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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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115 Responses

  1. Meredith L.
    Meredith L. December 21, 2011 at 10:44 am |

    It’s like you live inside my mind.

    I’ve long had to act as the “bad cop” between my father and my 3-year old because my father has a weird obsession with butts and keeps making comments about “biting” my child’s toushie, which freaks out pretty much everyone. (Then my dad acts like I’m the one with hang-ups and makes fun of me.) My father also doesn’t seem to get, even after 3 years, that my son isn’t touchey-feeley – he doesn’t like being hugged or squished or picked up against his will, but my father does it anyway.

    So lately, in addition to reminding my dad that if my son doesn’t want to hug or play, he needs to respect that, I’m also teaching my son that he is allowed to say things like, “Please don’t,” and “No hugging,” or just plain “Stop.” Bless his little heart, yesterday when we went over this he told me, “But people get sad if I don’t hug them.” So I told him that’s OK, people can be sad for a while, but his body is his own.

  2. Andie
    Andie December 21, 2011 at 10:52 am |

    I’ve been negotiating this as well with my girls.. I haven’t run into any issues where they don’t want to hug, but instead of saying ‘Go give grandma a hug’ I’ll say “would you like to give grandma a hug and say thank you?” so they have the option of speaking up and saying no.

    I try and assure my nephews that if they don’t want to hug or kiss me, that’s totally cool. Just say Hi.

  3. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin December 21, 2011 at 11:10 am |

    Maybe this is a reason why I’ve tried to go in the exact opposite direction. I do understand why it’s crucial to establish boundaries and let children have a say in the matter. My nuclear family was very affectionate, but my mom’s folks were not very emotive. It always upset me as a child because they were so emotionally distant.

    And I have a good friend who grew up in a culture dominated by her Amish neighbors. Her people (conservative Friends) aren’t very demonstrative. To this day, she never hugs. You only shake hands, though much to her credit she always lets you know how much she appreciates the gesture.

  4. Jane
    Jane December 21, 2011 at 11:22 am |

    Yeah, this is sometimes awkward when I’m babysitting for a family friend’s two-year-old — it’s pretty straightforward when it’s just me and him, because he’s pretty affectionate and I think I can safely assume if he crawls in my lap he wants to be there. When I leave, though, his parents always make him give me hugs and kisses, which sometimes he doesn’t want to do, and I’m not exactly sure how to explain that this makes me very nervous. I don’t want him to feel obligated to touch anyone.

  5. Poetree
    Poetree December 21, 2011 at 11:34 am |

    This is a very important lesson in setting boundaries. It’s a good time to remind children that it’s ok to say no and it is also ok to hear no. Just because someone doesn’t want to hug, it doesn’t mean they do not care. They just may not be in the mood to hug that day but they stil love you and they still know that you love them.

  6. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub December 21, 2011 at 11:45 am |

    I’ve gotta say, as the adult who the kids sometimes don’t want to hug or kiss, that I hate it when their parents try to push the issue. I always try to nip it in the bud before it can start–I ask them “Can I give you a hug?” and if they say no, I say, “That’s okay! I’m really happy to see you. Is that a new action figure/book/toy you have?”

  7. Jennifer
    Jennifer December 21, 2011 at 11:56 am |

    Loved this article and think it’s an important issue–I remember a fair amount of unwanted touching of this “innocent” nature (i.e., no sexual intention on the part of the toucher) as a young child and I think it made me much less sure of how to deal with unwanted touching of a more sexual nature in adolescence.

  8. Lin
    Lin December 21, 2011 at 11:56 am |

    This is such an encouraging post! I don’t like to touch people, I never have, even when I was a kid. There are some reasons that are a little too detailed for a comment. I can’t remember the last time I hugged my parents. They know it’s not because I don’t care, but because it makes me very uncomfortable. My mom’s was good with supporting me as a child, and I appreciate that so much, because I know the grandparents gave her a really hard time when she said I didn’t have to hug and kiss them. Some people never learn though – I’m in my 20s and my grandmother recently yanked my hair (weird right?) to force me low enough to kiss my cheek. I told her it was inappropriate, talked to my mom about it, and as we go into this holiday season, I once again have a great supporter in reminding the family that hugging does not equal love, especially when it’s against someone’s will. I look forward to seeing my little cousins learn that they can have boundaries when it comes to their bodies, too.

