The Girl Scouts of America have posted this warning to parents on their website:
Reminder: She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays.
Holidays and family get-togethers are a time for yummy food, sweet traditions, funny stories, and lots and lots of love. But they could, without you even realizing it, also be a time when your daughter gets the wrong idea about consent and physical affection.
Have you ever insisted, “Uncle just got here—go give him a big hug!” or “Auntie gave you that nice toy, go give her a kiss,” when you were worried your child might not offer affection on her own? If yes, you might want to reconsider the urge to do that in the future.
Think of it this way, 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.
That’s raising eyebrows. Our post-Harvey Weinstein, sexual harassment-scandal laden times are forcing many conversations in areas not even thought of this time last year, but the dialogue is now being forced into the hallowed and sacred ground of family holiday get-togethers.
Harry H. Henderson Jr., author of several best-selling parenting books, including Father to Son, and Father to Daughter, thinks the conversation is long overdue. “Making young kids hug people is like telling that that your body is not yours – you have to go hug them,” and says it should be up to the child to decide who they want to hug. “I think it send all the wrong messages to girls, even to boys,” he says.
There has been much written about how smartphone technology and living in a constantly connected world is shaping the interpersonal relationships young people are engaging in today, or not. Their lack of face-to-face connectivity with other humans is leading to a generation of depressed, isolated children, and some people are concerned this might feed into that withdrawal. Harrison says it comes down to the parents. “I don’t think it’s solved by hugging a stranger that you don’t want to hug when you’re four. We wouldn’t tell a fourteen year old girl to go hug somebody so why would we tell a four year old to,” Harrison asks.
One in nine girls under the age of 18 experiences sexual assault or abuse at the hands of an adults, according to data collected by the Rape, Abuse, And incest National Network.