Don't force your daughters to give hugs, says the Girl Scouts. Bravo, I say

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

The Girl Scouts are back with their evergreen reminder that our daughters are not little hugging machines, and I am back with my evergreen LOUDER FOR THE FOLKS IN BACK.

In 2017, just as we were entering the holiday season, the Girl Scouts released a public service announcement encouraging parents to think twice before forcing their girls to hug relatives at family gatherings.

"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," the announcement read.

"Give your girl the space to decide when and how she wants to show affection," it continued. "Of course, many children may naturally want to hug and kiss family members, friends and neighbours, and that's lovely - but if your daughter is reticent, consider letting her choose what to do.

"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."

(We should also afford our sons the same space, I would argue.)

The Girl Scouts advice has been making the rounds anew on social media. I asked Nancy Wright, CEO of Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, if the group released an updated version or if the original version was just picking up steam because it's the holidays.

"I think it's picking up steam because of what girls are facing in society right now," Wright answered.


Six girls sit on the board of directors for the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, she said. When the board gathers, Wright asks the girls to talk about the complexities they're navigating, the stressors they're carrying, the feelings they're experiencing and what grown-ups can do to help lighten those loads.

"Girls feel incredible pressure to be perfect and to fit in and to perform and to compete," Wright said. "What they really need are adult champions who help them navigate all of that and let them know it's OK for them to be them. That includes not hugging Grandma if they don't want to."

Not everyone is a fan of the advice. I went on WGN-Radio on Thursday to discuss the Girl Scouts' hugging boundary and several listeners called or texted to say it was a stretch to turn family gatherings into lessons about consent. Hugging Grandma isn't sending girls a harmful message, they maintained. It's hugging Grandma! She's Grandma!

I get that. But I'll add two points.

One: The American Academy of Pediatrics, on its blog, offers its own guidance about hugs.

"Do not force your children to give hugs or kisses to people they do not want to," it reads. "It is their right to tell even grandma or grandpa that they do not want to give them a kiss or a hug goodbye.

Inappropriate touching - especially by a trusted adult - can be very confusing to a child. Constantly reinforce the idea that their body is their own, and they can protect it. It is very important that your child knows to tell you or another trusted grown-up if they have been touched. That way, your child knows it's also your job to protect them."

Two: Kids need all the practice they can get saying no. "No" should come freely and comfortably out of their mouths when their gut tells them something's not quite right.

No, I'm not getting in the car with a driver who's been drinking. No, I'm not going to try smoking that. No, I'm not sharing my test answers with you. No, I'm not sending you a nude photo.

No, I'm not going to do a thing that feels wrong for me, just because it feels right to you. Just so I can be pleasing. Just so I don't make waves.

If your relatives make a fuss about you giving your child that kind of space and power, fine. There's your moment to say to your child, "Yeah, not all our noes are going to be popular. We get to say them anyway."

Chicago Tribune