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Life's a Drag

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Are leashes for kids okay?

Brett Berk: 37-year-old Melissa Catherine Smith-Means created controversy when she dragged her child on a leash in a Verizon store, and someone got it on tape.

mom drags kid on leach play video

She was later arrested on child cruelty charges.

While I'm all in favor of leashes for vicious dogs, circus tigers, and between consenting adults, I'm not so into them for kids. Sure, it's an effective means to keep your child from running away from you while you're cruising the aisles of Target, or to prevent them from tearing into the street while you're gossiping with the neighbor on the sidewalk. But then again, so is handcuffing them to the shopping cart or chaining them to a post in the middle of the front yard. As with most things with young kids, simply because it "works" doesn't mean it's just, proper, or healthy.

My rejection of leashes is based mainly on the fact that they're solely an external mode of control, one that's implemented ON the child, and one with which they have no input or agency. It's my feeling that effective discipline -- and by this I mean behavior management tools that are actionable, functional, and operative in the long term -- defines clear boundaries and repercussions in advance, and puts the onus on the kid to figure out how to comply and find their own center. In other words, ways of implementing your authority that allow the child to rationally engage with your demands and figure things out, rather than just be told what to do. When kids are required to think, and develop an ownership stake in things, they tend to comprehend more and respond better.

But you might not agree. You might think your toddler tether is the only thing standing between you and rambunctiousness, or find it adorable and a great way to accessorize an outfit (pink dress; green harness; silver chain: voila!). Still, even those leash lovers in the audience would probably admit that if you're going to utilize this product, you should stick to doing so in a manner that demonstrates the modicum of respect you would provide to even the most reviled family pet -- a baseline that includes not using the living being attached to the far end like a ball-and-chain, a slingshot, or a Swiffer. And that if you're intentionally not going to conform to this rather low bar, you should probably consider doing so away from a phalanx of in-mall security cameras so that you don't end up looking like a self-centered, abusive harpy in front of the entire Internet.

Or maybe you just REALLY want that bedazzled cell phone case and you have to get over to the display before some other bitch steals it out from under you. In which case, drag away.

next: Push Presents are Tacky
72 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous August 4, 2009, 5:09 PM

Brittney, you obviously felt strongly about what was happening(with good reason). Did you or anyone else that you saw in that store say anything to this mother?

stephanie August 4, 2009, 5:45 PM

I think that leashes are okay for special needs kids.

That said, if I see a kid with a leash, I just assume that there is something wrong with them.

Cher August 4, 2009, 5:54 PM

I’ve always commented to friends when I’ve seen people dragging (not in the same sense as this dragging) their child along on a leash. To me, it’s a sign that the parent either a) can’t control their child or b) doesn’t have the patience to keep an eye on them 24/7 as required. It’s pure and simple laziness. I can guarantee you if I would have seen this in the store, the mother and I would have had it out. She should be brought up on child cruelty charges.

Lisa  August 4, 2009, 6:41 PM

I think what everyone, including the author of the article, is overlooking here is that this issue has really nothing to do with leashing or not leashing a child. That mother probably would’ve dragged the child with or without a leash. The issue really is, why do some people become parents if they can’t parent.

Anonymous August 4, 2009, 6:51 PM

I personally do not use a leash, however I would not put down a parent who does as it seems the author of this article has. My aunt and I went to Sea World with our sons. At the time she had a two-year old son, a four year old son, and was 8 months pregnant with her daughter. She decided for the safety of her two year old son to use a leash. Her son did in fact stay with her the whole time, but if he HAD run off I am glad that she had that safety net. So while this video is disgusting I cannot disagree with them as a whole.

Pamala August 4, 2009, 7:17 PM

Yeah I do think it’s important to recognize that whether there was a leash involved or not I think this mother would have been dragging the kid by the arm instead of the leash and maybe he’s a bit lucky he was on the leash. It’s just plain wrong though to do that, I don’t care, pick the darn kid up if he’s not moving. But dragging him? And she almost hit the kids head on the corner and didn’t even care.

Uly August 4, 2009, 8:57 PM

Leashes do a few things things. First of all, they keep children safer. No matter *how* good a parent you are, sooner or later there will be a time when you blink, or turn around. If that’s the same time when your toddler darts away from you into the street, what then? Second, leashes keep kids from getting nursemaid’s elbow - and they allow the kid a heck of a lot MORE freedom than being strapped in a stroller (talk about no autonomy there!) or having to hold mom’s hand the whole time. (And for the record, my nieces *wish* they had a leash. They’re constantly tying each other up and declaring that they are dogs!)

aurhynn August 4, 2009, 9:15 PM


how big is your hand vs a toddler’s? Your hand gets the tiniest bit sweaty and out the hand pops! I’ve had that happen to me a few times and had to grab my daughter when she tried to dash away. No, I don’t use a leash, I didn’t need to with her after a few reprimands and firmly teaching her to hold Mommy and Daddy’s hand when going into a parking lot. I’m lucky I have a fairly obedient toddler. Some people aren’t so lucky and the children simply won’t hold a parent’s hand, no matter how smart or disciplined.
I agree some parents may just be lazy, but don’t knock all of them if you don’t know the situation.

Sylvia August 4, 2009, 9:56 PM

I always thought it was so cruel for a mother to use a harness until my 4th child who has autism. I can’t count how many times he’d almost been hurt or seriously injured before I broke down and bought a leash. It wasn’t a full harness just a velcro strap around his wrist with a stretchy band & velcro strap around my wrist. It gave him plenty of room for independence but kept him close & safe. When he was little something would catch his eye & off he’d go. He took off on me once from 5 ft. away. The friend I was talking to was a local track star. She took off after him as well & barely managed to grab him before his feet hit the street. That’s what convinced me I needed to get one. What this mom is doing though is totally uncalled for? I’m glad someone reported her. That’s totally humiliating & I’m sure that kid doesn’t understand why either beyond how it makes him feel. This woman doesn’t deserve the right to be called mother.

