No, My Child Does Not Have to Hug You: Why I’m Raising my Toddler to Understand Consent.

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Each year around Christmas, millions of Americans spend time with loved ones.

We cook and drink and laugh and argue and drive to gather in the warm homes of folks that we call “Friends and Family.” Kids play and fight over toys and video-games. Adults cook and drink and argue politics in the kitchen and at the table.

Unequivocally, we touch.

In the winter of 1996, my cousin threw my toy car into the river in front of my grandparent’s house. I was heartbroken, furious. He insisted to the adults later that I wasn’t sharing the aforementioned hot wheels. The “solution” that was insisted by one adult, was that he mutter an apology and we “hug it out.”

But I didn’t want to hug him. He was my age, and posed no threat, but I was upset, furious and confused. Why was my relative telling me I had to wrap my arms around his skinny body, press our chests together and hold this pose? Would that bring my car back?

Our society does not teach children how to voice consent.

Our society does not give our children the tools to protect themselves from physical and sexual abuse: tools to erect boundaries. We teach our kids to play games where we tickle them and hold them down while they laugh and scream, “No, no, no.” We coerce them to hug or kiss Nana or Uncle or Cousin, even when they protest. We teach our young ones that certain people are allowed access to their bodies, simply because of who those people are. We tell girls that boys can break their pencils and snap their bra straps because “That’s how boys flirt.”

Instead of teaching our children to acknowledge consent, we raise them to ignore coercion.

I’ve watched a toy be taken from one small child to be given to another in the name of “sharing.”

I’ve seen my relative demand kisses from the dates of his nephews, and everyone chuckles nervously because “He’s just a dirty old truck driver and that’s how they are.”

I’ve learned of a friend who was molested by her stepfather and told by her siblings, “At least he didn’t rape you, let it go.”

People with wholesome affronts, like Bill Cosby, The Duggars, or Jared the Subway Guy are all proven quite capable of atrocities against their own friends and family. Our society makes it quite easy for abusers to commit their assaults, because we do not teach people how to respect consent.

What can we do instead?

Do not force your child to hug or touch someone, no matter what the relationship. Do not allow any family member or friend to use a guilt trip. While unorthodox for some, simply state to Nana or Pop-pop that, “We are teaching [child’s name] to understand and respect consent. Thank you for understanding.”

If a family member expresses hurt feelings, show them this article. If you are reading this article and you think I’m wrong, I challenge you to articulate in the comments as to why any person should ever be forced to allow access to their body. Please offer some objective information, with supporting evidence. I’ll wait. When you’re done with that, please Google search “acquaintance rape”, “rape culture”, “coercion” and “consent”.

Lots of us can recall the innocuous, mothball kisses wetted upon our unwilling cheeks by Nana or Pop-pop. Some of us know what it’s like to be fondled by an uncle or cousin or step-whatever. There are adults reading these words who are thankful this holiday season, only to be old enough that they no longer are forced to be near their abusers.

To any person reading this, you do not owe your body to anyone.

Law enforcement, mental health professionals, therapists and counselors all know that acquaintance rape is the most common kind of sexual assault. Children are far more likely to be molested by a member of the household than by a stranger.

As an adult woman of nearly thirty, I still meet men my age or older who express hurt feelings when I politely refuse to hug them. I’m still made to feel like the “weirdo” or bad guy when I point out that full contact isn’t necessary. “Oh, you must meet a lot of creepy men, and that’s why you don’t want to hug me goodbye”, said a non-profit politician, after a casual lunch meeting. “No, I don’t hug people I’m not intimate with.”

Children and adults do not deserve to be made to feel guilty for not touching any other person, and it’s no surprise that it still happens.

I have a small daughter. When she asks me to chase her, she giggles, “Catch me! Yes, yes!” and when she says “No!” I freeze. When we leave playgroup or a friend’s house, I ask her if she wants to give a hug or high five, or even a wave. She gets to choose. These things aren’t difficult; they are just different than how many of us were raised. So many of us, especially women, know that burning, sickening feeling of guilt and fear when we are suddenly pressured to be physical with others in order to be perceived as polite.

As a parent, I’m still dismayed by other parents who force their fighting children to “hug it out”. I’m disappointed in parents who discourage their daughters and sons from telling them about the playmate who hit them or held them down during playtime. I’m disappointed in the moms and dads who put a screaming baby on stranger’s lap because he’s suited like Santa Clause in order to attain that Family Photo for the Fridge.

When a child has been instructed to allow a person to touch them, without regard to that child’s requested boundaries, how can we expect them to reinforce those boundaries on their own?

Enough of this. My daughter does not need to hug or kiss any person unless she wants to, and that includes me.

Be happy and safe this holiday season. Give love to those who you deem worthy and remember: you don’t owe the gift of touch to anyone, ever.

