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The heck with the nanny state; what about the protective-custody state?
So there I was, a few days ago, driving around Cambridge, when I passed a sight that has stayed uncomfortably with me. It was a neat line of small children on the sidewalk, each maybe four years old. (I'm bad with ages: small, but big enough to be walking down the sidewalk escorted.) The line was neat because they were attached to a pair of ropes -- each child's wrist was tied into the rope, and each rope had an adult at the front and back, with about six kids between them.

My inner engineer marveled at the simple efficiency of this solution for keeping a dozen children safe while walking down a busy city sidewalk. But my inner sociologist squirmed uncomfortably.

Mind, the kids didn't seem to mind: their eyes were wandering hither and yon as they walked, largely ignoring their right hand held up slightly by the rope. But that's kind of the point -- children at that age learn from everything happening to them. So I have to wonder: what does this teach?

I confess, I find it creepy as all hell. The implicit message seems to be that captivity is right and appropriate, so long as it is intended to keep you safe. I suspect that most people would word that differently, but many would agree with it in spirit. It makes my skin crawl.

To understand a person, it's often best to understand their formative literature. If you want to understand me, I commend the novelette With Folded Hands, by Jack Williamson. (The basis for the followup novel The Humanoids.) It's fairly old (I confess, I last read it decades ago), but perhaps even more than 1984 it shaped much of my political philosophy. If the above scene does *not* make you squirm, the story might help you understand why it does me...

Creepy as all hell. Agreed.

The day care my kids go to has ropes. Which the kids *hold on* to, not tied. That works really well. Tying....? Yeah, creepy!

I don't have a problem having them hold on to the rope. If I found out my kid was tied to it, though, I'd flip. I could actually think of a few safety reasons why you wouldn't want to do it aside from the fact that you don't tie a kid up like a dog.

I've used leading strings for a single child, I can't even imagine keeping a group together. I doubt that they were tied, loops are pretty standard. Kids have to earn their way into that system, otherwise they are in the group strollers with the toddlers.

Yeah - the daycare near my house uses ropes like this and the kids put their wrists through the loops, but they're not tied. Same deal with the ropes vs. strollers thing - it's pretty common.

Are you sure they were tied? Or did it just look that way as you were driving past?

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Hard to say -- like I said, this was seen as I was driving past. The hands on the ropes appeared to be free, and it certainly *looked* like they were tied at the wrist, but it's hard to be certain about a glance...

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As has been said, it's quite likely that these were hands-through-loops and not hands-tied.

As a parent, I don't like the idea that someone will be tying my child, but the loop thing works for me. Walking around in an urban environment, especially with kids that are as likely as not to run off, means that a reasonable precaution can save my kid. Then again, my younger is almost 10, so at this point age 4 is but a fuzzy memory.

As a (sometime) teacher, anything I can reasonably do to keep someone else's kid safe and under control is something I'm likely to do. The idea terrifies me, and I've been working with kids for over 30 years.

Interesting. If you saw that in a cave complex or a rock-climb however, it would be perfectly normal, right? (I mean, 8 people is a lot for that, and 4 is young for either activity, but the point remains.)

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There's definitely a lot of things about the helicopter generation that scare me. For me it isn't so much the captivity that bothers me (though it does) so much as how are our kids supposed to learn if we don't give them the chance to make mistakes?

How many of us actually learned anything by just blindly doing what we were told versus testing some of those limits? To me many of the situations we put our children in are designed to prevent them from having to rely on themselves to understand the rules or to prevent them from testing the rules. And that's all well and good for keeping them under control but scary when you think that at some point they need to grow up, be adults and understand how to set their own rules.

Did that make sense?

You haven't been a parent. There are many times, many situations where very small children are, quite rightfully, physically restrained.

Walk with even one 4 year old, and the good sense of using the rope becomes very quickly apparent. It's that or confine them to a stroller...or never take them anywhere. It's much easier to never take them out at all. Which solution is best?

