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Should Parents Force Children to Hug and Kiss Their Relatives?

On November 2nd, the Girl Scouts of the USA posted a PSA regarding children and consent, titled, “Reminder: Your Daughter Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays.” Holidays are special times when family comes together to show their love for each other, but the Girl Scouts wanted to remind parents not to force their children to hug or kiss relatives.

“Telling your child that she owes someone a hug either just because she hasn’t seen this person in a while or because they gave her a gift can set the stage for her questioning whether she “owes” another person any type of physical affection when they’ve bought her dinner or done something else seemingly nice for her later in life,” said the organization.

The post was shared over 7,000 times, but not everyone thought the advice was appropriate. Some interpreted the message in a way that made it seem as if the Girl Scouts were telling people that it is wrong for young girls to hug older relatives, even if they want to.

“No girl is going to seriously think she has to get physical with a guy to be polite, just because she had to give Aunt Betty a hug at Christmas when she was little,” said one reader, Angelique McKowan.

“Now imagine the internal conflict of an Hispanic girl when the whole family hugs and kisses as part of its greetings, but the Girl Scouts are telling her it’s wrong to do so,” said a Twitter user.

The Girl Scouts responded to this criticism by reemphasizing that their message for parents is to teach children about consent. They reiterate that affection is not the only way to show gratitude.

“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,” said Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, the Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist.

On Wednesday, the Today Show started a Twitter poll that read, “A PSA from Girls Scouts of America discourages parents from forcing their kids to hug relatives at the holidays. Do you agree with the Girl Scouts’ stance on hugging?”

Of the 5,419 votes received, 67 percent agreed with the Girl Scouts.

It is important for parents to teach their children to have manners and show respect for their relatives and elders, and from raising their hand in class to using “please” and “thank you,” children have plenty of instances to practice manners in the world without sacrificing their comfort and safety. However, parents must also protect the personhood of their children, and forcing a type of affectionate behavior can be contradictory to a child’s development, as it violates their child’s respect and could potentially impact them into adulthood.

Parents should choose to empower their children with the right to say “no.” It is important for parents to recognize that their children’s bodies are not theirs to dictate, and their children should have the right to make their own decisions about their body. If a child is uncomfortable with kissing or hugging a relative, or even giving them a high five, they should not be forced to commit any act of affection.

Allowing children to have authority over their own bodies teaches them how to respect themselves, which builds confidence. If a child first learns how to respect themselves, they will most likely have an easier time respecting and being polite to others. Respect and consent are important for girls to understand, even as children. By teaching these things early on, parents may prevent an ingrained sense of duty in their children to be affectionate or act in ways they may not want to just because of social expectations. The Girl Scouts PSA may have sparked controversy, but it also started a conversation about teaching consent to children and allowing girls to take back control over their own bodies.

Featured Image by Alexander Dummer on Flickr

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