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Should parents force their children to hug relatives? Girl Scouts post says no

FILE - This Monday, Sept. 22, 2014 file photo shows the official Girl Scouts crest at the entrance of a Girl Scout Camp in Lapeer, Mich. A November 2017 PSA by the Girl Scouts encourages parents not to force their children to give hugs or kisses, even to relatives, to instill a healthy notion of consent.
FILE - This Monday, Sept. 22, 2014 file photo shows the official Girl Scouts crest at the entrance of a Girl Scout Camp in Lapeer, Mich. A November 2017 PSA by the Girl Scouts encourages parents not to force their children to give hugs or kisses, even to relatives, to instill a healthy notion of consent. AP

With Thanksgiving around the corner, Girl Scouts penned a message this month that not all have agreed with: Don’t insist your kids give hugs or kisses, even to relatives or family friends.

The post, titled “Reminder: She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays” and posted to the nonprofit organization’s website and social media earlier this month, reminds that holiday get-togethers could “be a time when your daughter gets the wrong idea about consent and physical affection.”

Girl Scouts advises: “Give your girl the space to decide when and how she wants to show affection,” and the article suggests replacing hugs and kisses with gestures like smiles or high-fives.

Perhaps posted in light of the dozens of accusations of sexual misconduct made against notable men since October – from entertainment figures to politicians – Girl Scouts’ message focuses on the idea of consent.

“The notion of consent may seem very grown-up and like something that doesn’t pertain to children, but the lessons girls learn when they’re young about setting physical boundaries and expecting them to be respected last a lifetime, and can influence how she feels about herself and her body as she gets older,” says Andrea Bastiani Archibald, a developmental psychologist, in the Girl Scouts post.

Reaction to the recommendation has been mixed in the weeks since posting, as the holiday season and those family meet-ups approach.

Arguments initially brewed in the story’s comments on Facebook, with hundreds offering their input. Some felt the advice was spot on; others thought Girl Scouts was overreaching.

“I disagree 100%. Teaching our children love and compassion is essential,” one user commented.

“You can love someone without being forced to touch them,” another replied to that comment.

Another woman wrote: “Our kids deserve to decide what they do with their own bodies. Forcing them to give hugs takes that away from them. Sure, teach kids to be respectful. But give them choices for how they show affection.”

Experts chimed in as well.

“I think the most important thing the Girl Scouts was able to identify is that the conversations need to be happening and to start at a very young age,” Ashley LeGrange, therapist and founder of the the nonprofit, youth-mentoring Stand Up Foundation in Florida, told WPEC in West Palm Beach.

The physical benefits of affection and hugs, generally speaking, are well-documented. Psychology Today in 2016 published a blog post emphasizing the neurological upside of hugging – mainly, the release of oxytocin, a hormone that leads to happiness.

“It’s easy to shower your little one with love. A long hug or cuddle several times a day will be calming,” wrote Notre Dame undergrad Emily Silver.

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