An essay on the Girl Scouts’ website is causing controversy, as it argues that little girls should not be forced to hug relatives they may see over the holidays. Doing so could cause girls to confuse what defines “consent” later in life, and make them feel like they “owe” hugs and other displays of affection to anyone.
The Girl Scouts say the essay is in response to the rash of sexual abuse allegations among celebrities and politicians. Critics, however, say it is a sad overreaction and an attempt to dictate ridiculous parenting advice. Some are arguing that this is a way of “shaming” men into being afraid to show affection, to avoid being accused of sexualizing any hugging.
Some experts say that since a third of all sexual abuse is committed by a family member or relative, forcing little girls to hug grandpa at Thanksgiving only opens the door to abuse under the guise of “showing 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.
“The notion of consent may seem very grown-up and like something that doesn’t pertain to children,” says Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, “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. Plus, sadly, we know that some adults prey on children, and teaching your daughter about consent early on can help her understand her rights, know when lines are being crossed, and when to go to you for help.”
Give your girl the space to decide when and how she wants to show affection. Of course, many children may naturally want to hug and kiss family members, friends, and neighbors, and that’s lovely—but if your daughter is reticent, don’t force her. Of course, this doesn’t give her license to be rude! There are many other ways to show appreciation, thankfulness, and love that don’t require physical contact. Saying how much she’s missed someone or thank you with a smile, a high-five, or even an air kiss are all ways she can express herself, and it’s important that she knows she gets to choose which feels most comfortable to her.
Mark Steyn discussed the issue on Fox News in this video clip.