 

Relephant Bonus:

 Green Eggs & Consent

~

Author: Elle Stanger

Apprentice editor: Heather Lacy; Editor: Caroline Beaton

Image: Christian Briggs/ Flickr

 

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Mark LaPorta Dec 25, 2018 7:39am

Sorry for your loss. Careful what you ask for, especially when it’s all based on ego. This double-bind will likely show up as the child’s schizophrenia in many years, and no one will remember why.

And having what are actually two concepts in a headline is fraught with hazard.

What issue of Hustler? I like the articles.

anonymous Mar 5, 2016 8:15am

I see some info as good advice. But be careful not to raise up a child with no emotion. Afraid to accept love in its kindest form. I wouldn't want my children or grandkids to be disassociated from healthy relationships.
I certainly love to hug my grandkids esp if I haven't seen them in a while.
I am pretty thankful after reading this that they are willing to give Nannie a hug back/ even harder 🙂
I am also thankful they are shy around strangers and stay close.
Teach children good and bad touch of course and be sure they know you will hear and listen to them if they encounter a concern.
Most importantly keep them close and eyes opened. When your not around them(school etc) ask lots of question.
We cannot unfortunately guarantee 100% safety but if we strive for that we are doing the best job we can.
All I can say is I can't promise Nannie would be safe on the streets if someone touches one of mine.

    Mark LaPorta Dec 25, 2018 7:43am

    I am impressed that selling sex for money has brought about this realization.

anonymous Jan 7, 2016 3:34am

To start out, let me say that I agree- children need to be educated on consent, and understand that it is okay to say no, and they should not have to feel bad about it because it is their body, and they are allowed to decide what physical contact is comfortable for them. There was just one point you made that kind of bothered me a bit—- mainly how you compared simple hugs to those horror stories we hear on the news. I'm a teacher (for really little ones- ages 2-4), and I am currently teaching in Uganda, Africa, though I have taught in Canada as well. Now, I do not tell my students to "hug it out", and if I ever take a toy from a child, it is after much discussion, with multiple opportunities for them to resolve whatever issue it is on their own— or they were harming others/themselves and needed immediate intervention. But one of the big things I have noticed in teaching here (Uganda) rather than in Canada is my freedom to respond to a crying child who needs a hug but does not know how to express or articulate their emotions enough to convey that need- or they are simply too overwhelmed by the feelings they are experiencing. I know teachers are not parents, and that is very important. But teachers are also with your children for a big portion of the day, and are helping/guiding your children as they develop socially, emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. By giving a hug to a child, you are showing them that it is okay, they are safe, that you acknowledge what has happened to them, and you are helping them to learn ways of coping- which is essential as they grow up into adulthood. Back in Canada I would hesitate- I would have to think about the appropriate "tap" on the shoulder, or a high five- which are all good (though not always sufficient). But a child, though young, can see when you hesitate, and though they may not be able to convey themselves fully, they still feel and understand a lot more than we adults give them credit for. That being said, I know that those regulations have been made in response to the horrible acts committed against children in environments that they should have been safe or protected. And it is good for teachers out there who are overly touchy to be told that is not okay, and for us to have measures in place to protect children. But this growing fear is starting to deprive children of some of the essential needs in their early development. I fear that one day our society will have turned wonderful expressions of affection, trust and warmth into something that children define as "bad", when it can be so healing and good for their social and emotional wellbeing. But I love that you wrote this- because it truly is something I personally try to educate my students about. I'll ask my students "Would you like a hug?" to try and show them that they do have that power to say no (though if they are 2 and crying sometimes just giving them the hug is best- but if they move as if to say "no" then respecting that is important). I talk to them, having them think in others' perspectives- helping them to develop empathy and their own critical thinking. Many children in Uganda are abused, and though it is illegal, physical punishment is still prevalent and accepted in some public schools. It is heart-breaking. But I also see the benefits my students have from having their emotional needs met as they learn about the world (which is an International school that follows international standards). There are appropriate situations for these things- and I hope that instead of saying to teachers that they cannot hug a crying child, or hold their hand when they need encouragement, or pick them up because that is "too intimate", that teachers are taught to instead ask if the child wants to be picked up, or offer the hand without forcing the touch on the children. Body language speaks volumes! And teaching them about areas that should never be touched. But anyways, I'm just a teacher- not a parent, though there are many children that I care for deeply, it is not the same. And as I continue in this profession I am sure my opinions may change- but on the prohibiting of hugs to children from teachers I will always find that rather silly (with my age group anyways). Thanks, and I hope you do keep advocating for children, who either do not know, or cannot convey enough to defend themselves and advocate for their own rights.

anonymous Dec 22, 2015 8:35am

I'm seriously going to print this out and keep copies in my kid's diaper bag. Sometimes, I have trouble articulating my point without getting upset, and this spells out exactly the right stance.

