BOISE -- A post from the Girl Scouts of the United States of America is going viral, garnering support and backlash. It's titled "Reminder: She doesn't owe anyone a hug. Not even on the holidays."
The parenting advice PSA encourages parents not to force their kids to hug relatives. Girl Scouts are advising parents to have conversations with their young daughters and let them decide for themselves how they want to handle affection. This comes at the start of the holiday season and amidst a national spotlight on sexual harassment and consent.
The holidays are for family get-togethers, stories, and traditions; a time when love is spread and embraces exchanged. But the Girl Scouts of America says it could, without parents even realizing it, also be a time when your daughter gets the wrong idea about consent and physical affection.
In their post, the organization says:
"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."
St. Luke's Children's Neurobehavioral Medicine specialists agree.
"Forcing a child to hug someone? That really makes no sense to me. But rather, encouraging a child to learn how to think about what they want to do and then want to hug people that are in their lives," St. Luke's Children's Center for Neurobehavioral Medicine clinical social worker, Jayne Krumm, said.
Girl Scouts of U.S.A. says telling your daughter she should hug someone because she hasn't seen them in a while or they gave her a gift could set the stage for emotional consequences later down the line.
"We really have to think about the mixed messages we're giving to children and then think: what really does this child need?" Krumm added.
Girl Scouts says it could lead to a young girl questioning whether she "owes" someone "any type of physical affection when they've bought her dinner or done something else seemingly nice for her".
“The notion of consent may seem very grown-up and like something that doesn’t pertain to children,” Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald said in their parenting advice 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. 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.”
"Children should have boundaries and we should respect when they say 'no' to somebody touching them," St. Luke's Children's Center for Neurobehavioral Medicine child psychiatrist, Dr. Jacqueline Bell, said. "Gratitude can be expressed in other ways other than physical touch. And so they can express it verbally, write a card."
Experts say talk to your kid beforehand and let them know he or she gets to choose what makes them comfortable.
"I think it really is an important dialogue for parents to have with other parents, their children. And really helping parents feel like, I don't have to force my kids to do something for show," Krumm told KTVB.
"If you grew up in a family that they're huggers, they talk with their hands, they're expressive, they give kisses on cheeks - it just depends on culture within that family. But still, if a child is making an assertation that they don't want to be hugged or touched, I think you have to respect that," Dr. Bell added. "If they're aunts and uncles that you grew up with and you know, it doesn't mean the kids have the same familiarity with them. It will very much depend on the kid."
Girl Scouts of U.S.A. isn't telling your daughters not to hug loved ones and they say they're not giving them a license to be rude:
"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."
There are a lot of mixed opinions on social media: many are applauding this reminder, others are calling it ridiculous or accusing the Girl Scouts of blowing a simple, harmless family interaction out of proportion.
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