Thanksgiving Ethics Quiz: The Girl Scouts Anti-Hug Campaign

From the Girls Scouts website:

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.

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.

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’ve bought her dinner or done something else seemingly nice for her later in life….

…Give your girl the space to decide when and how she wants to show affection. Of course, many children may naturally want to hug and kiss family members, friends, and neighbors, and that’s lovely—but if your daughter is reticent, don’t force her. 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.

Your Ethics Alarms Thanksgiving Ethics Quiz:

Is this responsible advice, or does it go too far?

I’ll go first.

It goes too far.

It is classic risk-averse zealotry,though. Because a small minority of men sexually abuse or otherwise misuse women, everyone’s family needs to minimize signs of affection and physical contact. I love the  “this doesn’t give her license to be rude!” line, as if it eliminates the way many of the refusals to give hugs and kisses to relatives will be inevitably received.

“Come on, give grandma a hug!”

“I’m sorry, I don’t want to hug you. (I find you repulsive.) How about a high five?

I grew up in Boston, with a father who hated physical signs of affections (he wrote letters—I don’t think he ever hugged me once) and a mother with a big Greek family in which hugs and kisses were mandatory. I hated being hugged and kissed on holidays, but I did it. I did it because my parents made it clear that it was the polite thing to do, and that I would hurt feelings if I refused. My sister, in contrast, was always ornery, and if she didn’t want to hug a relative, she didn’t. She didn’t even though she knew this hurt feelings at family gatherings; you could see it on their faces.

The Girl Scouts want a system through which it will become crystal clear which relatives a child likes or loves, and which they don’t, and in which everyone at a family gathering will know who the unpopular pariahs are, as they are openly humiliated by 8-year-olds who treat them like they have ebola.

Nice. And all because of Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore.

Older people often derive a great deal of pleasure from being shown affection, even just obligatory, formal affection, by small kids. There is nothing wrong with explaining this to children, and most should be able to understand it. The hugging convention is a matter of kindness and civility, that’s all. I don’t view promoting that social balm as forcing a child to kiss or hug someone. If your daughter doesn’t want to hug Aunt Sally because she’s fat and smells like onions, you don’t force her…but you have a conversation with her later. The Girl Scout’s presumed nexus between hugging grandpa after he’s given you a Christmas present and performing fellatio on a boss who gave you a promotion is a major leap, and one that I am not convinced is warranted.

By the way, are only girls to have an opt out  from icky relative hugs and kisses?

Your turn…

31 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Ethics Quiz: The Girl Scouts Anti-Hug Campaign

  1. I would set the way by example. If I felt comfortable greeting a relative with a hug and kiss, then I would be o.k. with my children doing the same – but only if they wanted to. I would set the framework by greeting the relative first.

    If there was a relationship I was uncertain of, not only for me but for my children, I again would lead by example. “Hi”. No hug, maybe a handshake, maybe some distance…”

    This would be one of those rare examples in which I would run interference for my child. If I wasn’t comfortable with a hug or kiss from a relative, you better be damn sure I wouldn’t inflict it upon my child.

    • You’re spot on, LS. My wife and sister-in-law had a pedophile uncle whose wife had taken their children and fled to Cambridge from New Hampshire never to be seen again by my wife’s and sister-in-law’s Uncle Johnny. My wife’s mother always defended her brother, as do most familial child abuse enablers. My wife refused to sit on Uncle Johnny’s lap any time they were together. I’m pretty sure he had done something inappropriate or otherwise set off my wife’s abuse alarms, even at an early age.

      I grew up like Jack. Physical affection was just not a part of the extended family I grew up in. Irish families weren’t touchy feely in the middle of the last century. I was even repulsed by my wife showing me affection at a Notre Dame football game. But she got me over that. Plus, in the last few decades, hugging has become ubiquitous and accepted, so I’m okay with it.

      And I LOVE getting hugs from my grand kids, 8, 9 and 11. Call me crazy, but I think they’re genuinely happy to see Grampa. I just hope my grand daughter grows up knowing the difference between bad boys and nice boys, thereby avoiding a ton of grief.

      Happy Thanksgiving to all.

  2. You should have an open post where contributors can add links to groups trying to ruin holidays with their personal crusades.

    I posted one from planned parenthood.

    Like a few years ago when Obama wanted us to ruin Thanksgiving trying to stump for ACA

  3. OK, I’ll bite.

    I saw that story in our newspaper and I thought it was ridiculous.

    We’re social creatures — I believe we derive social and emotional benefits from physical contacts such as this. Additionally, to be a bit cynical, it can help teach kids politeness and social niceties that can be useful later in life. One doesn’t have to have an enduring affection or respect for someone to give them a hug or shake their hand.

