PARENTS

Girl Scouts Of America: Parents, Don't Force Your Kids To Give Hugs During Holidays

Consent isn't just an idea for grown-ups, the group says.

11/21/2017 09:57 EST | Updated 11/21/2017 10:43 EST
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On the Girl Scouts Of America's website, it told parents to allow their daughters to refuse hugs and kisses to relatives if they choose.

It's a universal truth that during the holidays you're going to make small talk about your job, discuss who you're dating, and definitely get asked, "Why don't you give your ol' aunt a hug?"

But the Girl Scouts Of America is making sure that parents know their kids have to consent to being touched.

In early November, the group posted an article called "Reminder: She Doesn't Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays" which warns parents that their daughters shouldn't feel obligated to give affection simply because they received gifts.

(It) can set the stage for her questioning whether she 'owes' another person ... when they've bought her dinner.Girl Scouts Of America

It can seem polite to tell your youngster to give their relatives a kiss or a hug after receiving gifts or if they haven't seen them in a long time. But the article says that sends the wrong message.

The organization notes that enabling the behaviour "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."

Although, the article specifically speaks about girls, forcing boys to hug relatives is problematic as well. "The Big Bang Theory" actress Mayim Bialik has written about how she doesn't force her boys to kiss their grandparents.

"If my child doesn't feel like kissing someone, I take that as an opportunity to learn more about their feelings," she said in her post on KVeller, an advice site for Jewish parenting.

Mark Blinch/Reuters
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks in Toronto on Dec. 12, 2016.

The idea of consent has been at the forefront in Canada, as provinces rejig their sexual education lessons.

In 2015, Ontario debuted its revised health education curriculum, which introduced consent-related ideas to children as young as Grade 2. These included teaching kids to say "no" when they felt uncomfortable from unwanted touching.

In most other provinces, consent is brought up as part of the discussion on healthy sexual relationships around Grade 7.

'Lessons girls learn ... last a lifetime'

Today's Parent suggests that if kids don't have a handle on consent, they are more likely to become victims, or even perpetrators, of sexual assault.

In 2015, the announcement of Ontario's new curriculum prompted some parents to criticize it because they said it exposed children to the idea of consent at too early an age. But Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, the Girl Scouts' developmental psychologist, said in the article that consent isn't just an idea for grown-ups.

"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," she said.

"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."

Girl Scouts echoes U.K. campaign


Last year, a similar campaign led by New Zealand-based agency CAPS Hauraki, which seeks to prevent child abuse, showed various people explaining how simple consent was to understand.

On its Facebook page, the group posted a set of pictures which included an elderly woman saying she wants to allow her grandchildren to give consent.

"I am five. My body is my body," another one of the pictures read. "Don't force me to kiss or hug. I am learning about consent and your support on this will help me keep safe for the rest of my life."

The campaign also featured a Santa Claus impersonator saying that if a child didn't want to sit on his lap, they shouldn't have to.

Both the U.K. and Girl Scouts campaigns have particular resonance in the wake of Hollywood elites like Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K., as well as political figures such Senator Al Franken, being being accused of sexual harassment.

Parents should avoid 'mass hysteria'

But in response to the Girl Scouts article, psychiatrist Dr. Janet Taylor told Good Morning America that parents should "use common sense" and be careful to avoid creating "a mass hysteria about physical contact with loved ones."

She stressed, however, that it's never too early to talk about good touch and bad touch. "But also we don't want to overstep our boundaries so our children are not afraid of who they should not be afraid of," she said.

"The awareness of unwanted contact that we have right now is needed ... I just caution parents about limiting family attachment and that kind of loving space that a lot of time only happens at the holidays."

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