    Mark LaPorta Dec 25, 2018 7:40am

    Is it not a spiritual axiom
    that
    “when I am disturbed, something is wrong with me”?

anonymous Dec 20, 2015 2:52pm

A bit sad over this. Kids don’t learn human touch these days. They grow up fearful of it and never get as well adjusted as we did.

    anonymous Dec 20, 2015 6:49pm

    I gotta say, Jacob, that my five year old is a very physically affectionate human being. She sees that modeled in her parents and her family. On the other hand, she is not forced to hug or touch anyone. And rather than fearful, she is fearless. She knows her own mind and on this issue, she gets to choose. Please know that in no way does giving children authority over their own bodies (in terms of expressing affection) equate to not learning human touch. It doesn't at all. It just teaches self-responsibility and self awareness.

anonymous Dec 19, 2015 10:03am

I can see both sides. I was not a hugger, at all, period, don't touch me kinda of person. Then I married my first husband, and he was more of a hugger, and I was comfortable with that. Then his mom remarried for like the 6th time and this guy was one of those kiss you on your lips and bear hug you kinda of guys. And one day he was coming at me and I said, NO! You would have thought I shot him or something, he said, what's wrong with you? In my family we do this. Well, sorry in my family we do not. I actually feel uncomfortable when you do that to me, I only kiss people on the mouth that I am intimate with, and well it sort of freaks me out. There was a big fight, and well to sum it up…..I don't really care what your family does, it does not give you the right to make someone else feel bad in order for you to feel good. I hug my mother, father, husband, children, grandchildren, when they want me too, I do not force myself on them. I offer them a hug, if they want it, cool, if they do not, cool too. I would never force someone else to feel bad or uncomfortable to make myself feel better. Besides, when you don't throw them out at everyone they mean so much more to those you give them to. Personal Bubbles People, Personal Bubbles.

anonymous Dec 12, 2015 11:13pm

I agree and also disagree. There’s always middle ground. There are some aspects that hold up and others do not. For example, if you always give a child a choice from the beginning that child may have trouble following rules or authority. Which can then affect them into adulthood. At the same time though, forcing a child to do everything will not work either. And teaching children that there bodies re not temples is plan wrong. So a balance really has to be found to accommodate all the factors.

anonymous Dec 12, 2015 4:57pm

I completely agree with thid article, my reasoning is ive been through this, i would be uncomfortable hugging family and friends and my mom or dad would say your hurting their feelings, just give them a hug, its ok, then those particular people i was uncomfortable hugging would try to tickle me or hug moe more throughout the visits, i would still be uncomfortable and my family would say its ok their just playing with you. Then they would end upbaby sitting me and on several different occasions i was molested, and i.was too young at the time to understand what was going on so i thought they were, as my parents said, just playng with me. So my daughter tells me she is uncomfortable i will definitely be using this . And anyone who thinks its ridiculous to associate these uncomfortable hugs with molestation or rape needs to read my story or email me directly so i can explain it better for the safety of your child. [email protected] and another thing, since that happened so young, i was always under the impression that things like that were ok and i was disrespected and molested and taken advantage of way too many times until i was old enough to realize everything that had happened was not ok.

anonymous Dec 11, 2015 4:21pm

Forcing kids to do anything can be a bad thing, but I don’t think that means they should be free to do whatever they want whenever they please. Seems like the logic of this article can’t see anything in between.

anonymous Dec 11, 2015 8:46am

Thank you! I am a grandma to many, some blood related, but many are not. I have never appreciated a parent trying to force a child to hug/kiss grandma goodbye and I say so. It doesn’t “hurt my feeling” when a child doesn’t want to hug, kiss or even wave. They are people too and get to express themselves just as adults do. I have found when children realize they are respected, friendship follows.

    anonymous Dec 19, 2015 5:58am

    I totally agree, Mary. As a grandma and as a great aunt I never force a child to hug or kiss or make them feel guilty when they don't want to. Parents need to be much more sensitive about this and not encourage kids to hug and kiss when they do not want to.

