When I was younger, my parents would urge me to kiss and hug people. In their eyes, it was disrespectful and impolite for me to not do so. It was also the solution to almost all issues such as my sister and I arguing and hitting and pushing. “Hug things out.” But neither my sister nor I felt like feigning happiness while our personal space was being invaded with our bodies tensed up with aggression and being pressed up against each other while upset. We were angry and had every right to be. The anger wasn’t going to be resolved with a simple hug. I think for a while in my youth, it gave me a poor perception of what I owed to people and what I had to give people even if they didn’t deserve it.
Children at a young age are sponges. It’s an age old saying but it's nothing short of truth. They absorb every little detail they see and hear. One thing they shouldn’t have to absorb is that they don’t have control over what they do with their own body.
As of late, Jared Fogle of Subway harboring child pornography, Bill Cosby drugging and assaulting women, Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State coach and his sex abuse scandal, and Josh Duggar’s inappropriate relations with his sisters are all prime examples of why I plan to ingrain into my son that you can tell adults no, even if the adults seem friendly and kind.
Truly, society doesn’t teach kids properly about consent or how to voice consent. Voicing consent allows children to understand what is appropriate and what isn’t appropriate. Always making a child kiss or hug someone they don’t want to, sets them up for future vulnerability when they feel obligated to kiss or hug someone. Or when they can’t voice sexual or physical abuse because they were taught they HAD to do something and not doing so would be impolite.
When I was younger, I was taught that if a boy chased me around the playground or tripped me, he liked me. I was taught that if a boy kicked me or pulled my hair he was “just being a boy”. I was taught that I had to kiss Grandma and Grandpa even if I didn’t want to. Society calls things “sharing” or “flirting” or “respect” that don’t truly fit into those categories but are instead ways to ignore a lack of consent and feel obligated to give your body in a way you don’t feel comfortable.
Even though kids are young, they should be the only one that has a say in who has access to those intimate moments.
The minute my son says “Stop!” or “No!” while I’m playing with him (lest it be tickling him, chasing him, swinging him, kissing him, hugging him, etc), I will stop. He’ll learn from the beginning that “no means no” and “stop means stop”. I won’t teach him that it’s fun or funny to continue doing something when someone is uncomfortable. I want him to know his body is his own and no one else’s.
I want him to grow up knowing he owes his body to no one and no one owes his body to him.
Even now, in my early 20s, I am still put in similar situations. I’ll meet a stranger who I chat with for a while and at the end of the conversation or the night, they want a hug from me. And when I say no, they act offended and want to know why I won’t hug them goodbye. Simple: I don’t know them. I’m not intimate with them. I don’t need to. There doesn’t need to be a reason other than the fact, I don’t need to. Yet the issue continues to be pressed and they wind up attempting to make me feel guilty.
I don’t need to feel obligated to hug anyone. I don’t need anyone to be close to my body if I don’t want them to be. I don’t need to feel guilty for not wanting to hug someone. And neither does my child.
Manners and respect do not correlate or go hand in hand with physical affection and it’s disappointing to see people teaching their children otherwise. Where do the boundaries start and end? How is someone supposed to teach their children boundaries when their children’s boundaries are being infringed upon in the first place? I challenge any naysayer to chime in with a logical reason as to why a child who does not want to be hugged, should be hugged or why a child deserves to have forced access to their body. I can't think of a single one.
They don’t need to hug or kiss their relatives to be polite. They can always kiss, high five, wave, give bumps, or shake hands. It shouldn’t be required of any child to kiss or hug someone they don’t want to. They may be little but they still can make these choices on their own and who has access to their body, above all else, should be one choice they have a say in. We need to remind children that we respect not only their mind but their body as well.