    I think it is also shirks parental responsibility for bringing up one’s kids to be decent human beings. Not hugging Uncle Bob isn’t really going to teach a girl to resist sexual harassment in the workplace. Parents have an affirmative responsibility to imbue strong, positive values in their children. Resisting predators is a by product of that, it seems to me, but politeness, among other values, is one virtue all of us could stand to learn.

    I asked my sisters (who are fairly liberal leaning) about this article, and their basic reaction was: Huh? That’s absurd.

  4. Some of the older people are lonely and probably don’t get much affection if they’re warehoused in some senior living complex. Yes, I believed that kid should be urged to show affection even if it’s perfunctory. The only exception I would make would be that if grandpa or grandma is a groper has a propensity for french kissing adolescent girls.

  5. I’m interested to know what your take would be on a situation I encountered when I was in my early 20’s. I had just graduated college and was at a holiday gathering at my maternal grandparents’ house. This side of the family shares stoic, retiring personalities and a dry, laconic sense of humor. Our natural interactions tend to be very casual and informal, with not a lot of physical touch.

    My paternal grandmother, who was present also, observed me have a dry, humorous verbal first exchange with an aunt and uncle on my mother’s side, and interrupted to insist that I hug them. My aunt and uncle didn’t seem bothered by the fact that we hadn’t, or even to have noticed, and since our mutual exchange had been pleasant, natural, and unforced before her insistence that I hug them, I wasn’t sure what to do, Things suddenly became awkward, and I said, “They’re not really hugging people,” which was the truth. I felt as though if we had done it, we would all have been doing it to please her.

    I later found out that my paternal grandmother thought I had been rude, which bothered me, but I also felt as though it was not her call to make in this situation. I also felt guilty about speaking for my aunt and uncle, but I had felt as though we had all been put on the spot. I always hug my paternal grandmother, because she values shows of emotion and physical affection. However, was it right of her to insist upon that behavior among those for whom it isn’t natural or prioritized?

    • We make these decisions in a heartbeat. On the theory that giving out the requested hug would do no damage, and refusing it would do none, I would have given the hug. I would also assume that your paternal grandparents knew what the paternal side was like by then. Still, you were put on the spot, and that’s not fair. I think any demands for physical affection put people on the spot, but those who do it, since they generally hug and kiss at the drop of a hat, jsut can’s see it.

      We perceive how others see the world, their motives and preferences, through our biases, not theirs. That’s one more reason the world doesn’t work.

  6. Oh goodness, do I have thoughts on this. It isn’t new to me at all, my Facebook page is full of young moms who share this stuff (it’s been going around for years) and it drives me nuts.

    First of all, we all show affection at different times when maybe we don’t totally want to. You give a friend or spouse or family member a hug because they’re feeling down, or they’re leaving for a six month trip to Japan, or you want to show you’re glad to see them, even if they need a shower or a breath mint or you don’t feel like getting out if your comfy chair. This is part of the give and take of personal relationships; you’d feel insulted if they didn’t offer your preferred form of affection or support when you need it.

    Children need to be taught this, or we’re going to raise a generation who think their comfort is the only thing that matters, even in personal relationships and within their family.

    On top of that, in as much as you do have a choice as to how close your relationship with Grandma or Great Uncle Joe should be, kids are in no way qualified to make that call. Kids have no idea that Grandma is 96 and this might be their last chance to hug her, or remember that Great Uncle Joe loaned their family the money to send them to summer camp. They don’t know that the reason they only see Aunt Jenny once a year is that she lives across the country and she saves all year to come home for the holidays because it means so much to her, and that’s why her presents aren’t cool.

    As an adult you can decide if these things matter to you (they should) but kids shouldn’t be counted on to recognize the full context of situations. Now, obviously if part of the context is if there is something dangerous or creepy going on, but either way it’s a parents place to make the call and to override the kid’s judgement, in either direction, when it’s uninformed.

    Letting kids make the decision themselves is setting them up to make decisions they’ll regret, hurting people they care about, and teaching them that making even those they love comfortable doesn’t matter. And we all know that’s only acceptable if it’s someone who voted for Trump.

      • Thank you! (And Bill, crella, and Tex as well.)

        If you wouldn’t mind a bit of editing, there are a few typos in there that keep jumping out at me:
        “you don’t feel like getting out if your comfy chair.” Should be “of.”
        “or remember that Great Uncle Joe” should be “or don’t remember”
        And “obviously if part of the context is if there is something dangerous or creepy going on, but either way it’s a parents place to make the call” should be “obviously part of the context is if there is something dangerous or creepy going on, but either way it’s a parent’s place to make the call”

        …remember, folks, always proofread as if you’re going to be COTD. (And thank you all again.)