anonymous Dec 10, 2015 9:24pm

But how do you negotiate a necessary doctor visit…

    anonymous Dec 24, 2015 10:56pm

    I thought when one taught boundaries, it was explained that there were times when someone like a doctor or nurse needed to see certain parts of the body. At the same time, they could ask why and have the how and why explained to them (and of course there is the presence of a parent)

anonymous Dec 10, 2015 5:52pm

Hi. Thank you for this article. It gave me a better understanding of what I wanted to teach my girls about boundaries but never quite knew how to. I was wondering if you had any advice for applying this to a 3 month old and a 15 month old please? I promised myself that when I had kids, I wanted them to know that they don’t have to do anything they didn’t want to. I totally understand this because you are right, more often it is family and friends as I have experienced but have been able to heal my pain and take what it has taught me and do my very best to help my girls. So thanks again for helping it make sense for me and hope to hear from you 🙂

anonymous Dec 10, 2015 12:30pm

I feel like people are taking the situations wrong. These are examples. Tickling is an example. Hugging is simply an example of common touch. But uncommon forms of touch are included – butt pinching, lap sitting, and so on. Teaching children that they are in control of what happens to their bodies is one of the greatest things one can teach a child, in my opinion. I honestly wish I had been taught that it was OK to say no. I couldn’t say no when my neighbor/best friend’s older brother would force himself on me when I was just 8. Its something I still work on because oddly enough, I dont want to embarass someone or hurt THEM! My sister was assaulted by a male family friend whom we called uncle. I have a daughter and while I sometimes slip with her very close female cousin of the same age as well as myself, I really try to teach her that she has every right to say no. This is a big reminder and today im going to have another talk with her and be more mindful about the playful no’s when chasing or tickling. I will remind her that I *really will* stop if she says no so shes going to have to say yes if she wants me to keep on playing. It truly is necessary to instill consent in children and if more parents did that, i think there would be more adults down the line who respected other people’s boundaries without a second thought.

anonymous Dec 10, 2015 7:51am

I would like to hear from the naysayers here: Can you give us one logical reason why a HEALTHY adult would even WANT to hug a child who clearly did not want a hug? If you had a disagreement with a coworker with whom you had no relationship other than at work, and the boss suggested you "hug it out", would that be OK with you? Because kids thrown together at school are basically in the same situation – they are not choosing their playmates.

anonymous Dec 10, 2015 7:48am

I absolutely support teaching children that it is all right to tell an adult (or another child) that they would prefer not to "hug" or be touched. I think the points being made that children should not be forced to "hug it out" are valid, and children should always have confidence that they can speak their mind. I do have a problem, however, with this article (and many of the comments) that fails to explore beyond a myopic viewpoint., using a very broad and indignant brush to paint anyone who requests a hug as some sort of insensitive predator.

I do have a friend who is a survivor of a childhood trauma who struggles with this herself. She does not like being touched or hugged. She's not cold or unfeeling, she just would rather not hug. Her friends and family understand and respect her. The only person who has a problem is her 7 year old son, although as he gets older he has been forced to accept it. He is being taught "no is no" at a very early age, but he has no context to rationalize it beyond it being his fault. It breaks her heart.

I can only speak to the people I know and have known, and pretty much across the board most of the adults I know "get" this already, and for MANY reasons. This could include religious, or it could be the child "is on" the autism spectrum. I can't think of anyone that would be offended or put off if told, "We are not huggers" or "we prefer not to hug." And anyone who would be probably shouldn't be someone you or your child need in your lives in the first place. The culprit is not hugging or someone who asks for it, it for the person who taken aback when told "no."

Because, what if there is person who is an abuse survivor and a simple hug reminds them of what it is like being safe? Someone who was neglected as a child shouldn't have to feel like a threat as an adult because they looked for a hug.

anonymous Dec 9, 2015 9:59pm

I love this article. I teach sexual abuse prevention to children ages 4-5 and this is exactly what we talk about. It’s also one of the first things I teach parents as well. It seems so harmless because you want them to enjoy the embrace of families and friends, but there are just times when they don’t want that. I mean there are times when I don’t want that, and I sure don’t want someone forcing me to do so. Thank you for putting this out there!

anonymous Dec 9, 2015 8:51pm

How about you teach children what kind of touches are unacceptable! But why would we do that? Let's just teach them that whenever they say no they are right. Do you want to eat your dinner? No , ok sweetly whatever you personal opinions are! What about at the Drs when they need a physical or shots? No no no.. Okay honey whatever you say!! I agree that children need to be respected but this is really pushing the line we need to be teaching our children what exactly is innaproproate not just figuring that if we don't have them hug their family then they won't ever be a victim to sexual abuse because that's just plain stupid.

    anonymous Dec 10, 2015 7:07am

    Nowhere in this article does it talk about having the conversation of good touch/bad touch. My guess is that is implied. But just because Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle, Aunt, etc are wanting to give a loving hug , doesn't mean your child has to oblige. It isn't meant to assume every relative or friend is a potential sexual abuser either. It's simply teaching your child that he or she is allowed to have say when it comes to their body. Simple things like "Can I have a hug/kiss?" Instead of "Give me a hug/kiss" And respecting their , "No" is pretty simple. You can teach good touch and bad touch all you want, but if you teach your child they have no choice when someone demands a hug or kiss then you are teaching them they do not have say over their body. When you add guilt (Grandma is sad you won't give her a kiss), you're using the same tactics most sexual abusers use. Sadly when the abuser is a family friend or relative, even if the abused understands the touching is bad, they are too ashamed to come forward. I don't think the article is meaning to suggest you teach your child never to hug or show affection, but instead that how and when & with whom they show it is their choice. This teaches them to respect others boundaries as well.