  9. Hobbes
    Hobbes December 21, 2011 at 12:11 pm |

    Andie: I haven’t run into any issues where they don’t want to hug, but instead of saying ‘Go give grandma a hug’ I’ll say “would you like to give grandma a hug and say thank you?” so they have the option of speaking up and saying no.

    The only problem with this is making sure that the kids know the question is really a question. In passive-agressive land where I grew up, that’s how it was phrased, but it was an order and we knew it.

  10. librarygoose
    librarygoose December 21, 2011 at 12:15 pm |

    I pretty much only hugged my mom when I was little, and it was just how I was (still am). I hugged my one uncle with out being forced but anyone else i just didn’t have any desire to hug or kiss. My parents didn’t force me to hug anyone and I am thankful. Although my mom admitted it wasn’t because of any “your body is your own” reason but because too much forced hugs turned up my anxiety to freak out levels and I would melt down by the end of the night. So for my parents it was more a way to ensure I didn’t scream all night.

  11. Andie
    Andie December 21, 2011 at 12:23 pm |

    Hobbes: The only problem with this is making sure that the kids know the question is really a question. In passive-agressive land where I grew up, that’s how it was phrased, but it was an order and we knew it.

    That’s a fair criticism. It would have to go hand in hand with A) making sure they know ahead of time that they ARE allowed to say no and B) supporting them up if they do resist. Something like “That’s okay, but you should still say thank you/hello/some form of acknowledgement” so they know they can still be polite while negotiating their own boundaries.

  12. Michelle
    Michelle December 21, 2011 at 12:56 pm |

    Yes, yes, and yes. I’m a very touchy person– within my nuclear family. But outside of it I hated being told to hug seemingly “random” relatives that I did not remember from year to year. I never push my kids to do it. Of course, one of my kids is so shy, that when I say, “That’s ok. We don’t have to hug other people, but let’s at least say hello and be polite,” she buries her head in my legs. I feel like it’s important to learn to acknowledge people in a polite way (there’s plenty of time for that) without disrespecting bodily autonomy.

  13. Jackie
    Jackie December 21, 2011 at 1:06 pm |

    Yes, thank you! I am a hugs-in-all-situations sort of person, but I feel so uncomfortable when my family members tell my shy little cousins they have to give me a hug and a kiss at holidays, when they haven’t seen me in six months or a year. It’s cool, let’s just colour a picture or talk about Disney movies. Kids should be taught basic politeness and sociability, but this doesn’t have to include physical affection for every seemingly-random adult relative who pops into their lives occasionally.

  14. Katya
    Katya December 21, 2011 at 1:46 pm |

    I really hate it when kids’ parents try to make them kiss me. If the kid resists, I always just say, “You don’t want to? That’s okay, maybe later/maybe next time.” My feelings aren’t hurt, because it really isn’t personal, it’s quite possible the kid will warm up to me over time, and I don’t want parents to feel like they have to make a big deal out of it.

    That said, I do think kids should learn how to be polite and sociable, as well as to respect other people’s boundaries in terms of physical contact.

  15. Andie
    Andie December 21, 2011 at 1:51 pm |

    Katya: as well as to respect other people’s boundaries in terms of physical contact.

    This is good too, and allowing kids to have their boundaries also teaches them to respect other people’s boundaries. I had a kid that wanted to hug EVERYBODY.. even strangers, and sometimes it made people uncomfortable.

  16. Brigid Keely
    Brigid Keely December 21, 2011 at 2:00 pm |

    This is such an important issue and I’m glad more people are talking about. It’s ALWAYS bothered me that we as a society are so quick to tell kids about OMG STRANGER DANGER and unwanted touching, but then we force them to hug/kiss people they don’t want to because it’s polite.

