We’ve all seen them- at the mall, at amusement parks, walking down the street. Children wearing backpacks attached to leashes. Child safety harnesses have been around since the ‘80s, but have recently gained popularity because of new designs and models. As anyone who has ever brought up the subject knows, there is a great rift between those for and those against child safety harnesses (or safety leashes). The debate is largely internet-based, and has been waged through sites like Parentdish.com, Helium.com, and Facebook.
The primary argument for the harnesses, like any child safety device, is safety. With the child secured in the device, parents have control over them and they are less likely to run away, run into the street, get kidnapped, etc.
Another point proponents bring up is the freedom factor. Children using safety harnesses have a sort of sphere of liberty. As long as they stay within the constraints of the leash, they are able to move around and explore in a way that they would not if they were constrained to a stroller or a parent’s hand.
Finally, there is the issue of disabled children. Parents of children with ADHD or other disabilities say these types of restraints are necessary for their child to be able to interact safely in public.
The main argument against child safety harnesses is that they look like dog leashes. There is a social stigma attached to these devices because those opposed often say that when a parent “walks” their child on a leash, they are degrading them.
Another argument of those against child safety leashes say that it restricts the child’s liberty by not allowing them to explore the world around them.
Finally, there is the safety factor. Some parents have argued against the leashes because of incidents of parents dragging their children by them, or tying them to a fence while at a sporting event or a chair at a restaurant.
New designs, like belt-to-belt harnesses (parent and child each wearing the harness) and the backpack-style harnesses are likely taking some of the social stigma away; but, as long as the leashes exist, so will the debate. At the end of the day, it will always be up to the parent to assess their child’s individual needs and determine the best way to keep them safe in public.