    anonymous Dec 10, 2015 6:47pm

    I've never once in my life written on a message board but this one has me fired up. Full disclosure I have an ex wife and we share custody of our 5 year old daughter. I'll never forget the moment my daughter said to me me during a tickle fight, " MY BODY MY RULES!" I was floored, not because I was insulted but because she had learned, from her mother, that her body is her own. NOW, that all being said, implying in any way, shape , or form that when I tell my daughter she needs to hug my parents goodbye….or her own mother will somehow lead to her not having healthy boundaries as she grows up is ridiculous. There is absolutely no correlation between the two. Child molesters, family or otherwise, don't molest because they get free hugs. They are mentally ill. My role as a father is to help my daughter build a sense of self and therefore self worth. Sometimes ya gotta hug the old people. Why? Because they're gonna die, and it means more to them then my daughters self will IN THAT MOMENT. doesn't means do t teach her how to stand up for herself and have people respect her body. I encourage to always talk about the way she feels and were I to see a situation that was making her uncomfortable I would have to evaluate the pros and cons of encouraging her and or demanding that she do something. But let's be honest with ourselves. What we're really talking about here is a movement towards everybody being happy all of the time. In the story the kid got his toys taken away. No reason to hug it out we don't need to hug people that we don't know, but we do need to appreciate and love those who are with us.

      anonymous Dec 10, 2015 10:46pm

      Child molesters, family or otherwise, don't molest because they get free hugs – true. On the other hand, being the unofficial counselor to a friend's kid whose paternal grandfather molested her opened my eyes up considerably. Part of her knew there was something wrong with her grandpa's hugs (too long, squeezing her breasts too tightly against him, where his eyes went when he was talking to her) and the way he touched her before he molested her, she simply didn't trust her instincts because he was grandpa. She didn't trust her instincts because her own father and brothers consistently ignored her boundaries up to that point and didn't seem to see anything wrong. Which is not surprising given her father later molested her younger sister. She was not allowed to say no to hugs either and even after the abuse came out, she had to cut off her grandmother because she couldn't trust her not to force her to maintain contact under the heading "forgive and forget".

      I like to think there aren't that many molesters out there but I've discovered that when I talk about it too many people come forward (male and female) with stories of how it happened to them. A sister's boyfriend, a sibling, a parent, a "friend", a guy they were dating, an uncle, a cousin…it's horrifying how many people I know who actually had this problem. If you do not teach your daughter how to say no, mean it, and recognize the warning signs she is highly likely to have problems down the road. Maybe not with you, maybe not with your family but there are abusive predators out there and people who can't enforce their boundaries make easy targets. My extended family history is a horrifying testament to that basic truth. It won't help your daughter to have family who doesn't do that kind of thing if she gets tied up with an abusive significant other who does because she didn't recognize the warning signs.

      You can't stop one of them from getting their hooks in your daughter, that's up to chance and your daughter's instincts. But if you teach her BY YOUR OWN EXAMPLE that her boundaries are worth respecting, she will be far more likely to avoid people who don't respect her boundaries. She'll be more likely to tell you if she runs into a problem with that kind of person. She will expect that she will get help, she will believe she will be believed. She may even recognize something is wrong before it reaches flash point and escape before something truly bad happens.

      I also think you need to wrap your head around the fact that this has nothing to do with making people happy all the time and hell of a lot to do with actually protecting the vulnerable. My friend's kid was verging on suicide when my husband and I intervened – she didn't think she was going to be believed and she blamed herself for letting it happen. Putting out information that can prevent molestation triggered suicides (or help bystanders recognize potential children at risk) does not equal trying to make people happy. Safety does not equal happiness altho it is hard to be happy when you aren't safe.

      Forcing hugs by itself may not be a sign of abuse but it's not a good sign. There are dozens of little things like that which, when taken by themselves can be innocent. The problem comes when they start adding up, multiple indicators of someone who doesn't allow their kids to say no or disagree with them generally equates to some form of abuse in the home. The indicators themselves can be pretty good indicators of the type of abuse happening inside the family, whether it's mental, physical or sexual…or combinations there of. Someone who excessively monitors the doings of his daughters, gives them strict curfews and limits their contacts with friends while letting the boys run wherever they want generally has a reason for keeping his girls close to home. (And before anyone jumps on me, that's taken from real life experience. Like I said, indicators add up.)

      While I may have missed some people who hid it better than others, I've never been wrong about the abusive jackholes I positively identified by putting multiple indicators together over time. It's a problem, a far larger problem than people who have no experience with it think it is.