  17. Xeginy
    Xeginy December 21, 2011 at 2:08 pm |

    THANK YOU for this. Kids are generally a pretty powerless group as a whole, so that makes it even more important that we learn to respect physical boundaries (and as parents, teach them to set good boundaries.) I’ve been trying to do this in practice with my 3 year old nephew, always asking for a hug or a kiss, and always saying “that’s okay” when he says no (and he does.) I’ve been trying to explain this concept to my mom (his grandma) for a while now, because she seems to expect a level of physical intimacy that it’s obvious he is not always comfortable with.

  18. Andie
    Andie December 21, 2011 at 2:13 pm |

    Heh.. while i was reading this, I was listening to Tom Petty’s Christmas All Over Again and there’s a line about long distance relatives that goes “Yeah, I kind of miss them. I just don’t want to kiss ‘em”

    It struck me funny.

  19. Jenny
    Jenny December 21, 2011 at 2:13 pm |

    This is such an important issue and I’m glad more people are talking about. It’s ALWAYS bothered me that we as a society are so quick to tell kids about OMG STRANGER DANGER and unwanted touching, but then we force them to hug/kiss people they don’t want to because it’s polite.

    Yes, this is so important to remember, especially considering that it’s not strangers, but familiar adults who pose the most risk of abuse or assault to kids. Kids need to know they have the right to say no to both strangers and familiar adults

  20. Jillian
    Jillian December 21, 2011 at 2:25 pm |

    My son is a compulsive hugger. His kindergarten teacher had to set a ‘two hug’ limit or he would want a hug every hour. He’s been touchy feely since he was born. Rather than setting boundaries within himself, I’m constantly setting boundaries for others – you need to ask before you hug, you don’t charge them like a bull, you don’t nuzzle into them no matter how soft and squishy their bodies might be, etc.

  21. Jess
    Jess December 21, 2011 at 2:49 pm |

    In my partner’s extended family, during Christmas present-opening last year, the hugs were explicitly framed as ‘payment’ for the presents by the little kids’ mom. I was completely speechless. The kids seemed not to be bothered one way or the other by the hugging itself but the framing was really disturbing to me.

  22. er
    er December 21, 2011 at 3:02 pm |

    Yes! It really bothers me how insistent we are that children hug and kiss against their will. Yet it’s so common! To me, nothing illustrates the non-personhood of children in our society like that mandate. Where did that come from? I have little kids, and I ask them, too, if I can kiss them or hug them. The three year old often says no, and I respect that in a neutral way. Likewise, when we are playing, whenever he says “Stop!” (stop tickling or chasing or dangling him by the ankles), I always stop. it’s true as parents/caregivers there are times when we have to force a child to do something she doesn’t want to do (for safety’s sake, for example), but minimizing those times to the truly necessary is important.

  23. Nimue
    Nimue December 21, 2011 at 3:03 pm |

    I remember being that kid that hated being touched in any form, but always had to hug/kiss all the relatives…bleh. I make sure now that my nieces and nephew know that they do not have to hug me.

  24. DonnaL
    DonnaL December 21, 2011 at 3:23 pm |

    This is very important. I have distinct memories from my childhood of not wanting to hug and kiss relatives whom I barely knew, and having my arm figuratively twisted to do so.

    Although I believe that it’s also important to talk to a child about why he or she feels that way — not to coerce them into doing hugging or kissing someone they don’t want to, but to understand what’s motivating them. If they’re just not huggy kids and there’s nothing specific about the person they’re shying away from, that’s one thing. But I remember that my reasons, for the most part, had to do with those relatives being elderly, and therefore looking “scary,” and smelling “funny,” and so on. I just wasn’t that used to “old people” other than my own surviving grandmother and grandfather. (And I’m sure the fact that most of the elderly women I was familiar with were children-eating witches in fairy tales didn’t help either.) Whereas I didn’t really have any objection to hugging relatives whom I didn’t know any better, who happened to be younger.

    So if something like that, or something else specific about the person’s appearance, turns out to be the primary reason, there’s certainly no reason not to try to explain that one doesn’t have to be generally afraid of old people. Rather than that one “has to” hug them, or anyone else.

