girl scouts of america
Photograph of Girl Scouts by Bureau of Reclamation, via Flickr. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/usbr/)

By Mike Price, The Charlotte Observer

The Girl Scouts of America, which has 16,000 members in the Charlotte area, is advising parents not to force their daughters to hug relatives during the holidays, prompting a fierce debate on social media.

In a lengthy essay on GirlScouts.org, the nonprofit points out that family get-togethers can be a time “when your daughter gets the wrong idea about consent and physical affection.” The warning comes at a time when the nation has seen a number of high profile revelations of men sexually harassing and assaulting women in the workplace, with some cases dating back decades.

“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 post states.

“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.”

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The advisory, which got nearly 7,000 shares on Facebook, set off a fierce social media debate, with hundreds of comments. Some accused the Girl Scouts of being ridiculous. Others lauded the agency for taking a stand on behalf of women who have survived sexual assault.

“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,” posted Angelique McKowan of Cortland, Ohio.

“How can you justify this post?” wrote Tammy Newbold on Facebook. “You make it seem like a hug to a family member will force a girl to make bad decisions later if a boy buys her a steak. As a lifetime member of Girl Scouts I don’t approve this post. It is misleading.”

“This is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever read in my life!” Carter-Ethan Rankin posted on Facebook. “I can’t believe Girl Scouts are the ones saying that girls are so stupid that if they’re told to give great-aunt Bessie a hug when they’re 8-years-old that they will then think they have to (have sex with) high school quarterback … when they’re fifteen. Newsflash: Girls are NOT that dumb!”

Many agreed with the advisory, however, including some who noted young children are often molested by someone close to the family.

“Children are condition to give and receive affection, even if they don’t consent to it. After years of this, it becomes difficult to say no to those affections later because they are told they have to do what the other person wants,” posted Jamie Cheek on Facebook.

“It’s about teaching a kid that her body is HERS, even from a young age,” wrote Nicole Gomer Burr Albertson on Facebook. “She doesn’t have to hug someone just because they want her to, because her body is her own.”

“Our kids deserve to decide what they do with their own bodies,” wrote Katie Gietzen, of Kirkland, Wash. “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.”

Those choices include replacing a hug with a handshake or a high five, said supporters of the Girl Scouts’ stance. Some noted the advisory should go for boys as well.

“I am a hugger, but I choose who I hug,” wrote Vanessa Walker of Texas. “I had a stranger try to hug me and it made my skin crawl. My daughter knows she doesn’t have to hug anyone.”

This article was originally published by The Charlotte Observer

The Charlotte Observer

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