“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.”
That’s the advice the Girl Scouts of America is giving to parents. The organization published a blog post this week arguing that forcing children to hug relatives and family friends during the holidays could muddy the waters when it comes to the notion of consent later in life.
The piece comes as some of the most powerful men in nearly every major industry — from Hollywood to journalism to politics — are being publicly called out for sexual harassment and assault.
In a statement Tuesday morning emailed to The Washington Post, the organization said that it
…. Offers advice to girls’ parents and families (including those of current Girl Scouts) on how to talk to their daughters about issues in the larger world that they hear about or that directly affect them….Given our expertise in healthy relationship development for girls and in light of recent news stories about sexual harassment, we are proud to provide girls’ parents and caregivers with age-appropriate guidance to use when discussing this sensitive matter and other challenging topics, should they wish to do so.
The post was titled “Reminder: She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays.”
It argued that by consenting to a hug she doesn’t want, a young girl could get “the wrong idea about consent and physical affection.”
“Making her give hugs now can make her wonder if she ‘owes’ another person physical affection when they’ve bought her dinner or done something else seemingly nice for her later in life,” the organization said in a Facebook post, which was shared almost 7,000 times.
Many on Twitter praised the organization for its message. Actress Amber Tamblyn, one of the leading voices calling out the sexual harassment in Hollywood, shared the story with a thank you to the Girl Scouts.
“Our daughters owe no one hugs, smiles or kisses and we should start teaching them this young,” she said in the tweet.
“Lots of younger people today were raised to think as you do, that children/ younger people are equal to if not superior [to] adults/elders,” he concluded. “It’s a recipe for raising a generation of brats, and has zero to do with rape culture.”
Others had stronger opinions. In a response to the Girl Scouts’ Facebook post, for example, one user said, “This is absolutely ridiculous!!!! I MAKE my kids hug and kiss family members and close friends of the family when we say hello and goodbye! It’s a sign of respect!!”
Some experts encouraged parents to use caution when considering the Girl Scouts’ advice. New York-based psychiatrist Janet Taylor said it’s important for parents to avoid creating “a mass hysteria about physical contact with loved ones.”
“It’s never too early to start a conversation about good touch and bad touch,” Taylor told ABC. “But also we don’t want to overstep our boundaries so our children are not afraid of who they should not be afraid of.”
The Girl Scouts pointed out that the conversation might not be an obvious one — even if it is important.
“The notion of consent may seem very grown-up and like something that doesn’t pertain to children,” Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist Andrea Bastiani Archibald said in the post. “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.”
Archibald also noted 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.”
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