An English secondary school has come under fire for a controversial new "no-touching policy."
The headteacher of Malcolm Arnold Academy in Northampton, Chris Steed, sought to teach his pupils about the importance of personal space — his approach was to ban them from making any physical contact with one another whatsoever. This includes hugging and holding hands, and any instances of this may be punished.
There's no doubt our teenagers need to be taught about consent and know how to respect other people's boundaries, but is an outright ban on all physical contact really the right approach?
According to a number of parents of Malcolm Arnold Academy pupils, absolutely not. Many of them have accused Steed of being "draconian," and voiced their concerns, such as mum of two Debbie Lowe, who said, "When I was at school I relied on my friends to put a supportive arm around me at times. I can understand no shoving or pushing but just banning touching outright is absolutely unbelievable [...] It is going to prevent children developing social skills during their most formative years."
Steed's policy may be designed to protect kids — he says that "not being allowed to poke, push or be affectionate to another pupil in public has always been an unwritten rule at the academy, but through the work with students, it is something that we wanted to formalise" — but it doesn't go far enough to stop vulnerable pupils being targeted by bullies, because bullying goes far deeper than physical attacks. Some of the most vicious examples of school bullying involve no physical contact at all; in fact words — whether verbal or digital — can cause far greater devastation.
Another issue with punishing kids for touching each other — and failing to distinguish between welcome and unwelcome physical contact — is that it encourages young people to suppress their emotions, detach themselves from their friends and go against their natural instincts. Learning to show affection, comfort and support to others and develop romantic attachments are important parts of adolescence. Some children may not experience affection at home; for them, a comforting hug from a school friend can turn a bad day into a bearable one.
If we want a generation of emotionally healthy, compassionate, respectful individuals, we need to teach them how to respect other people's boundaries while showing affection when it's needed and/or wanted.
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