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The GEM Debate: To Leash Or Not To Leash (VIDEO)

Photo Courtesy: rocketjim54

Oh look what’s rearing it’s ugly head again. Well, did it ever actually go away? Me thinks not.

I saw this piece on the Huffington Post this morning about parents who put leashes on their kids and the uproar it causes. We’re in Orlando right now and I’ve seen this on more than one occasion. I’ve also seen this.



This will be great debate fodder because it plays on the part of parenting that is so difficult; the prevailing thoughts of “Am I doing this right?

Of course, those who think you are not doing it right are circling like sharks in a sea full of chum, quick to pounce, because, well, because they are right and you are wrong.

Let me take you back a minute, to my upbringing in Northern California in the 70’s. My parents had two rambunctious kids. Back in the days before booster seats, our folks had these gray belts that could be affixed to the regular seat belts that enabled us to stand up and move around in the car while still tethered to the belt. Yeah, two toddlers bouncing around (tethered or not) the back seat of a Pontiac Grand Prix doesn’t sound like the safest thing to me either.

The beauty of said gray straps was that they could be taken out and used as a harness around the aforementioned toddlers, like when we went to the zoo. And they were used. These were not the cute little faux and furry backpacks that kids wear now.

My take on it is this: better to be safe and scorned than sorry and politically correct. If you have your hands full with a rambunctious kid and you’re in a place where they might run away, is taking this extra step such a bad thing?

For those of you who worry about long-term, irreparable effects, I can assure you that my sister and I somehow managed to grow into productive members of society. And even if we hadn’t, I’m sure there are many other things from my childhood that could account for the dysfunction. Sorry mom.

Okay what do you guys think? Are the kiddie straps, leashes, whatever you want to call them, a good idea? Did you use them with your brood? Why or why not?

More from GEM:

The B.S. of Balance

Single Mom Slice of Life: Lessons Learned Remotely

Ask the Good Enough Guy: Can You Teach An Old Jackass New Tricks?


  1. thedoseofreality

    June 28, 2012 at 11:52 am

    I think like with most other issues related to parenting that you need to do what is best for you and YOUR family/children. If that means putting a harness on your children in a crowded amusement park for your own sanity and their own safety, then do it and don’t feel an ounce of guilt. Would you rather have some stares for a harness on your kid or the judgement because they got lost on “your watch”?

  2. Rene Syler

    June 28, 2012 at 11:54 am

    @Ashley: Totally agree!

  3. PassPorterMomSV

    June 28, 2012 at 11:55 am

    I am firmly in the “better safe than sorry” category. My son wore a very cute puppy harness while at Walt Disney World whe he was a toddler. Even the best behaved child can take off at the sight of a favorite Disney character! Did I use it in Target? No, but I wouldn’t judge a Mom who does.

  4. ella

    June 28, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Rene, I’m not sure I remember you mentioning that. Maybe that’s why you are so bold and outgoing now. You are forever in a state of BREAKING FREE! If that is what I can look forward to with Joelle then maybe I’ll try it.

    Ashley, you are right. The number of times my heart has beaten just in my own house because I can’t find her makes me want to tether her. I had/have my misgivings, but kids do get lost.

  5. Heather Sabadasz

    June 28, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Just got back from Disney…it was kind of a nightmare with my WILD (did I mention he is crazy) 2 year old. I was on the fence about leasing him ther full well knowing he wasn’t going to sit in a stroller or hold my hand. He is a kid with tons of energy and he LOVES to run. My MIL said you can’t leash him that’s terrible. So I decided against it. Within the first hour of the park we had about 4 meltdowns because DS ran through the masses of Star Wars Weekends…there was no stopping him. We had to tackle him, and then wrestle him into the stroller…apologizing to many people along the way every time he got under their feet. We left the park and I knew that day I should have followed my gut and invested in a cute harness. My MIL even said “oh boy I guess I should have listened to you and not make you feel guilty”.

    This is my take on the issue…if you are using this in a busy amusement park, zoo, etc for the safety of your child, you, and the others’ around you then it is absolutely acceptable! If you are dragging your kid through Verizon or Walmart (wherever that incident took place) then its probably not such a great idea. We as a society worry too much about passing judgement on others when we should just focus on what is best for our own individual situations and families. Thank you Rene for sharing that it is ok and that your parents used a similar device on you and you turned out more than fine!

