Video compares European and American parenting styles

child with monkey backpack leash
CC BY 2.0 Shannon Kringen

One culture focuses on 'raising' kids, the other on protecting them.

A short video comparing American and European parenting styles has gone viral, receiving more than 11 million views since it was posted to Facebook by ATTN: on November 20.

The video depicts the freedom given by European parents to their kids — letting them play outside unattended, riding their bikes to school, leaving babies outside to sleep, even on city streets. This is followed by footage of American parents putting their kids on leashes and news reports of parents getting arrested and spending time in jail for letting their kids play outside.

The video does acknowledge that U.S. media perpetuates fear through its relentless coverage (and, arguably, exaggeration) of incidents involving children, leading parents to feel as if they’re constantly protecting their offspring from impending danger, but Lenore Skenazy, the brilliant critic behind the Free Range Kids book and blog, thinks it’s a bit ridiculous. She wrote, sarcastically, “How I love the clear and sympathetic link it makes between media constantly hyping danger and parents reacting with understandable terror.”

The final scene of the video is a jaw-dropper. Two adults, holding on to leashes, share an exchange: “Sorry, they’re a little bit feisty today.” “No problem. She’s friendly.” The camera drops to show two little kids running around their parents’ legs — not the dogs you’d naturally expect to see.

Interestingly, many commenters are in favor of kid leashes, arguing that they’re a win-win situation for parents who want to keep their hands free (for the most part) and not push a stroller around, while allowing a kid freedom to explore within a safe distance. Leashes, they argue, eliminate the very real risk of a child dashing out into traffic.

Leashes, I would argue, are the not the real problem here. They represent a much bigger issue, and that is many American parents’ inability to train their kids to function independently, further worsened by their reluctance to step back and allow kids to practice those independence skills; and if they’ve never had the chance in small ways as young children, they won’t be much better at navigating the world when they reach adulthood.

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