. He insists I hold onto the leash sometimes, even in places where I’m willing to tuck it into the back of the backpack and let him wander.

      He still slips his hand into mine, even with a leash. But I almost never have the experience of having my hand be pure acid. He pulls against the leash (rarely), he holds my hand because he wants to.

      As for treating him like a domestic animal, I guess I just see that as hysterics. There are lots of ways in which we treat our kids that are similar to how we treat our pets. For example, we control their food choices, and determine their meal times. We decide when they need a bath. Just because the Venn Diagram overlaps in some area doesn’t mean you’ve drawn a moral equivalence.

      • You’re right, just because dogs wear leashes and children wear leashes, doesn’t mean that parents who use leashes on their children are treating them as dogs. It’s just that it comes across that way to people who are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with that choice, such as myself.

        To be honest, it’s so rare that I see a harness that I thought this wouldn’t really generate a discussion. I might have to reconsider my negative opinion, seeing reasonable commenters arguing in their favor.

    • Consider having your hand seized by a person many times your size. This person has the power to wrench your arm from its socket, and while you may not be aware of that intellectually, you know that they can easily overpower you. You are then being directed through a relatively bewildering landscape, off balance, unable to turn your body, and forced to walk at someone else’s stride.

      If you try to pull away, this giant simply seizes your hand harder and pulls you along.

      Alternately, imagine being strapped into a barely comfortable chair and pushed around, unable to readjust your position or change your view, reduced to being a passive vessel for whatever indignity gets shoved in your face.

      How are these situations inherently less degrading than wearing a harness that duplicates the basic situation (being directed by another person) but removes the unwanted physical contact and allows more freedom of movement? Children wearing a harness can swing their arms, bend over, stop briefly, turn to look at things, and, if they like, hold your hand. It is hard to see how this state of affairs is more awful to a child than being forced to hold your hand against their will.

      There isn’t much research in this area right now, so we can’t make a definitive judgment about whether using a toddler harness will have any negative or positive long term effects for the child. It seems to me the critics lobby has a list of side effects that must be occurring, lessons that aren’t being learned, and so forth… but little evidence to back that up.

      • I think it comes down to what works for you, and what works for your child, in light of the lack of evidence that you cite.

        I also think that @TickTocks and @RobT, though they don’t like the usage of leashes/harnesses for their families is a nice approach. @Linda telling those of us for whom a leash works that we probably shouldn’t have kids is an example of the holier than thou, “Sanctimommy” trend at its worst. Yep, I shouldn’t have kids because I use a leash, but I sure should have kids if I’ll judge other people on one small action that’s a small part of parenting as a whole.

      • My argument falls squarely in the camp of personal opinion. I wouldn’t think that a harness-leash could be adequately tested for safety because I think that any results would require too much interpretation.

        I fully admit that my reaction to using a child-leash is just as irrational as your example of a giant man manipulating his child like a rag doll. Whether or not there’s an actual objective problem with leashing, and I don’t see why there would be, there’s still going to be a negative connotation towards it. Of course, that doesn’t make the prejudice OK, but it’s still a view that will remain pervasive in the US for a variety of reasons.

        If anything, the discussion has tempered my sanctimony & caused me to revise my opinion that they shouldn’t be used for the average child ages 3 and up. I really feel like my ultimate argument against them comes down to a lack of trust in the children and a need to control them; those reasons are perfectly fine for toddlers that lack communication skills, but are questionable for older kids.

  2. Are you ready for this can of worms? 🙂

    I have used a harness on my kids. My daughter has survived to the age of nearly 6 partially because of that use. You see, she has no fear. Like, none. When she was around 2-3 (before she could be reasoned with), she was perfectly happy to run. Anywhere, anytime. Away from us. So, in crowded malls, supermarkets, sidewalks, parking lots, she was always one step away from being lost, or worse, flattened. Holding her hand worked for about 30 seconds, after which time she would squirm, wiggle, kick, flail, and otherwise make her displeasure known. And god forbid I should look away or relax my grip for a single second, because ZOOM! off she’d go.

