When my son was quick enough to run, I invested in a leash.
Of course, the bulk of readers most likely disagree with my decision. I, too, used to be repulsed when I’d see a child harnessed.
That was all before I had my second son.
Let me offer some pre-leash background. Max has crawled under a padlocked fence; he has disappeared into cornfields; he has tumbled down staircases. In each case I was there—but my son was a slick-handed and adept escapist, and I was often juggling him and his 4-year-old brother (who, incidentally, was typically more interested in shoplifting than escaping).
Pre-Max, I might have agreed with Nadine Silverthorne, managing online editor of Today’s Parent, who writes, “I think parents who use leashes look lazy.” Post-Max, I couldn’t even fathom this viewpoint. Because we protect our children from danger—using something besides a hand—others perceive us as lazy? We ignore rolled eyes and mumbled comments constantly because it’s not our job to present ourselves as the archetypal June Cleaver mother. It’s our job to keep our children safe.
Other anti-leashers caution that our strategy prevents children from understanding repercussions for their actions. “Parents won’t be able to rope in children as they get older, so it’s important to set boundaries at an early age and have consequences if kids don’t listen,” Susan Newman, a social psychologist, warns.
A firm verbal reprimand or redirecting should be enough to keep all children out of harm’s way, she says. But what if it’s not?
I maintain that it’s a better time for teaching lines of demarcation when our kids stops trying to sneak out the door at Chuck E. Cheese or crawl under parked cars to retrieve a dropped lego mini-figure.
What about the argument that we are treating our children like dogs? It’s simple: my dog used to chase butterflies and rabbits and dandelion spires without regard for oncoming traffic patterns. And, you guessed it: my son used to chase butterflies and rabbits and dandelion spires without regard for oncoming traffic patterns. Therefore, they both earned a leash.
Max is 12 now. He looks both ways before crossing the street and pulls his bike over on grass when a car goes by. He doesn’t try to stuff himself into sewer pipes. He doesn’t climb out windows to see what’s in the second-story gutter. Anymore.
But if he were still taking impulsive, death-defying risks? You bet I’d dig out that leash and hook it on his broadening, adolescent back without a second thought.
That, in my mind, is what pro-active, present and invested parenting looks like.