In light of recent widespread allegations of sexual abuse, the Girl Scouts of America is stressing the importance of setting boundaries.
In a post entitled “Reminder: She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays,” the organization addresses the issue of consent head-on, telling parents why they shouldn’t insist their child show physical affection to a family or a friend.
“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,” the PSA on the Girl Scouts website reads. “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.”
Further down the post, Girl Scouts parenting expert and developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiana Archibald laid out the implications of forcing young girls to give hugs.
“The notion of consent may seem very grown-up and like something that doesn’t pertain to children, 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 said.
The post received a mixed response. One woman wrote, “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.”
“Our kids deserve to decide what they do with their own bodies,” one mother commented. “Forcing them to give hugs takes that away from them. Sure, teach kids to be respectful. But give them choices for how they show affection.”