With the holiday season comes numerous family gatherings. During the merry celebrations, it’s not uncommon to hear parents telling their children, “O, say hi to Tito. Yakap daw!” But there may be a good reason to stop doing so, according to advice from the Girl Scouts of the U.S.
The organization has been the subject of several articles and has been getting a lot of attention (both the cheering and the backlash kind) on social media for a post it recently published. Titled “She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug,” part of it reads, “telling your child that she owes someone a hug…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.”
According to the post, forcing your child to hug someone may lead her to feel she's expected to show physical affection and make it difficult for her to say no later on when the stakes are higher, say, to a boyfriend or a sexual predator in the workplace.
The issue boils down to a lesson on consent, says Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald. “The notion of consent may seem very grown-up and like something that doesn’t pertain to children,” Archibald explains 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.”
It also serves as an introduction to body ownership and inappropriate sexual behavior. “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,” added Archibald.
Moms on social media voiced out their opinions on the advice, and it’s a mixed bag. On a post on the Girls Scouts Facebook page, one of the most liked comments reads, “No girl is going to seriously think she has to get physical with a guy to be polite, just because she had to give Aunt Betty a hug at Christmas when she was little.”
A reply to that comment, however, received more likes. It reads, “I think you are missing the larger point. Children are [conditioned] to give and receive affection, even if they don’t consent to it…I think it’s important to let children have autonomy and a say over their body. They get used to being able to say no, so they can say it later in life when it’s important.”
But what to do other parenting experts have to say? Not forcing your child to hug or kiss someone shows you acknowledge your child’s choice and control over his or her own body, said Sarah Ockwell-Smith, the author of several parenting books, in an article for the Huffington Post. “If we would not dream of touching a relative without their permission, or forcing them to touch us, we should apply the same courtesy to children.”
Kendra Moyses, an educator who writes for the Michigan State University Extension, says the same. “Making a child show forced affection or giving affection when they are uncomfortable sends the message there are times when it’s not up to them what happens to their bodies.”
We want our children to feel close to family members and adults that we trust, so asking kids to show affection may be one of the ways we try to strengthen their bond. The gesture can also be seen as an extension of mom or dad’s affection toward the person receiving the hug — we don’t want to be rude to Ninang or Ninong. And, sometimes, it’s the relative who asks for a hug or kiss. Do we have to abandon these? There is perhaps a compromise.
Instead of pushing your child to hug or kiss a relative, consider providing him or her with choices, said Irene van der Zande, co-founder and executive director of Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, a nonprofit specializing in teaching personal safety and violence prevention. “By age 6 or 7, even shy kids can shake somebody's hand or wave or do something to communicate respect and care. Manners — treating people with respect and care —is different than demanding physical displays of affection,” she told CNN.
Kids can still greet a relative warmly with a high five, a fist bump or by blowing a kiss. Instead of saying, “Hug mo si Tito!” try “Gusto mo kiss, hug, apir, or wave hi kay Tito?”