    • Your 4th paragraph especially rings true. Children lack context, which makes them both charming and annoying. It recalled to me a family Thanksgiving where my 11 year old self received a forcefully delivered education from my father about the Bataan Death March, after I made a smart-ass comment about a weird uncle, who had survived that and Japanese POW camps. It was a long ride home.

  7. I agree; this goes too far.

    Children need to be taught both how to show affection and when it’s appropriate to show affection what better place to do this other than within the confines of a loving family unit. Forcing a child to show affection to someone that they don’t know or dislike is not right; however, we don’t want to raise little monotone emotionless robots either. I think one of the negative side effects of this particular breech of the family unit by a public entity, is that their intrusion into the family unit in this way is that the consequences from this can actively slow how fast a child learns respect which is learned first within the family unit and I believe that displays of affection, while not part of respect itself, I think are an integral part of the learning process for children to learn respect – we sometimes do things in life that we do not like however we do them out of respect.

    Respect is a two way street; family members need to be very aware of the comfort level of children in regards to displaying affection so they don’t go overboard when it’s obvious that a child is really not comfortable.

    Personal Experience
    I have a grandchild who not affectionate with others, it can be a natural part of ones character; however, once this grand child gets to know someone very well there is a light bulb that goes on and her affection is very honest and very obvious. No one but Mom and Dad got a hug from this child until well after they turned four years old.

  8. My feelings aren’t hurt if on a particular visit the kids don’t feel like hugging for one reason or another. It feels more genuine if all parties want to hug.

    I had an uncle who wasn’t a pervert but I never liked hugging him to the point I literally punched him in the stomach one holiday when I was 6. I got in trouble which was the right response. Oddly the uncle was having an affair at the time w/ another woman from his church & left my aunt only months later. Not sure if that had anything to do w/ moral luck, but it was a funny coincidence.

    Question- what would one say to a kid about hugging smelly onion aunt Sally?

    Would it be something like ” if you don’t hug Sally, she’ll contemplate how she’s going to die alone from smelling bad and get depressed and need antidepressants and it will be all your fault.”

  9. To think I was looking for an excuse to stop buying over-priced cookies of less-than-middlin’ quality after my Dear niece aged out; serendipity?

    This is another BULLSHIT attempt to micro-manage every aspect of human behavior-n-existence, with the attendant benefit of GSA muckety-mucks feeling their “I’m Dialed In” endorphins positively surge.

    Coupla days ago, resident handsome Devil ZoltarSpeaks! facetiously made the suggestion that to avoid “misunderstandings” we ought ban all forms of intimate contact.

    Is this a part of that?

    Disclosure: I’m a hugger, I hug friends & family. Heck, I’ve hugged ZoltarSpeaks! each time we’ve crossed paths, but that’s not the point.

    C’mon, no parent worth their salt will put their child in harm’s way, but ”bubble-wrapping” is not the answer.

    Potential huggings usually aren’t spur of the moment immediacy and can be anticipated, affording the”woke” an opportunity to “preempt” at best, or to “auto-correct” at worst.

    The larger question is: where is this going; is spontaneity denied the endgame?

    “about hugging smelly onion aunt Sally?”

    ”Aunt Sally is always tickled to see you. Look, I know she’s a tad whiffy; c’mon, I grew up with her.

    “And you know how good onions are for you, right?”

  10. “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’ve bought her dinner or done something else seemingly nice for her later in life….”

    I think you can easily teach a girl that demonstrating affection towards dear *family* members via a hug and that there is a certain social OBLIGATION to do so while simultaneously teaching that as an upper limit so they don’t come away thinking “someday I need to render a blow job in exchange for a real job”…

    It’s not that difficult to be a parent on this topic, people.

  11. This issue is one that I find is important in my life right now. When I first read it, I rolled my eyes. I thought it was another one of those feminist ideas that try to tear apart the nuclear family. Since I’ve read it, I had some more time to think about it.

    Personally, I don’t see myself has a hugger. This is kind of strange because growing up, I knew I was the affectionate one. My mother taught us that huggest is one of the highest forms of connection we can have between family members. Humans have on many levels a desire to feel contact. there are numerous studies which support this. These desires get stronger between family and close friends. I hug says, I miss you, I care more about you than passing strangers, and I want to show you why you are important in my life.

    However, as I grew, for some reason that became less and less important to me. Perhaps it was my time in China, where affection is not shown or my time in the military where it is seen as a type of weakness. I don’t know. I do know that it has become a problem in my religious circles.