      So maybe you should take a deep breath and reign in your annoyance because your annoyance does not trump the likelihood someone who reads this might be able to save a life if this information motivates them to look more closely at a bad situation they're peripheral to. Not everything on the net needs to apply to you personally. If you don't think it does, move on unless you're actually contributing constructively to the conversation.

anonymous Dec 9, 2015 8:25pm

I do not not necessarily want to share my things, why should I make my child. I guess if I had a bunch of cookies, I would share. For some reason my son is very generous and would share his things on his own. Also I remember an episode of Caillou , a show on PBS. The mother wanted him to say hello to a neighbor and he didn’t want to. The whole episode was trying to bring him together with the neighbor. That always bothered me. NO means no, even with a kid.

anonymous Dec 9, 2015 6:53pm

Honestly, I think folks are in general ignoring the capabilities of their children to make their own decisions. Instead of encouraging a set action let your kids make their own choice. I know when I was young my school board spent a lot of time drilling into us 8 and 9 year old’s that it doesn’t matter who it is, if they are touching you in an unwanted fashion you report it. And yeah the whole “hugging it out” is stupid. You penalize the one child for engaging in disruptive and unwarranted behaviour. This whole article and the associated comments makes me seriously question how American society functions because it is looking rather absurd, from an outside view. And what sickens me is that your absurd views are spreading to my country. Seriously, talking about unwanted touching has been a part of education in my country for over twenty years. We never needed “consent” education because it was already covered, both at an early age and then reinforced in early and mid-teens. I still remember listening to the tired lectures on how it is wrong to pressure your S.O. into sex or being pressured. Any way, that’s the end of my rant.

anonymous Dec 9, 2015 4:06pm

She’s not saying that allowing hugs from grandma means rape in college. Instead, Elle’s stating that forcing children to have physical “intimacy” even as (generally) harmless as hugs, when they don’t want to, is teaching them that their personal boundaries don’t exist or don’t matter. It’s ignoring a “No.” And sadly, to go back to a worst case scenario since that’s what the haters are getting stuck on, what if you the parent aren’t aware that a “harmless” family member is in fact secretly abusing your child and hear you are railing against the idea to respect your child’s body autonomy.

anonymous Dec 9, 2015 1:54pm

I think that consent starts at birth- maybe even before. When we take the time to respond to our infants as whole and complete beings and to elicit their consent in caregiving activities- from the very start- we model respect and self-worth. For example, this means telling a child you would like to pick them up and then waiting for a response before doing so. With newborns they may respond by stilling their body, by looking at you when you speak, or by quieting their cries. Older infants may put up their arms or or give a sound to indicate that they heard you and are ready. I think that the best way to teach about consent is to model that behavior with our children from the very beginning. It means letting them know what we are doing, especially when it involves their bodies, and giving them the opportunity to participate in their care. And the same goes with sharing- I think it is best to model those behaviors and talk about what sharing is. Taking a toy from one child and giving it to another child is just that- taking not sharing. Children are natural problem solvers; we do better to observe them and help to keep them safe than to constantly interfere.

anonymous Dec 9, 2015 12:50pm

I’ve been thinking about this, as I watch adults with good intentions either urge their children to be friendly with strangers, or invade the space of children in the effort to be friendly themselves. Thanks for writing this article!

anonymous Dec 9, 2015 10:14am

So by tickling my daughter when she says no I am opening her up to be a victim of rape? At what point is my toddler able to give consent of me hugging her? When she points her finger at me and says No, no daddy in imitation of me sating that to her should I withhold affection? And if I do when would be the appropriate time to start showin affection again to see if she has changed her mind?

    anonymous Dec 9, 2015 2:09pm

    You ARE teaching her that it's OK for people to ignore her boundaries and wishes.It's not even as extreme as being a victim of actual rape – do you even want her feeling like she should let some boy touch her when she's a teen if she doesn't want him to? Fathers teach daughters by example how they should let boys treat them. If daddy thinks it's OK to tickle her when she says no, then it must be OK for some boy to do what he wants too and she could allow herself to be molested.

      anonymous Dec 9, 2015 8:44pm

      I'm sorry but this is absolutely ridiculous. You are literally saying that a child being tickled means they won't be able to say no to sexual acts later on? I grew up with 5 brothers, yes we would play fight and often times I was tickled. Of course you say no when your tickled or play fighting I don't know anyone who wouldn't at some point?? And yes I was taught to give hugs to my family members and my parents and to always say hello when entering a home and good bye when leaving and I'm sure at times I didn't want to (due to the fact that I was a child and like many children have moments of defiance and stubbornness) I have never once in my life felt like I couldn't say no to a stranger or family member in an inappropriate situation. Because aside from being taught how to love I was also taught what love isn't and what kind of touches are inappropriate and to say no and scream if I was ever in that situation. Asking children to hug it out isn't forcing them to be intimate. And most times children have no problem giving their friends a hug after a little argument, I am a preschool teacher and children often times will offer a hug to peers if they feel sorry. Do I force them to hug if they don't want to ? Of course not! But do I suggest it as an option yes I do.

