Forget cookies and badges. This holiday season, the Girl Scouts of America has a special message for parents of young girls. In a lengthy post published on the GSA website titled “She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays,” the organization delved into the culture of consent, particularly around what we teach young girls.
“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?” an excerpt read. “If yes, you might want to reconsider the urge to do that in the future,” the GSA writes.
The organization then makes a strong argument that we need to rethink how we teach kids affection. As adults, we’ve come to understand this feeling occurs naturally, and when expressing it to a loved one, it’s consensual, never forced. However, when it comes to kids, it’s not uncommon for parents or even teachers to tell girls they must hug a friend or relative — even someone who gives them the willies. Some parents even suggest kids just feign affection to get through the event. But what, exactly, does that teach them? How is forcing a child to hug someone when their instincts are telling them otherwise anything but totally damaging?
“The notion of consent may seem very grown-up and like something that doesn’t pertain to children,” says Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, “but the lessons girls learn when they’re young about setting physical boundaries and expecting them to be respected last a lifetime and can influence how she feels about herself and her body as she gets older. Plus, sadly, we know that some adults prey on children, and teaching your daughter about consent early on can help her understand her rights, know when lines are being crossed and when to go to you for help.”
For nearly six weeks, U.S. news headlines have been overwhelmed by allegations of sexual assault (that and gun violence, that is — welcome to America). Women and men have come forward in droves with lurid tales of harassment and unwelcome “affection” from men and women in positions of power. The full impact of this moment in our cultural history has yet to be seen. However, it’s clear that many of us need to rethink our complicity in so many ways. So why shouldn’t this begin with our children?