  6. Deon Smith

    June 28, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    I started this debate yesterday on my wall. Even though i GREATLY agree on the intent, my question is when did society go wrong that we leash our kids like animals? Im not oblivious to the fact that kids will be kids (Im 34 and when I visit my mom and we go to TARGET I STILL run off to the toy section—Im a GEEK, SUE ME lol). But a respectable “fear” needs to instilled in children in how to conduct themselves in public to prevent this. I dont believe in concept of rationalizing with young children, however they DO have the capacity to learn and grow. It begins with the parent establish the parameters….(All of us OLD SCHOOLERS remember “the look”. ITS STILL EFFECTIVE if you enforce it PROPERLY.

  7. Sandy Seale

    June 28, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    I totally agree. After having 3 daughters, 5 grandkids, & countless nieces/nephews, & friends with kids, I can completely relate. I know to those who have perfectly behaved, mindful kids at every moment & those who have no kids but are authorities, it may seem inhumane or abusive. But I would ask them if they would prefer said kids to be lost, hit by a car or worse still snatched by a predator??? I say, until you walk a mile in my shoes…….. 🙂 I personally have never used one but would not look down my nose at someone who did unless they appeaared to be using it inappropriately or yanking the kid around. We often joke (notice I said JOKE) that we think a shocking collar (usually used on dogs) would be more effective & invisible to the scutinizing public. LOL PS LOVE Modern Family….and that episode 🙂

  8. Sandy Seale

    June 28, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    No disrespect but curious Dean; I did not see any mention of whether you have kids or not. If you do then I’m glad for you that you have been able to instill self-discipline into your young toddlers at such an early age….not everyone has regardless of their attempts. Some kids are just very strong-willed & energetic. I hear what you’re saying about “when did society go wrong” but I think it is an over-simplification & unfair to millions of parents. Its like your saying we can’t or haven’t even tried. Anyway I do respect your opinion just wondering if you have kids 🙂 No judgement here tho!!

  9. Gay Wakefield

    June 28, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    I won’t judge others or remark on their opinions on this one, because I believe it depends totally on the child and the parent whether this works and/or is a good idea. My daughter detested having her hand held; she was (and still is) a free spirit who needed to feel she had her own path … but, as a preschooler, she got lost from me one day while shopping and it scared the bejeebers out of both of us. I resorted to a harness and expected her to rebel. She didn’t; she LOVED it. No one was holding on to her and she was free to move away from me, but she knew she couldn’t get lost. She’s 32 now and says she’ll use a harness with her own kids, for the same reasons.

  10. Deon Smith

    June 28, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    All good. I was married for 3 years. My ex wife had a 6 month old from a previous relationship. Kyle is 14 now. I was an integral part in raising him into young man he is today. We all know that parenting is NOT perfect. However we live in a digital age and demanding society where cell phones/text messaging for SOME has a more high priority than child supervision. Lets not deny this reality. Many try…..Yet there are some carry a careless attitude. In public, my eyes NEVER left my child. Also he was trained very well to stay at side at all times. And to this day we still have a strong relationship. My focus is more on parents who CHOSE to be ‘lazy’ knowing that a leash is present. That was my point.

  11. Janet

    June 28, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    I used a leash with my son occasionally – one of those monkey backpack harnesses. To be honest it was either do that or have him in the wheelchair all the time. Giving the harness meant he got some exercise and got to explore but that he couldn’t dart away from me. I think 2 is the age when we used it most – he could walk well and wanted to explore that skill but wasn’t quite old enough to grasp the safety concerns with just darting away. Now that he’s 4, he holds my hand in public, comes back when I call and stops when I say to stop. If I could have gotten him to do all that two years ago, maybe the harness wouldn’t have been necessary but at the time it was and I don’t regret it.

  12. Janet

    June 28, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    Ah, I said “wheelchair” and I meant “stroller” – the summer heat has fried my brain.

  13. Dawn B

    June 28, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    Back in the late sixties my mother had a harness attatched to my brother and a woman said, “You have him leashed like a dog!” My mother looked her square in the eye and replied, “Better a live dog than a dead dog!” I used one on my willful, stubborn, very fast running 3 year old son while at Disney once. I never had to use them on my girls though.

  14. Tiffany T

    June 28, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    We have that very same monkey backpack leash (sans pink bow) that we use with my 19-month-old son. He’s a fantastic, well-mannered (as can be expected) toddler, but he loves to explore everything & has absolutely no fear. We use it when we go on walks, to the park (where we take it off when we’re in a safe area) & to busier places like theme parks. He absolutely loves it. When he wants to go out for a walk, he’ll grab his monkey leash & bring it to me.

    The only thing that bothers me is parents who use them to yank their kids around. I only use the power of the leash to slow my son down long enough for me to catch up to him & hold his hand and/or steer him away from something. It’s rare, but I have seen parents use the kid leash to detain or restrict their kid so that they can actively ignore them. That’s not okay, and I’m guessing that those few exceptions are why people tend to give kid leash users such dirty looks.

