(NEW YORK) — It’s becoming almost a common sight – and a great debate for any modern family. Should you leash small children? For parents across the country, there is no middle ground.
Mother of four and family psychologist Kristen Howerton of New York City says she was given a safety harness as a gift.
“I felt a little funny about it. We were on vacation with my sister-in-law in Seattle. I was juggling a bunch of children and worried about someone running out, and she said ‘Why don’t you put this on your daughter?’ So I did and it just kind of made sense,” said Howerton.
But when Howerton, 37, used the harness she said she got so many looks she put it away and hasn’t used it a lot. People were glaring at her and making comments about how it’s a child and not a dog.
There were some benefits to using the harness, however.
“It was great. My daughter was walking freely she felt like she had freedom, but I felt like she was safe. It was a great experience other than other people,” Howerton said.
Child psychologist Tina Bryson explained why she believes parents are choosing to leash their kids.
“A lot of times the parents who are using it are using it because it’s based on a child’s behavior that they’ve seen,” said Bryson.
For Howerton, whose husband was hit by a car, it’s all about safety, regardless of the criticism.
“You only use a restraint like that when it’s a safety issue. You don’t use it at the park. You don’t use it when they’re playing in the backyard. It’s a time when you’re getting from A to B and making sure everybody is safe,” said Howerton.
Some people even say it’s a restriction on a child’s natural curiosity or freedom to explore. But Howerton would argue, “In the middle of a busy street or in an airport going gate to gate is not a time for a child’s natural curiosity.”
Mother of two, Lauren Jimeson, of Costa Mesa, Calif., was leashed as a child herself, and says there is never a good excuse to restrain your child.
“I remember being embarrassed. And I promised myself I would never ever do that to my children. There’s always a way to help restrain them without putting a leash on them,” Jimeson said.
Jimeson, 28, believes giving her 2-year-old daughter more freedom actually makes her a more attentive parent than those who use leashes.
“Parents can use it as a false security, thinking that okay, my kid is attached to me. Maybe I don’t have to watch them as much as I do,” she said.
But Bryson thinks differently.
“Everybody’s child is different. And if a parent hasn’t had an experience of having a really impulsive child, they may not really understand what it’s like,” Bryson said.
Howerton hopes parents everywhere will stop the judging and start a conversation about what works best for each family.
“I think the solution here is that parents shouldn’t judge other parents. They shouldn’t be concerned about what other people are doing unless a child is actually harmed,” said Howerton.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio