Kid on a Leash

One of the most controversial issues in parenting of small children is whether to tether. This topic creates much heat between opposing camps. On one side, we have the parents who rely upon their tethers (not ‘leashes’, please) as a godsend. This group of parents claims that tethers are effective safety devices and that no long-term psychological damage is created by their use. Pro-tether parents point to the benefits, such as protection - the ability to provide their child exercise, and teaching a rambunctious ruffian to stop on command.

On the other hand, the liberationist clan claims that treating children like dogs is inherently dehumanizing.  For some, it brings up an emotional reaction predicated upon the perception that children are somehow sub-human. This group will fingerpoint and accuse pro-tether parents of being barbaric fascists, or worse yet…lazy.

After a lot of Internet research and some thought, I have formed my own ruminations on child ‘tethers’, ‘restraining devices’, or leashes. I ask the following questions with an open mind. How does a parent transition a tether-acclimated toddler away from tethers? At what age or stage of development should a parent dispense with the tethers? Then what? And if hand-holding is suitable for older children, why isn’t it appropriate for younger ones? Is a busy street or a crowded mall really the place to provide exercise? Are we serving our children by removing the requirement to obey us? Some parents we’ve heard from want to maintain the closeness of being with their child and experience the world together, rather than keeping their child at the remote end of a harness, so they carry them. Energetic two-year olds who struggle incessantly will still do so, despite being tethered, and no matter how closely ‘to heel’ they are kept. In fact, it might actually encourage them to pull away quickly, experiencing a sudden rude jerk when all slack is expended.  That alone is not safe. This can, in fact, can poke some holes in the ‘teach ‘em to stop’ argument this way: A parent’s command to stop must be obeyed without compromise. Does the tether take away that responsibility to teach?  

On the other hand, for those of us who can’t lift-and-hold our kids or hold them by the hand, isn’t some restraint better than none? What about parents who are physically incapable of carrying or restraining their children without help? What about multiple children?

If the issue of ‘whether to tether’ is the catalyst for judging  parenting styles, where does it end? And who is immune to critique? Tell us what you think.