Girl Scouts PSA Says Don’t Force Your Kids To Give Hugs

by Meredith Bland
Image via Lisa Gagne/Getty Images

Girl Scouts’ site posts article about physical boundaries

Around this time of year, the issue of whether or not it’s appropriate to force our children to “give Auntie So-And-So a hug and kiss” comes up. These days, many parents seem to fall on the side of “no, it’s not okay to make your child give someone physical affection if they don’t want to,” as opposed to “yes, because that’s family and it would be rude not to.”

Now, the Girl Scouts are joining the debate with an article they recently posted on their site titled, “Reminder: Your Daughter Doesn’t Owe Anyone A Hug. Not Even At The Holidays.”

It’s no secret that lately, the Girl Scouts have been killing it with their work focusing on female empowerment and strength. We’re here for that all day long. We’re especially here for them taking a stand against forcing girls to give physical affection by telling them that it’s owed, regardless of how they feel about it.

In the article, the Girl Scouts talk directly to parents, saying: “…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.”

Sounds like a leap? It’s not. If you’re raised thinking that certain people are owed physical affection because it’s the polite thing to do, then why wouldn’t you feel pressured to give your date — who has been so complimentary to you and paid for everything — a hug or kiss after, whether you want to or not? Physical closeness should never be seen as something that is owed to another person or given for the sake of not seeming rude. Never. Never never ever.

Of course, there are many who will roll their eyes at this. For example, in yesterday’s New York Post, Karol Markowicz calls this point of view “ridiculous,” and says that telling your kids to hug their relatives is no different from telling them to use the bathroom before you leave the house or forcing them into a car seat. “If anything,” she writes, “hugging family will teach the difference between good touching and bad, though some insist on making the opposite connection…Don’t sexualize innocent interactions and don’t make your kids afraid of everyone.”

Here’s the thing: making a child use the bathroom or get into a car seat is an entirely different situation than giving someone a hug and kiss. We ask them to use the bathroom because we don’t want them to pee in the car, something they undoubtedly wouldn’t enjoy, either. We force them into car seats so that they won’t die if there’s a car accident, something they would also very likely not enjoy. Goading and guilting a child into physical closeness with another person does nothing to promote their health and well-being. Acting like physical affection is the same as urinating is closing your eyes to the very real dangers of unwanted touch.

The argument that allowing your child to choose not to hug family members “sexualize[s] innocent interactions” and “make[s] your kids afraid of everyone” denies the reality of sexual abuse on our country. Let’s get real for a minute, here. In 93% of child sexual abuse cases, the perpetrator is someone the child knows. 34% of the time, those people are family members. And why are the Girl Scouts getting involved? Because 82% of those victims are girls. One in nine girls will be victims of sexual abuse at the hands of an adult. Telling our daughters that they don’t owe Uncle Eddie a kiss just because he’s family takes away some of the power Uncle Eddie might have over her if he tries again later. It’s a different ball game if she already thinks she’ll get in trouble if she’s not “nice” to him.

No one is saying that you need to sit your two-year-old down and tell her the cold, hard facts about sexual abuse. What we’re saying, and what the Girl Scouts are saying, is that your two-year-old should know that hugging and kissing are things we do if we want to. When people force children to do otherwise, it’s because they’re afraid another adult’s feelings will be hurt. Well, I’d rather have my daughter know that she’s in charge of who she’s affectionate with.

Sorry, Nana and Pop Pop. And thank you, Girl Scouts.