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To Leash or Not To Leash

Flickr user athomson, CC Licensed.

A visit to our local park this week brought us face-to-face with a number of creatures on leashes.

Most of the beings were of the canine variety, their owners happily obeying city laws that require the beasts to be tethered in public spaces. A handful of the leashed animals, however, were human children. And the sight sort of wigged me out.

The leash question is nothing new. ABC News did a piece about it earlier this summer, and The New York Times addressed the subject on its (must-read) Motherlode blog last year.

Read the comments on these pieces and you’ll see that few issues polarize parents like this one.

Many parents—including many in my circle of friends—consider leashes inhumane and lazy, a poor substitute for good, old-fashioned discipline. Other parents—usually those whose children are “runners”—liken leashes to life-savers, noting that the devices allow for worry-free outings, both at home and on the road.

I used to fall more in the first camp. Then I ranted about it on Facebook (my query: “WHY DO PARENTS THINK THAT IS OK?”), and was made to understand the issue from the other side.

Obviously, different options are going work differently for different parents with different kids.

Still, in the context of family travel, I find leashes perplexing. While the harnesses might help parents control otherwise uncontrollable children, it seems to me that they also would hinder a child’s ability to explore—a fundamental aspect of traveling.

I think back to some of the most remarkable discoveries our toddler made (on her own) during a recent trip to the rocky California coast. Hermit crabs! Beach glass! Chitons! If I had had her on a leash, heeling by my side like a Golden Retriever or a Pit Bull, she wouldn’t have found any of it, and the experience would have been dramatically different.

With this in mind, there's got to be a middle ground. For parents with kids who behave like the next coming of Usain Bolt, perhaps the best solution on the road is a mix of whatever works—as one of my mom friends like to put it, "strollers, leashes and good old-fashioned feet." So long as a child has the opportunity to explore a new environment freely, off-leash, extra limits every now and then don't seem like the end of the world to me.

What’s your stance on leashes? Sound off and leave a comment.

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