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The Globe and Mail

Kids on leashes: effective parenting or terribly misguided?

A man walks through the show hall with both a dog and a child on leashes during the first day of the Crufts Dog Show in Birmingham, central England, March 11, 2010.

© Phil Noble / Reuters/REUTERS

Over its three-season run, the show Modern Family has been lauded for addressing hot-button topics like blended families, diversity and particularly gay parenting. But all of that TV torch-bearing felt like small potatoes recently, when spouses Mitchell and Cameron, the first gay couple to occupy leading roles during prime time, took adopted daughter Lily to Disneyland ... on a leash.

(Or, as the PC police would have us call it, the child safety tether.)

Since then, the debate over whether it's okay to put one's child on a leash-like device has set the mommy blogs ablaze, so much so that you would think parents were using these straps to lash their kids rather than rein them in.

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It's far from the first time around for the leash trend. "I seem to remember a photograph from my childhood where my brother was on one," says Ceri Marsh, editor of the family eating blog The Sweet Potato Chronicles. Ms. Marsh has never used a leash, but as a mother of two "darters," she says she can see the appeal.

Last year Judith Goldberg, a columnist for Parents magazine in the United States, was all but strung up (or sainted, depending on your camp) for her proclamation that, "Leashes are for dogs. You wouldn't put your child in a crate, or let him poop on the sidewalk, right?"

If I were trying to destroy this argument (which I'm pretty sure I could do with one hand leashed behind my back), I might point out that cribs are a lot like crates and that without constrictive diapers, young kids would indeed be pooping on pavement, but really, that's not the point.

The question we should be asking is not "to leash or not to leash" (as far as I know, no one is suggesting mandatory tethering for under-fives), but rather to "poke or not to poke" – your nose into other parents' business.

This easier-than-it-sounds mantra, to "live and let live," can be found at the crux of most parenting debates these days. The recent tit-storm over the Time magazine article on breastfeeding and attachment parenting comes to mind.

"With parenting, people feel like they can criticize other people, even complete strangers, in a way that they never would in any other arena," Ms. Marsh points out. "Nobody would say, 'That is just a terrible way to write your annual report.' "

Meanwhile, the phrase "lightning-rod issue" has become almost redundant – every parenting issue is cause for megawatt opinions, rival camps and the all-too-regular uttering of phrases like, "If you ask me, it's child abuse." Do people even know what that means?

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Moms and dads who have used leashes report that the sense of peace and safety is often outweighed by the judgmental, disapproving looks. Kristen Howerton, a family psychologist in based in California, told ABC news about how her brief adventures in leash-land led to unsolicited opinions from passersby. Perhaps the only solution to child leashes are adult muzzles.

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