On my way into work this morning, I had the displeasure of walking behind two women who, in each of their hands not clutching their coffee, held leashes that were harnessed to their respective children. Not dogs — children. The woman on the left had three kids, all on individual leashes, and the woman on the right had one child. All of the children appeared to around age five or younger. I am not a parent, and so I generally shy away from expressing my opinions about other peoples’ parenting choices, but if there is one thing that makes my blood boil, it’s parents who treat their children like they’re animals. And in my opinion, strapping a harness around a child’s belly and keeping them on a leash, even if it’s a leash meant for a human, is coming pretty damn close.
I remember seeing an episode of “Modern Family,” where Mitch and Cam have to decide whether or not to put their four-year-old daughter Lily on a leash for the family’s trip to Disney World. Lily was in her unruly stage, constantly running away, hiding and testing her dads’ willpower. They didn’t want to be “those parents” who keep their kid on a leash, but they weren’t sure how to make sure she would be safe and remain nearby in such a crowded place. Ultimately, they ended up foregoing the leash, and instead chased her around Disney until they bought her a pair of Minnie Mouse “heels” that forced her to slow down. I remember watching the episode and thinking about how scary it must be to bring a small child to such a huge, crowded place, wondering what I would do in a similar situation. The fact of the matter is, it wouldn’t be the stigma of being one of “those parents” who puts my kid on a leash that would deter me from doing so; it would be the actual putting the kid on the leash part. I’m not entirely sure how I would keep my child at bay, but I know it wouldn’t be with the assistance of an animal accessory.
I understand that there are tons of situations where a leash, or as advertisers like to call them, “child safety harnesses,” would come in handy. For parents who have kids who like to run away or won’t listen, or especially for families who live in large cities or are going into a crowded place, it would be convenient to know that your child is less than an arm’s length away at all times. I get that. I understand that leashes provide parents with a sense of safety and security, knowing that their kids can’t run into a crowded New York City street or disappear with a stranger in an amusement park. But what I also know is that children need to be taught about safety, boundaries, rights and wrongs. Kids need to understand that there are consequences to their actions and that danger is real.
Obviously, it’s a difficult concept for children to grasp when they’re young, but it’s an important lesson that needs to be taught. I also know that if a child is unable to comprehend those rights and wrongs, it means something terrible could happen, which begs the question: What ever happened to holding hands with your kids? When I was young, my parents would take me and my sister by hand and hold on for dear life. If we found a way to wiggle our hands free, we would be scolded and warned over and over again what could have happened to us. Eventually, we didn’t need to hold their hands anymore, but we remained close, looked both ways when we crossed the street and minded our own business when we were walking through crowds. We were observant and knew that darting in front of someone or something would end badly. We knew this from having been taught about what was expected and acceptable — not through physical restraint.
The two women who I saw walking on the sidewalk this morning were paying no mind to the children they were with, and instead were discussing the cold weather and the long line at Starbucks. Lost in conversation, the one mother didn’t even realize that her child had walked to the side of a man walking in the other direction, leaving him tangled in the leash. When she finally noticed, she yelled, “Aiden! What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” before tugging on the leash like he was a disobedient puppy and giving him a spanking. So what was Aiden doing? He was being unattended to, that’s what. I’m not saying that every caretaker who puts their child on a leash is inattentive or a bad parent — that’s simply not true. However, my fear is that putting children on leashes, even if it’s for their personal safety, might allow parents to slack on the responsibility of being a watchful adult, who teaches children right from wrong, in favor of their own convenience.