        anonymous Dec 10, 2015 7:34am

        Jen – I think you are missing the point – no one is saying that just being tickled leads to anything. It is the idea of being ALLOWED to say no and being HEARD. I personally know a 13 year old whose father pinches her on the butt and she HATES it. She tells him to stop and he won't and then tells her she is being "too sensitive" – that he is "just messing with her". What he SHOULD say is "OK I won't do that again." So he is modeling behavior where she is the one who is wrong if she doesn't like what a male is doing to her. She is unlucky enough to spend 50% of her life with someone who has serious boundary issues and no respect for anyone except himself. So she needs lots of input on what is healthy and what is not. I too was taught good manners – to SAY hello and goodbye etc, but that is still a far cry from being told you must HUG people or you are not being polite which is what a lot of kids hear.. So you are fortunate if you felt like you could say no – that is exactly what this article is talking about. But understand that many kids do not get that type of support and live in environments that are less than healthy and that may lead to lots of confusion about boundaries later in life. Also, people who object to "Hugging it out" object precisely because it disregards how the offended party may be feeling. The old "you should get over this when I say you should be over it because it makes the other person feel better" attitude. So – lucky you if you live in a healthy world, but lots of kids don't. I would suggest to you as a preschool teacher that you rethink your "hug" suggestions as a way to solve conflict and teach real skills in working out a problem.

    anonymous Dec 9, 2015 4:32pm

    Yes Ian, by tickling your daughter when she says no you are teaching her that her feelings about what your are doing to her body don’t matter. Forcing your will on your daughter sets her up for a lifetime of victimization. Unless you respect her enough to stop tickling her if she says no then you are her first victimizer. My son has learned that we respect his no and we have also taught him the sign for stop. If he doesn’t like the tickle play or roughhousing we’re doing he will say stop and we will. That doesn’t mean that we won’t play at other times when he is more inclined. We also learned that there are certain things he never likes and we don’t do it. So simple really. Imagine your daughter as a whole human being with rights and dignity and treat her with respect.

    We ask my toddler about hugs. I say, “I’d like a hug, do you want one?” He’ll say yes or no. So easy. Now at 2 he often initiates hugs when he wants one. And he isn’t shy about refusing when he doesn’t. I’m proud to raise a child with a healthy understanding of personal boundaries and an ability to say what he does and doesn’t want.

    anonymous Dec 9, 2015 5:02pm

    It's not complex: When my daughter says "No", I stop tickling her. I don't do it harder or more. When she says, "Yes, more tickles!" I tickle her.

    or

    "Can I have a kiss, mommy?" I give a smooch.
    "I don't want a kiss, mommy." Okay honey.

    When it comes to touch, I let her make the decision for what is welcome. Obviously the only times this is not applicable is when her health and safety are a priority, if I have to wipe her bottom so that she doesn't get a diaper rash, so be it.

    anonymous Dec 11, 2015 4:20am

    Speaking as a daughter whose father literally used to do this to me – stop doing that. I said no to being tickled because I hated it, but he would carry on because he thought I was joking that I hated it. However it does sound that she may be joking if she is imitating you, but you can’t know this for sure until you actually ask her. I’ve explained to my dad years on now that he’s behaviour was innappropriate and it made me uncomfortable at the time and he’s hurt that I never felt able to tell him, despite the fact that I had literally told him no every time I wanted it to stop.

anonymous Dec 9, 2015 9:33am

You’re comparing a hug from grandma or grandpa to rape and molestation. Not a sane parent on this planet would encourage kids to “hug it out” after inappropriate sexual behavior. As far as strangers wanting a hug, that can be uncomfortable. I agree that people shouldn’t be forced to do unnecessary things, but for anyone who has not been molested or raped…an innocent, loving hug from a non-sicko relative will certainly do no harm.

    anonymous Dec 9, 2015 1:14pm

    This attitude is exactly the problem. Unwanted touching ALWAYS does harm – it’s unwanted, and forcing unwanted interactions is inherently harmful. Beyond the immediate harm, it further teaches children that their boundaries don’t matter. At the point it’s violating someone’s boundaries, that hug is no longer “innocent”. Seriously, why are you trying so hard to defend the practice of forcing people to be physically intimate with people with whom they don’t want to be physically intimate?

      anonymous Dec 9, 2015 2:12pm

      Thank you John H. Your comment is spot on. There is absolutely NO logical reason that anyone should accept a hug from anyone else if they don't want it. I have a granddaughter whose father is trying to force her to hug hs new in-laws and the outcome is that she HATES them.

      anonymous Dec 9, 2015 4:02pm

      No, your jumping down their throat and accusing them of promoting rape culture without even bothering to read their post is the problem.

