Girl Scouts of the USA has parents and experts involved in a heated discussion after posting a warning on their website, asking mothers and fathers not to force their daughters to hug relatives -- or anyone, really -- at holiday get-togethers.
The statement, titled, "Reminder: She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays," reads, “Holidays and family get-togethers are a time for yummy food, sweet traditions, funny stories, and lots and lots of love. But they could, without you even realizing it, also be a time when your daughter gets the wrong idea about consent and physical affection. ... Think of it this way, 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 have bought her dinner or done something else seemingly nice for her later in life."
The organization goes onto quote Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, who says, “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. 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.”
The statement concludes that while many children will "naturally want to hug and kiss family members, friends, and neighbors," but if they aren't sure, "give your girl the space to decide when and how she wants to show affection. ... If your daughter is reticent, don’t force her."
They clarify that forgoing a hug doesn't give a child "license to be rude," as "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."
Though some social media users see the stance as controversial, or downright ridiculous, others are lauding the Girl Scouts' decision to address this hot button, important issue. As ABC points out, this statement "comes as allegations of sexual misconduct by men ring out from every industry, including Hollywood, politics and the media."
Another stark reality: One in nine girls under the age of 18 experiences sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult, according to data shared by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), an anti-sexual assault organization. And out of the yearly 63,000 sexual abuse cases substatiated, or found strong evidence, by Child Protective Services (CPS), 6% of perpertrators were family members (who were not the child's parent).
Ultimately, it seems like the takeaway from the Girl Scouts is one worth discussing. While the holidays are a wonderful opportunity to bolster familial bonds, children may never be too young to learn about consent and bodily autonomy.