  25. Emily Guy Birken
    Emily Guy Birken December 21, 2011 at 3:30 pm |

    I have a disabled aunt who is not pleasant to be around in a purely physical sense. (She is not capable of taking care of herself and her family has not always necessarily given her the best care because of financial and physicals constraints.). As a child, I was always forced to hug and kiss her, and it helped to shape my view of a child’s rights. I will never force my child to express affection against his will. He has the right to hug and kiss on his own terms. And I don’t care what kind of heat family members (including this particular aunt) give me over the issue.

  26. Emily Guy Birken
    Emily Guy Birken December 21, 2011 at 3:30 pm |

    I have a disabled aunt who is not pleasant to be around in a purely physical sense. (She is not capable of taking care of herself and her family has not always necessarily given her the best care because of financial and physicals constraints.). As a child, I was always forced to hug and kiss her, and it helped to shape my view of a child’s rights. I will never force my child to express affection against his will. He has the right to hug and kiss on his own terms. And I don’t care what kind of heat family members (including this particular aunt) give me over the issue.

  27. Jess
    Jess December 21, 2011 at 3:30 pm |

    I have always been a bit of a stickler about this. When relatives push for hugs I was very firm about it being up to my kids wether they gave out hugs or not. When my daughter was about three we were at a family gathering. One of my (now) exhusbands relatives (distant cousin of some sort) was about 70, and he was a hugger. My daughter has having no part of this. I had to tell him three times not to hug her if she didn’t want to be hugged. Well, while I was trying to fill my plate he moved in a forth time. My daughter slapped him across the face and screamed “MY BODY! MINE! YOU DON’T TOUCH ME UNLESS I SAY IT’S OK!!”

    The inlaws freaked out and wanted her to apologize. We left the party, and I took her out for ice cream and told her she was awesome.

  28. Jess
    Jess December 21, 2011 at 3:31 pm |

    Oh, and she did not apologize. :)

  29. shfree
    shfree December 21, 2011 at 3:38 pm |

    Jess:
    Ihavealwaysbeenabitofastickleraboutthis.WhenrelativespushforhugsIwasveryfirmaboutitbeinguptomykidswethertheygaveouthugsornot.Whenmydaughterwasaboutthreewewereatafamilygathering.Oneofmy(now)exhusbandsrelatives(distantcousinofsomesort)wasabout70,andhewasahugger.Mydaughterhashavingnopartofthis.Ihadtotellhimthreetimesnottohugherifshedidn’twanttobehugged.Well,whileIwastryingtofillmyplatehemovedinaforthtime.Mydaughterslappedhimacrossthefaceandscreamed“MYBODY!MINE!YOUDON’TTOUCHMEUNLESSISAYIT’SOK!!”

    Theinlawsfreakedoutandwantedhertoapologize.Welefttheparty,andItookheroutforicecreamandtoldhershewasawesome.

    Good for your daughter. And I’m glad she got support from you, even if she didn’t get any from the other family.

  30. librarygoose
    librarygoose December 21, 2011 at 3:39 pm |

    Jess: We left the party, and I took her out for ice cream and told her she was awesome.

    Hahaha. When I was little I punched a haunted house Frankenstein who wouldn’t leave me alone. My dad still tells the story.

  31. Clementine
    Clementine December 21, 2011 at 3:42 pm |

    UGH. This article touches on EXACTLY what I’ve been thinking about the past few days. I’m back at home for the holidays with my parents and both my sister and I are really uncomfortable with my family’s brand of touchy-feely. Like my dad who loves to sniff my sister’s hair, or my grandpa who still likes to give playful spanks on the butt to his grown grandchildren. Recently I told my dad (a little irritably) that I have boundaries, and I expected him to respect those boundaries (and any boundaries set by any children I might have in the future) and he was pretty miffed but was like, “I guess it’s a good thing you’re tough and don’t take shit from anyone.”