    My son looks so happy in his backpack leash that most people smile & comment on how adorable he is with his monkey backpack. 🙂

  15. TechyDad

    June 28, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    When my youngest learned to walk, we realized that we had, until that point, had it easy. Our oldest had issues walking and so always held our hand. Our youngest, with no such troubles, felt free to run here and there whenever mommy and daddy were distracted.

    On one such occasion, we were in a store looking for clothes, I saw JSL dart away out of the corner of my eye and followed him around a row of clothing. Then he disappeared. He was completely gone. Had it not been for the rack of clothes that was shaking and giggling, I wouldn’t have known where he was.

    Later, in the same store trip, we went to put on the kids’ coats. As I assisted my oldest, JSL decided it was time to explore. He darted off from us. I left my wife with our oldest as I caught up with JSL. I decided to catch up with him slowly. He walked through the store taking many twists and turns, never once looking back to see if daddy was anywhere near him. Finally, I decided he’d had enough and quickly closed the gap and carried him back. Had we not noticed initially, he could have gotten completely lost.

    We bought him a “leash” (a monkey backpack with a tail the parent could hold) to help keep him safe. It got plenty of use and we actually did get comments. They were invariably positive though. (I’m guessing any negative comments were whispered in hushed tones alongside with glaring eyes.)

    As with many things, it’s up to the parents to decide what’s right for them, but I’d much rather see a kid walking on a “leash” than see the parents frantically searching for their child.

  16. TechyDad

    June 28, 2012 at 4:33 pm


    When we used it with our youngest, he was about 2 years old. You can tell a 2 year old “stay close to Mommy/Daddy now”, but they are likely to wander off at the first shiny object they see. Some parents solve this problem by always holding hands. Some solve it by keeping the child in a stroller. Some solve it by utilizing a backpack-leash.

    If you have a mom or a dad alone in a store with 2 or more young kids, that parent will be hard-pressed to keep one eye on each kid while simultaneously doing the shopping they need. A child leash lets the kid wander just far enough away to feel like they have freedom, but not so far that they get lost. When you’re talking about the difference between a lost kid and a kid who is right beside the parent, I see no problem with the child leash.

  17. Jessie Akos

    June 28, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    Wow! Here’s how out of the loop I am: I had no idea that this was even a controversy. I figured that of course, if one had a wiley little person in tow, one would use a “leash” type of scenario. I have a one-year-old, and certainly wouldn’t hesitate to use one should I need it because I agree, safety comes first, and frankly, I might be the one to get distracted in a public place and lose track of my curious little wanderer. There is a time and place for freedom, and sometimes, the grocery store just isn’t the time or place. Love the comment about “better a live dog than a dead dog”…right to the point.

  18. dianthe

    June 28, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    “Also he was trained very well to stay at side at all times.” – uh, Deon – did you have a child or a dog?

    before i had kids, i was one of those judgmental “i’ll never leash my kids” people – then i found myself traveling to Chicago (on connecting flights) with my newly walking 1 year old … a couple of months pregnant … and alone

    as i went down the list of things i needed to take with me (purse, diaper bag, breast pump, car seat), i realized that i needed more hands and quickly ran to Target for the puppy backpack/leash – it was a lifesaver – my daughter held court as she walked through the airport during our 2 hour layover – she waved and smiled as i followed behind her schlepping all our stuff – the only comments i heard were “what a cute little girl”, “she looks so happy” and “what a great idea – why didn’t they have those when you were little?”

    as with anything, harnesses can be used incorrectly – but the majority of parents who use them, do so for the safety of the child and the sanity of the parent – neither of my kids were runners, but if they were you can bet i’d throw a harness on them in a heartbeat if it would keep them safe – and as for the holier than thou “you should be watching your kids” people – it only takes a second to get distracted and less than that for your kid to get away – i’ll go with the “better to be safe than sorry” every.single.time.

  19. Alexis

    June 28, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    When my daughter was 2, I did try the leash a few times. It was more trouble than anything. All she did was pull against it and scream whenever she couldn’t run off on her own, which was all the time. I gave it up and just got better about planning my activities around her. For example, when we went to the zoo, I just rented one of the wagons. She happily rode in it and was not inclined to get out. I used the shopping cart at grocery stores. And I became a master of distraction. Of course, these are all things that worked for me and her. I’ll withhold judgement on those who are only concerned about the health and safety of their kids and use a leash all the time. Nobody loves your kids the way you do!

  20. Dawn B

    June 28, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    I was going to say the same thing about Deon’s “trained” comment.

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