I'm pretty sure you saw kids hanging onto loops- that is what a lot of preschools/daycares do with kids that age to take them outside for outings. Being big enough and a good enough listener to not be in the stroller is a very big deal to little kids and is a privilege they really don't want to lose.

That icon is misquoting the Bible.

Dude, think usability. You have a dozen kids of that age. Are you going to try to tie them to a rope, individually? Think about that serial process for just a second. How long does it take to get them into and out of that?

No, they weren't tied. The loops were pre-tied into the rope. The alternative is a usability nightmare...

One: This.
Two: Take a quick count of the above comments. See how many say tied=no, loops=ok then think what happens when mommy asks her toddler what s/he did that day. You don't think someone is going to raise holy hell with tying? They were looped.
-- Dagonell

This might be a problem created by fixing an older problem. I know Cambridge is not war zone, but Cambridge has some busy traffic. There is a need to keep a group of young children in line when traveling through the city. What tools do you use to guarantee safety?

You could increase discipline, if allowed. That was probably the solution of days gone by. Depending on the discipline form, it is likely to be frowned upon, and/or illegal.

You could chose not to travel through the city, but that is a different form of protection and doesn't address the core issue.

You could go without a guarantee of safety, but that opens you up to possible troubles like traffic accidents and law suits. (and that assumes the danger being addressed is playing in traffic)

All in all, the toddlers introduction to BDSM doesn't seem to be a bad solution to the problem at hand. It is hard to evict the image of chain gang, though.

Re: Curious Connundrum

Yeah, my initial gut reaction was, "Look, it's a cute chain gang" -- and I'm still wrestling with that...

Your visual description simply reminded me of movies that show prisoners on a chain-gang being led to and from their work sessions. That's the reason I would have reacted negatively to seeing that, and it sounds almost exactly what you are reacting to.

On the other hand, having MUCH younger siblings, and knowing how easily children can "get away" in a moment of inattention, I don't see the problem of using a guide rope to help keep the group together. If the child is hanging on to a rope or is tethered via a harness it seems like it would make it more difficult for someone to kidnap one or more of them or have the group get separated and lost in a crowd. Having the kids hold hands might be OK, but it would make walking in a line like that more difficult.

Would you rather teach all those kids to "Heel"? ;) What is the alternative? During my school days, it was either everyone walks "single file" or it was the buddy system. That worked well back then but it was a in a smaller community that was fairly pedestrian-friendly.

Edited at 2012-08-22 06:26 pm (UTC)

They did the same thing when my brother was in boyscout camp, in order to do night trails. Only, the senior scouts had sticks with which they poked the slower kids to speed them up.

I have no problem with this sort of thing. Makes perfect sense to me and it keeps the kids safe. It's a follow the leader scenario with an adult watching from behind as well. Sounds good to me.

My day care doesn't have the rope/loop thing that others are describing (that I know of,) but as the parent of a will-be-four-year-old-in-28-days, I approve whole-heartedly.

Charlotte is a pretty good kid, and she minds me well enough that other people and parents compliment me on it. That said, Pennsic was definitely a don't take your eyes off her bit of a nightmare. There's crowds. She's short. There are interesting things to see. Blink, and she's gone. Not to mention that when I bark "STOP" at her she does - but there's about three steps of momentum. AND depending on the situation, my tone, her mindset - in that little brain the logical thing to do at that point might be to run back to mommy - right in front of the car pulling into camp.

There's *one* of her. I don't even want to imagine trying to cope with six. On a city sidewalk. Who maybe aren't as disciplined as mine. I think the folks who work at daycare are saints.

I completely get why to a non-parent who doesn't parse things the same way that would look creepy, but through the parent filter it looks differently. My reaction would likely have been "how clever."

I've long predicted something like the results you do.

Captivity and Safety go together.

But I came to it from a different direction, Car Seats.

Safety and Security equals restraint and control.

Yeah, there does seem to be a real cultural shift going on. Having grown up as part of the "kids in the way-back" generation, the idea of putting four-year-olds in car seats wigs me out something fierce...

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