      Comparing hugs to molestation is laughably ridiculous and a slap in the face to people who have actually been through it. You are belittling a major problem when you defend something so silly, and jump to nonsensical accusations in your ridiculous defense of it.

        anonymous Dec 9, 2015 7:08pm

        I think that if you force your child to hug against his will you are telling your child that his body does not belong to him. That’s where it gets scary. Because to children the lines are very blurry and if you force your kid to hug then maybe an uncle could use the same coersion to get a ‘hug’. When you allow your child to have control over what happens to him he has more power and a larger chance of being able to say no. It’s called a neural pathway. No means no. I’m sure grandma will live if she doesn’t get the hug she thinks she deserved for no reason. If a relative wants a hug then he or she should do or say something to deserve an honest hug. Not a fake hug forced through a game of whose will is stronger.

        anonymous Dec 9, 2015 8:30pm

        I can’t disagree with it but I also feel like it’s swinging the pendulum a bit far the other way.. I was a shy kid and it was kinda nice that my family wanted to hug me hello even if it wasn’t what I’d choose it was still great to feel their love… If it was my choice at the time I may have said no but looking back I’m happy it wasn’t my choice! Obv my situation was safe and they arnt always but the article didn’t make that distinction very well. There’s nothing wrong with a hug! It’s a good thing in this world more than it’s not

        Not my words or view but a friends reaction to this article. I think it is important to pay attention to where we are pushing the pendulum.

          anonymous Dec 10, 2015 8:01pm

          This article isn't here to make that distinction well, this article is here to point out the problems inherent with forcing hugs on a BROAD level. It's up to individuals on an individual level to make those judgment calls in reality if it applies. It's akin to saying no item should come with any warning labels because you don't need them yourself. Good on you but this discussion is happening because other people actually do need them.

        anonymous Dec 10, 2015 2:04am

        No one is saying hugs are molestation. FORCING a child to hug a relative IS a problem, because it teaches the kid that their body is not their own, and that other people have the final say so on touching their bodies. It teaches them that their no means nothing. Do you think that relatives who molest children are going to go "Hey, by the way, Tom, I am going to molest your child, is that okay?" And do you think that after you told your kid to hug a relative they did not feel comfortable with, that they are going to talk to you about any other touches that the relative did? No one is saying hugs are molestation. They are just saying if the kid is not into it, maybe don't push it. They might have a good reason, they might not. But forcing the kid does not help, and might even hurt.

    anonymous Dec 11, 2015 9:25am

    You have TOTALLY missed the point. LEarning to say no to the innocuous, yet unwanted touching makes it easier to scream no when the touching isn't so innocent.

anonymous Dec 9, 2015 8:25am

My younger sister was sexually abused as a child by one of her friends. It was a memory she dissociated from until she was in college, and then it all came flooding back. Since then, our family has taken a proactive stance on helping the young children in our family now, give consent for their own bodies. We never force our nephews to hug us if they don’t want to, because it’s THEIR BODY, THEIR CHOICE. I feel that I’m showing my love and respect for them when we DON’T hug because I’m honoring their choice. And if they want a hug, of course I’m happy to honor that choice as well. Thanks for the articulate article and sharing an important message.

anonymous Dec 9, 2015 2:31am

I totally agree with you, but I am lucky enough that no one in my close circle of friends and family act this way. I would 100% encourage to stand up for yourself or your child if they did.

anonymous Dec 9, 2015 12:19am

What an important and necessary message Elle. It’s not so ebbing I’ve thought about consciously before but now I certainly will. And. Will share this post because there is only truth in it.

    anonymous Dec 10, 2015 6:00pm

    I agree with this wholeheartedly. I am always the first person to deny a hug when I see an acquaintance, friend, or family member try to force their child to hug me. I have actually set parameters for parents whose children do not want to hug me and have made statements like 'they don't have to hug me and they will when they are ready to do so themselves.' I personally do not like hugging children whom I am not close to or who are disinterested in hugging me as well. The person on the receiving end of the hug doesn't necessarily want a hug either! My niece did not want to hug me one day but was forced to by my sister and I really didn't want to hug her either. It goes both ways!!

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Elle Stanger

Elle Stanger is an activist, feminist and sex worker based in the Pacific Northwest. She has been featured in Hustler magazine, Salon.com, Huffington Post, and hosts a sex and dating column “Elle Oh Elle” for Thrillist. You can connect with Elle on Twitter, Instagram and her NSFW blog.