    As part of the Church of Christ, people hug. The church is a strong bond one that is often described as family. It is why you can have complete strangers come up to you and hug you. It is something I have been willing to accept, but have never been comfortable with, but it is something I have not subjected my children too. I accept it because I believe in that close family bond, but getting my children to see that is something that takes time. I think I will let them make there own decisions on the matter.

    Currently, I have issues with hugging my foster daughter. This is a double-edged sword for me. I always wanted a daughter, but I have been blessed with two sons. Now I have two girls who I take care of, that are owned by the state. One of them constantly wants to hug me. At first, this was like a dream come true. Three months later, but then, it was like 500 times a day. Then she started to do other things. Perhaps she was abused (she is only 4). We’re worried because things keep escalating. So now she gets two hugs a day and no physical contact with strangers. Its a risk CPS does not want us to take. I’m 99% sure she isn’t abused. It seems more likely that because she has never had a father figure, she is making up for lost time.

    Furthermore, I am surprised that GSA went this route. BSA requires that all boys before being able to earn badges must first child abuse with there parents and den leaders (something we just recently went over with our six years old). I’m guessing that giving the current environment, GSA thought this worthy of discussion, but I have no clue why they went this route.

    I hate to live in a world where we can’t teach the kids the value of a hug. Can it be taught in words? Sure. But it is one that is better learned through action.

  12. I have never been a hugger really and now that I have grown into several allergies that include some perfumes/aftershaves and aloe vera a hug can be a health risk for me. I have found that there are some people who insist on a hug. I am deathly allergic to peanuts also. I carry an epipen but am under strict instructions to call 911 and go directly to the emergency room after using the epipen. People who are close (family and close friends) respect my health needs and don’t insist, but there are a few ‘social huggers’ who don’t get the message no matter how direct I am. I run into them at my volunteer job so I have tended to step behind a counter when I see them coming and be very busy with something to avoid their insistence on a hug.

  13. My first encounter with social hugging came shortly after I’d graduated from college and was on my own socially in a new town after having been dumped by my college girlfriend. I had to make a whole new circle of friends and bounced around among various groups as I met various people. I went to one party one night that turned out to be for either churchy people or gay people or a combination of both. It involved a lot of hot chocolate rather than beer. Quite off putting. When I was leaving, a guy gave me a hug. Not knowing what to do, I reverted to my prior life as a high school basketball player (mid-1960s version) and patted the guy on the ass while he was hugging me. To this day, I find it hilarious.

  14. As a former Girl Scout leader for 17 years, I’m troubled by many directions this organization has gone in recent years – but this “advice” is not one of those. Hugs don’t mean anything if they are not given from genuine affection. My now grown daughter is an Asperger’s gal and hugs are quite problematic for her – she hates being enveloped in someones arms, no matter how much she cares about those people, until she is comfortable enough to express her joy that way. Hugs among family members and friends need to be initiated by her or she’ll stiffen like a board. It took her years to be able to hug us, her mom and dad. She worked up to it slowly, first by patting our shoulder, then by rubbing my back lightly…now we finally get frequent hugs, because we never forced the issue.

  15. The advocates for this nonsense keep trying to pull a cute little “trick” and reeling their own argument back into reasonable-person territory whenever anyone questions it. I saw two talking heads debating about this on TV and it went something like this:

    “So no hugs for girl scouts at Thanksgiving? Don’t you think that’s extreme?”

    “No, we’re just saying that if weird Uncle Tim whom you haven’t seen in 5 years shows up…”

    See the trick? The feminist-inspired rubbish passed along by the Girl Scouts isn’t a warning about watching out for potential pedophiles or “weird Uncle Tims.” Because any reasonable family can already make those types of judgement calls. Someone at the Girl Scouts (obviously multiple someones) has read up on their goofy radical feminist ideology, and thinks that kids feeling obligated to hug their lonely aunt Gertrude is going to lead them being raped by Republicans in college, because the patriarchy or something. These people have no expertise or clout, none of their dumb ideas have ever done anything but fail in the real world, and they just want their bitter, family-hating (and man-hating in particular) misery to be enshrined in once-proud institutions for their own personal validation.

    Real talk: any kid whose Mom says, “No honey, you don’t have to hug auntie if you don’t want to, remember it’s your bodily autonomy as a woman that matters!” is stuck with far worse problems than an awkward hug from an old person, and is probably on the fast track to a future as a professional blogger with 27 cats.

  16. “Hugs are better than drugs.” I believe Nancy Reagan came up with this line in the mid eighties. I always remarked that unfortunately, drugs are, for many, a much more available commodity.

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