Recently a shopping mall within walking distance of my house suffered a horrible event: a toddler lost a finger in an escalator. As of yet it is unclear whether his finger will be successfully reattached; however what has been released is the circumstances of his accident. The 3-year-old was unattended, running up and down an escalator, tripped at the bottom, and got his hand stuck. Had I gone up to any rational person on the street, parent or non-parent, and asked them if that sounded like a good idea, I’m pretty sure the survey would lean strongly towards “F@#K no!” Yet every year we hear of accidents that occur because a parent lost track, wasn’t looking or otherwise didn’t pay attention to their child.
In the age of technology we live in, there are several Band-Aids to throw on this solution — though the trend seem to be less and less effective. Assuming the child is old enough to walk, and a stroller/backpack is out of the picture due to age, common sense would dictate holding your child’s hand while in public. When you cross the street, you look both ways and hold hands with an adult. But some adults get tired of a child constantly pulling on their arm, trying to break away and explore. Plus, how can Dad or Mom hold hands when they need hands free to hold their latte and cell phone?
Along came the child leash, which always looks insulting in my eyes. Sure they can mask it by making the leash look like a backpack, or a cuddly stuffed animal, but there’s still that moment when the child resists and Mom gives a good hard tug on the rope to “persuade” her kid into leaving the zoo. It’s not treating them like an adult (or even human), so it doesn’t encourage them to act like one.
Even as an adult, if I constantly had a physical rope pulling me where I needed to go, I would stop trying to initiate any movement, just waiting to be tugged through my day by someone who knows better. Human leashes might sound good from a “my kid would dart away in a crowd” point of view, but you know what will keep them in line more than a leash? Hold their hand, man! And lest we forget the Mike Myers skit on SNL where he’s tied to a jungle gym and flipping out with sugar and ADHD, the leash just screams to other parents, “I have given up disciplining my child and decided to just tie him to a tree.” It’s not the best message to send.
It seems that with Generation Z, the question is always, “How can we shove a computer into this situation?” Taking that approach, the free market has supplied us with tracking devices. I admit that my wife purchased one of these for our son, despite my eye-rolling apprehension at its necessity. The system is basically a car alarm for your child, where a little device is attached to the child and the parent has a remote. Both sides of the system are relatively small, about the size of two fingers (though I’m sure there are countless models). Ours featured a small bear that hooked on our son’s shoelace, which he immediately tried to remove and play with.
Well, strike one for designing it to resemble a toy, thus encouraging the child to tamper with it. Strike two for designing it with any possible way for him to remove it. And the big strike three: the entire function of the parental remote is to emit a high-pitched tone from the bear. So if you lose your child in a crowded mall, pull out your handy remote and trigger the device, you may get a general direction that your child is in, or you may just get an unattended child in a crowded mall emitting loud noises.
Does this do us any good as parents? If someone’s child darted away due to legitimately blinking for a split second, as some parents are oft to do, any damage to be done can occur despite a high-pitched whine. In the case of the child who lost their finger, the police report stated that he was unattended. Giving the parent the benefit of the doubt that they were “Keeping an eye” on the kid, but not actively locking their eyes on them, the finger’s gone either way. The only purpose of this tracking device is to discourage kidnappers, though I would expect the first thing they would do is toss the shoelace bear to the floor before absconding with the baby.
Again, what possible good can this tracking device do? It can’t protect a child from getting hurt, because knowing exactly where they are in the well they just fell down doesn’t help much. It can’t help with kidnappers unless you hide it under the skin, because anywhere else can be easily removed. The only thing left is losing a child in a large crowd. I’ll admit, if you go to Disneyland, or somewhere that crowds can become overwhelming, there is the ever-present potential of getting separated from the group. My school of thought is this: if your child is too young to call your cell (we’ll tackle proper cell phone age in the future), you need to be holding their hand. At all times. If they can’t handle that, then perhaps they aren’t mature enough to be wherever you’ve taken them.
Keep in mind I’ve not even gotten into the inherent defect in all tracking devices. You know what never runs out of batteries, thus rendering its entire existence null and void? I’ll give you a hint; it’s at the end of your wrist! Just because something is cool, new and has the potential to make life easier doesn’t mean it will make life better. Is literal hand-holding at all times feasible in the real world? Of course not, but neither is holding a leash, or setting off a child alarm every five minutes with a kid that just wants to run up and down the escalator. If a toddler is too young to know not to run away, the only fool-proof option to prevent them from losing fingers, falling down wells or being abducted is to hold their hand and watch them.
And you don’t even need to buy anything for that. So, yeah… financial tip, too.
Don’t miss last week’s column: Xbox One: Better Than a Speech Tutor.