    So yes, I used a harness. And it’s fairly likely that the “controlling mother” in your story had similar fears. When I used a harness, S was able to explore, within a certain sphere, without having to hold my hand. She was much happier with that small sphere than with just my hand; and I was happier knowing that she wasn’t able to dart free into oncoming traffic or lose herself in throngs of strangers.

    It’s not about control (at least, not always); it’s about safety.

  3. We were given a leash in with several other toddler items when our daughter was young, but the only time we ever used it was when she asked us to. I think she like pretending that she was a dog or something. Like Jan, I think leashes can be appropriate. Our nephew, like Jan’s daughter, also has no fear, and though I don’t recall him ever being on a leash, he would have been a prime candidate.

  4. I’m in a similar situation to Jan above. Our boy is extremely inquisitive and also, barely ever listens to us. He is also just turning four, so that’s partially to be expected but, it can be very frustrating in certain situations. We recently went to the county fair and I was very pleased that he actually did stay near us. However, given his nature, it could have gone the other way, especially with all of that stimulus.

    We don’t make use of a harness, but I can understand it. On days like the ones at the fair, I spend most of my time tracking him and trying to keep him from running under the rides than I am enjoying myself.

  5. Congratulations on the pup!

    On the leash thing – I have no problem with it at all. While the boy is only 2 months old at the moment, and really can’t go anywhere under his own power, we’ve already decided to use one. I grew up in Germany, and they were used all the time there. My mom used one on me, and she says pretty much what Jan says – it gave me the opportunity to explore and have freedom within a certain area, while knowing that I wouldn’t wander too far away. I think it really just depends on how active your child is – and if our boy is anything like his father or I, he’ll need it. 😉

  6. It depends on the child. Different children require different levels of safety considerations.

    “but she’s just an animal who would chase a squirrel into traffic faster than I could blink.”

    And children aren’t animals that would chase a squirrel into traffic faster than you could blink?

    • @rcn2

      There’s definitely a difference. The first being that my dog is much faster than me. The second being that I can’t communicate to my dog (both my kids understand “STOP!”). The third being that I’ve yet to see my kids chase a squirrel, but I have seen my dog chase several of them, and I’ve only had the dog for a week. In addition, it’s been said here that holding a child’s hand is much more personal way of keeping them close, and dogs don’t have hands.

      • My dog understands “STOP” much better than my kids. He also sits on command, drops things when I tell him to, lies down when I tell him to, and generally just fails to challenge my authority or judgment.

        Kids push those boundaries sometimes.

  7. lily is nice

  8. […] Based Parenting asks “How do you feel about the leash?” (My answer: Yes, please) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Teaching kids to […]

  9. As far as having your child on a leash and thinking that’s alright your nuts!! Actually you probably shouldn’t have children! It’s your responsibility and privledge to take care of your kids and teach them . Leashes are for animals because the law says they have to be on one in public. Many times parents put their children in situations that are not age appropriate such as taking a toddler to Disney World because they think it’s cute and then are dumbfounded that the no one had fun.You need to use the brain the good Lord gave you.

    • I’m glad your children were docile little angels, Linda. You must be a fantastic parent… or have very easy-going kids. My first was fine holding my hand. So far, my third is, too. My second? She’s still, at nearly 6, incredibly headstrong and simply won’t listen a lot of the time. She’s had the same upbringing as the first and third; and yet, her personality is totally different. Just because your kids are pliant and placid doesn’t mean all of them are, and a 2-3 year old kid isn’t ready to be responsible. Using a harness *is* responsible parenting when you have a kid who just wants to run.

    • So, Linda, you think that the only reason that I should keep a dog on a leash in public is because the law says I have to?

  10. I got a harness and detachible leash after my toddler took off into the parking lot when I was trying to get the baby out of the carseat. I used it on all three children for various situations.