Anonymous August 4, 2009, 11:25 PM

My family member is autistic and prone to uncontrollable behavior. He can get out of a stroller in a flash. He also likes to walk, the exercise helps him. The leash his mom uses seems to keep him calm. It works great for his family and there has never been a problem. Without it, his anxiety creeps up and he screams and has strange behavior patterns. They can’t take him anywhere without it. It comforts him. I say we are casting stones. It’s not the leash, it’s the person holding it.

Anonymous August 4, 2009, 11:50 PM

First of all, this woman clearly is annoyed that she could not go to the store unemcumbered. So stay home. That is what the rest of the world has to do if they don’t feel it will work to take their child that day or to that store. I worked a second job nights during the holiday season for Kohls Department store. It was so hard for me to see parents coming in at 10pm and later with their children and then getting so mad because the kid is being whiney. You cannot call it naughty at that time of night. Second I could not believe the number of people commenting that they use leashes. I have 5 children (2 dogs with leashes) and babysit no less than 3 children at a time. We go to the store and other places and still only use the leashes on the dogs. Try some vitamins.

John C. Spodobatchie August 5, 2009, 12:00 AM

I will tell you now. Most people who are against leashes for kids either are not parents or are the “saint” parents who are perfectly fine letting their spawn run all over hell and half of Target. I not only used the leashes on both of my children (who are perfectly fine, even with the trauma) I advise any new parents to use them. Do not get on a high horse about how this woman treats her child until you see the rest of their life. As a parent, sometimes you just have enough and have to get out of the situation.

Anonymous August 5, 2009, 2:08 AM

While I feel that putting your kid on a leash shows nothing but a lack of parenting skills…

That video is hilarious.

Alison Wattles August 5, 2009, 8:27 AM

Harnesses can be a wise choice in certain circumstances. I’m not arguing that this woman made a wise choice. I think it’s obvious that she did not but using her as an example to argue against restraints is unfair to parents who do use harnesses appropriately.

If you think harnesses are unhealthy and inappropriate, you might think differently if your child is prone to impulsively jumping out into traffic, bolting away in crowds, slamming their head against the counter at the store, jumping out of a high chair in a restaurant, or any other possible life-threatening or self-injurious behaviors rooted in neurological or developmental abnormalities, no matter how many times you have communicated your expectations and warned him. Only parents with normal children think merely talking is adequate at a very young age.

What is a parent to do when they have more than one child and one of them is “difficult”? Take the risk so they won’t look like “one of those parents who puts their kid on a leash”? In my opinion, safety comes first and if a leash is the safest thing in a given context, then who is anyone else to criticize it?

It’s unfortunate that there are comments here criticizing parents if they do use harnesses for safety purposes, as though they aren’t really “parenting” if they do. It’s really easy to say that when you have a kid that just sits there and plays with their toys.

To Mr Berk, when you write an article like this, you should keep those kids in mind, too. Your comment that a tether would merely keep a kid from being “rambunctious” is telling. For some, it’s about preserving life and limb, not just managing unruly behavior.

By the way, the thought that you’ve worked with young kids for 20 years and have published a guide to parenting and don’t seem to have any regard for the reality of disabilities is kind of disturbing, in my opinion.

The lady should have picked up her kid and walked him to the counter in the other room. That’s pretty clear.

Meagan August 5, 2009, 8:58 AM

In my opinion, the parents with perfect children usually are the parents who beat their children and are in fact the ones who deserve to be arrested for child cruelty.

I also think people who are against leashes and are pro strollers for toddlers are also pro childhood obesity—think about it

and in my opinion, this mom did exackly what she felt oppropriate at the time and for that I say—Yeah mom, way to go,
way to be the parent!

Tough kids call for tough parents, and if you don’t have the ovaries it takes to be a good mom than shut up, back off, and let the mom do what she feels is best for her child, the child is not being hurt, is not being strangled, and is sure as hell not being beat (my favorite is when the parents give into the child in the store to only take them home and beat them for something they have already forgotten about, what good is that)

You know it is sad, but I really think people love their dogs more than they love their children—look at what they demand of the dogs and then look at what they demand of the children? Because honestly, isn’t what is best for our children to raise them to be the best they can be? instead we let them slack off and how loving is that?

Sue August 5, 2009, 1:31 PM

There is a purpose for a leash and that is not one of them. That is inhumane what she is doing. If the child was uncooperative, a stroller would have been better or hold and carry him. She looks capable of that. There really should be a manual sent out when they give birth to children. Bullying is not a good way to teach them. I am horrified that anyone would do that.

momof2 August 6, 2009, 11:27 AM

Wow….. that is all I can think of! I mean I have seen people use those leashes that are made for kids it attaches to the childs hand and then to the parents. This lady is crazy I sure do hope they give her a lot of time for this….. come on now this was not the first time she did this it was just the first time she got caught!!!!

snowflower August 7, 2009, 7:54 AM

He’s gliding along a smooth surface. Looks like something my kid would think was fun. This woman was arrested for giving her kid a slide. People need to lighten up.

fooddiaryuser August 9, 2009, 7:10 PM

Would never use a leash for a human being…my friend’s mother used a helium ballon tied to the belt loop of her autistic child to be able to find her if she got too far afield…

rai sinbran August 11, 2009, 1:00 AM

ok this is totally wrong and i’m glad that woman is being charged for cruelty. but i’m not against child leashes. not in the least. i wasn’t a devious evil child but i had a habit of roaming off to small dark places or spots where there weren’t other people and i can absolutely say i would be dead if it wasn’t for my leash.

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