Girls Scouts has issued a reminder to parents about consent ahead of the holiday season.
The American organization wrote a blog post this week, urging parents to be mindful of their children’s comfort and not to pressure them to hug relatives. The blog post warns pressure to hug or make physical contact with others can give young girls the wrong idea about consent.
“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,” the post reads.
The blog post cites developmental physiologist Dr. Andrea Archibald, who explains that there’s often a misconception that consent doesn’t apply to children. Archibald explains that children pick up on these lessons at a young age.
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“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,” Archibald said.
Parenting expert Ann Douglas, from Peterborough, Ont., told Global News the message is important to send before the holidays.
“The advice offered by the Girl Scouts really echoes what physiologists and other mental health experts have been telling parents for years, which is that our kids need to grow up knowing that everyone has the right to control what happens to his or her own body.”
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But the Girl Scouts’ blog, which has been shared thousands of times on social media, has garnered mixed responses.
While some agree that children should be able to decline advances to physical interactions, others say it’s more complicated than that.
“How can you justify this post?” Facebook user Tammy Newbold wrote on the organization’s page. “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.”
Another user by the name of Suzi Colasinski Trzcinski disagreed with the post, citing personal regret.
“Disagree. I was never made to hug my grandparents, so I never did. They are all gone now and I have zero memory of hugging them. I regret that.”
How to properly handle the situation
While Girl Scouts discouraged forcing children to hug relatives, it noted showing affection or respect is still possible in many ways.
“There are many other ways to show appreciation, thankfulness, and love that don’t require physical contact,” the post reads.
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It says other actions such as a high-five, air kiss, or a simple smile, are more than enough.
Douglas agrees, adding that avoiding physical contact can be as simple as saying, “Thanks, but I don’t do hugs.”
A parent’s role
The parenting expert notes, however, that sometimes the situations can be more complicated — that’s when a parent should step in.
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Sometimes, a relative can swoop in for a hug without evaluating the situation, Douglas says. Parents should be alert to these types of situations, read their child’s body language, and step in if needed.
“Let your child know that you are willing to be this trusted person for them, always,” she explains. “If they don’t feel comfortable saying to Uncle Fred, who they haven’t seen in five years, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ they can just give you the look and you’ll step in.”
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