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The Human Animal?

Written by JohnOSevens Oct 03, 2008
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Having just returned from my weekend volunteering at the Renaissance Fair, I’ve realized that something has really been bugging me lately. Specifically, parents who put their children on leashes. They make them look cute: fuzzy teddy bears, big green frogs, or whatever, but with a long tail, firmly Velcro’ed around some helicopter mom’s wrist.

Firstly, do you have that little faith in your children? Have you taught them so poorly the dangers of crowds and not to wander off, that you feel they cannot be out from under your watchful eye? John Holt tells the tale of a boy of fewer than nine years who was free to wander the street in and around a major airport. The blog Free Range Kids tells the tale of a boy of exactly nine who was free to travel a major city on public transportation. Anecdotal evidence abounds of the danger that is NOT present to children in modern society. Indeed, people (especially men, but that is a separate issue) are so terrified of being accused of child abuse or abduction that they would not look twice at a child, even one crying for help (this I have seen with my own eyes!).

So what are people really afraid of? This makes especially little sense in a place like the Renaissance Faire, where the community is such a strong, omnipresent influence, and all of them benevolent! One of the few things absolutely anyone is allowed to seize hold of a walkie-talkie to report (and seek help with) is a lost child. The protocol for helping a lost child is drilled into every new recruit till we can all do it blindfolded. So I ask again, what are you really afraid of?

Secondly, do you have that little faith in yourselves? Do you not trust that if your child yelled “Mom!” every hair on your neck would stand on end, even if she were barely within earshot? It seems to me that these same parents who cannot stand to have their children out from under their watchful eye… cannot be bothered to look! It is always the ones who want to flit about looking at things who put their children on leashes. The attentive parents keep their children in their arms. The trusting parents let their children flit about looking at things themselves! It is only the parents who must have control, with no measure of responsibility, who put children on leashes, freeing themselves to pay attention to everything else, while keeping the children bound to follow.

There is nothing more actively dehumanizing than to force a person into the behavior and trappings of an animal. It is one thing for a person to dress as a faun, or to wear cat ears, in order to channel the cuteness of a cat, or the free will of Bacchus. It is another to put a leash on a child, so that you can skitter about paying no more attention than if it were a terrier on the end of your string. These people would be offended if you suggested the put a collar on their child (or, in the case of some, a muzzle), but see nothing wrong with keeping them on a leash, so long as it looks like a monkey’s tail. At least, I have to hope they would be offended. Can we acknowledge that children are human, at the very least? Toddling about on uncertain feet, these are people who need encouragement, guidance, inspiration, not to be yanked about, literally, by the tail.

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