    One child tended to dart off if he saw I was busy with the baby. He also liked to climb out of the stroller and grocery basket (before they had little belts), the harness helped keep him safer. When the younger kid got older he would attempt to get off the bus at a wrong stop, and once when he was not wearing the harness did dart out into the street in front of our house and was almost hit by a car.

    My youngest wore the harness mostly around water. Especially the floating ferry dock that had no railings, and it would only take a quick dash to end up in the bay.

    I had a line for those who told me I was treating the kids like dogs. I asked them if they thought dogs were more valuable than children, when they responded with “of course not!”, I asked them why I should not protect my kid from the cars going by just a meter or two away. There was usually nothing more than a bit of muttering.

    Oh, I was never ever given any grief for the harness while on the ferry (which is the only way to visit some relatives, so don’t pull the “should not be there” argument), at the swimming pool and any dock.

    Perhaps Linda has never taken her children to a lake, on a boat, to a pool while older children had lessons, or around any water (even when there are railings, kids like to climb up and lean over). Perhaps she only has one child, and not had to turn away from the mobile child while dealing with an infant.

    • @Chris

      But have your kids actually tried to jump into the water or tried to run into a busy street? Have you actually had to yank them back? At what age do you feel that they can be trusted to walk unrestricted?

      I don’t feel like keeping my kids unleashed has put them in mortal danger. Certainly, they’ve never tried to jump in the deep end of the pool or skip into traffic. I just don’t see that being the child’s problem. It’s more the parent imagining these horrible incidents as bigger risks than they actually are (depending on the habits of the child). And you know what? That’s totally fine with me. I’m not trying to be the leash police or anything.

      • Actually, yes.

        One did dart into the street in front of the house. The necessity for the harness came after child number two with older child darting into the parking lot. I also had an occasion when I was trying to get the toddler to walk up the stairs to the house and carry the stroller with the baby up also. He refused to budge, and kept insisting on going back to the park, pulling on my arm while I tried to get the stroller up the steps. So I had to attach the leash to the street sign, carry the stroller and baby up the stairs and then go down and carry the toddler back up the stairs (the house was on the side of the hill).

        One of the dangers of teaching kids to swim early in toddler swim classes is that they think they can swim, and try. Fountains have nice low walls that toddlers can lean over. I never had to jerk a child back (and actually it is better to use soft pressure). Then there are docks… they do not have railings, and a toddler can easily tumble in just by trying to look into the water (again, it is not the jerk back, but a gentle pressure).

        Also, a harness that is well designed (much like the upper part of a pair of overhauls, which I made because the ones on the market are too flimsy) will distribute the pressure with causing harm if you need to pull up the child. I have had the throw down tantrum, then I picked up the toddler from the back and picked them up.

        By the way, if you don’t like harnesses, be sure to dress your toddler in overalls. When middle kid was about two years old he got to ride in a teeny tiny kid size Ferris wheel. When it had stopped to let another kid on he actually got out of the restraints and was climbing out of the seat three meters above the ground. The barker stepped up and pulled him out and down by the back of his overalls. That was the last time they had that attraction at that kid fair!

        The age they can walk unrestricted depends on the kid. Some are more of a handful. They are the ones that give you gray hairs, and yet somehow survive to be great adults.

        Of the three kids, it was the middle child who needed it the most, his “terrible twos” lasted from the time he was 18 months old until he was 7 years old. Even when he was in an umbrella stroller he managed a way to get his feet on the ground an propel himself about (fortunately a hand on the stroller kept him from going into traffic, he mostly got free inside of stores). He had several actual close calls with real death… from almost crawling out of a second story window (note: parent who left window open was promptly yelled at after I pulled the kid from the window, especially since that window had a safety mode where it could be locked with a small opening!), to almost being hit by the car in front of our house, trying to climb out of a kid carnival ride, climbing to an upper cupboard to get the toddler tylenol and chewing it out of the foil packet (it was fortunately almost empty), eating gum he found on the sidewalk… to saying he could swim during mom/tot swim classes where he would promptly sink to the bottom after letting go and be all smiles when I pulled him up! He is now a lifeguard and teaches swimming to little kids, here is a video of him at work, he is the blond “hero”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWSsU_DN09c .

  11. Hee. I had to chuckle a little as I read along this thread of comments. You see, I would have voiced the PRECISE opinion Ticktock and Philosodad did. That is, until, oh, about 3.5 years ago, when I had my twin boys. Enough said.

    I haven’t used a harness, but I can sure as hell understand parents who have. Chock it up to yet another one of the bajillion things this parenting gig has forced me to re-examine.

  12. If you don’t like child “leashes” then by all means, don’t use one on your child. We cannot possibly know what has gone into the decisions of random strangers we encounter in the public sphere. Judging their decision that a child leash is appropriate for them in that venue is, as TickTock says in a related post, an argument from emotion.

    Annie at Phd In Parenting has written on this topic as well –
    http://www.phdinparenting.com/2008/07/23/why-i-dont-use-child-harnesses-or-nursing-covers/

    The control argument is a compelling one to some. For me, a child harness was an appropriate middle ground that allowed my child an added bit of freedom in a venue where I would be otherwise forced to control them much more tightly with a held hand. I was also a method of avoiding a power struggle to boot as my child attempted to “escape”from the hand holding.

    In an International Airport a child harness was, in my opinion and for myself and my child, an appropriate parenting tool. I was unapologetic to those who felt the need to express their negative opinions to me on the subject for this simple reason. At the end of the day *I* am the one who deals with any fallout from a lost child – not them.

    Can it be abused? Sure. However, coloring your opinion about all child harness use with the very worst of its possible uses is not very helpful. This topic doesn’t have to be one of right or wrong (unless someone chooses to frame it that way).

    • @Carol
      Well said!

  13. Tried the leash once. Didn’t care for it. It didn’t seem well suited to restraining a struggling biped – she fell down and scraped her knee trying to pull free of it. Since then, it’s mostly been hand-holding (sometimes just a meter or so from heavy rush hour traffic, but she’s grown up a bit and at least tells me she understands that cars are bigger than her, and she probably doesn’t want them bumping into her). If she’s really uncooperative, I pick her up. Being carried around bodily is probably more demeaning than simply wearing the leash (it looks like a puppy backpack, she’d probably like it if we brought it out again), but generally, if she’s behaving such that she needs to be restrained, a leash is probably too much leeway anyways. I’m just glad that most of the time, she’s a pretty reasonable two-year-old, and just explaining why she can’t do something will stop her. Unless it’s either really fun (like jumping off of her dresser, because hey, daddy can catch her, right?) or we’ve missed bedtime and she’s a grump.

    Now, then, what’s the verdict on fetch?

  14. Whether you want to justify leashing as a safety harness or a convienence doesn’t matter. It’s dead wrong in my eyes. You are restraining a child with a “rope” to keep it within a so-called “safe” distance. Some are suggesting because of traffic or the child straying to far away in public. Well do you take your child and tie his rope to the house like you do your dog when you get home? After all this would be a safety issue as they could stray in the road or woods from their backyard as well. It is abuse in my eye. You are tying them up, period. It is abuse where I am from to tie them to a chair, bed, etc. With a leash you tying them to you. No different through my eyes. Also, teenage peers have the most effect on a person and who they become as an adult. As uncommon as leashing is, when these children grow up into teenage years I pitty the one that has to tell their best friends (because they will) that their parents leashed them. “Tied them up”! Have fun explaining to your teenager when they attack you with blame, (because they will) and try to justify to them that you tied them up for their safety. Pffft. Good luck when these kids are teenagers and you have to answer to all their questions. Maybe next time they run you should catch them, take them by the hand, smile and run with them.


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