  32. Katya
    Katya December 21, 2011 at 3:49 pm |

    I like DonnaL’s point. While you shouldn’t pressure kids to engage in physical contact, unless they’re just generally non-touchy-feely with anyone, it is worth finding out why they don’t want to do it. Is it because Uncle Bob touches them funny? Are they scared of old people? If it’s a specific problem with a specific person, that’s certainly valuable information for a parent to have, and if it’s an irrational fear, it may be something that can be addressed and overcome. “I don’t want to kiss Grandma because she smells funny” — okay, you don’t have to kiss Grandma, but you do have to be kind to Grandma. What are some other ways you could be kind to Grandma and show her that you love her? Could you draw her a picture, or sing her a song, or ask her what it was like when she was a little girl? I mean, I don’t want my kids thinking that it’s okay to shun old people.

  33. Andie
    Andie December 21, 2011 at 4:01 pm |

    Katya: Is it because Uncle Bob touches them funny? Are they scared of old people? If it’s a specific problem with a specific person, that’s certainly valuable information for a parent to have, and if it’s an irrational fear, it may be something that can be addressed and overcome.

    This as well. Because my oldest was so affectionate with EVERYONE, I paid close attention when she did NOT want to be affectionate with someone. Sometimes kids can have good instincts about people.

  34. Poetree
    Poetree December 21, 2011 at 4:18 pm |

    Katya you raise a wonderful point! There are children who are afraid of disabled people or people of color or anyone who is “different” or doesn’t look/smell “normal” and will not hug them or touch them but generally, any able bodied person is someone they may be affectionate with. While of course nobody would want to say “you have to hug them anyway” you do want to ensure you’re not nurturing prejudice in your children; as Katya put it “oky you don’t have to kiss grandma but you do have to be kind to grandma” (emphasis mine).

    Also, Andie raised a good point : be weary of why an otherwise affectionate child shys away from a particular person. Ask why in a non threatening way so they will not feel pressure to do it anyway.

  35. Laurie
    Laurie December 21, 2011 at 4:18 pm |

    I hate to be the only contrarian on the thread. And I do agree with the basic gist of the thread. I am not a huggy person myself, and I agree that our culture tends to give children little physical autonomy in choosing when to be kissed, tickled, etc. (I absolutely LOATHED having my cheeks pinched whan I was little.) In most instances, I think there should be boundaries and that children should generally be allowed to assert non-consent to tickling, hugging, horseplay, and all that stuff.

    But, I am also sensitive to the demands of etiquette. The fact remains that it is rude to decline some touching upon greeting people — a handshake, a hug, or perhaps two or three kisses on the cheek if you are greeting a French person — no matter how much you don’t want to do it. (When I was growing up, I was always taught that a man should never touch a woman or even extend his hand to a woman unless she offers her hand or offers a hug first. However, I was also taught that if a man makes the faux pas of offering his hand, that it would be rude not to shake.)

    I think kids, even young ones, can probably understand, “You don’t have to touch anyone you don’t want to unless someone wants to shake your hand or hug you when you are saying hello.” Another alternative I supppose is to give the child the option to say “no” until he or she reaches a developmental stage when she can understand the distinction between a pro forma mandatory greeting and other kinds of touching. Until then, there is no difficulty explaining to relatives and friends, “Oh, I’ve been teaching her about bodily autonomy so she’s practicing. We haven’t gotten to the stage of talking about greetings yet but when we do, I am sure she will give you a hug.”

  36. Bunny
    Bunny December 21, 2011 at 4:20 pm |

    We have a kid in my family who isn’t a fan of physical affection – never has been – and it is really, really important to us that she knows we’ll respect her preferences.

    It isn’t difficult, so long as people are willing to have a respectful dialogue about it with children in the first place. No one in our family hugs, kisses or otherwise touches Kidlet unless she offers or asks herself, no one acts passive-aggressive pouty if they ask and she declines, and everyone is happy.

    And just because a child may not want to cuddle, doesn’t mean they won’t want to show affection in other ways, on their own terms and as they deem appropriate. Kidlet is an incredibly loving, affectionate and friendly kid in other ways. She’s got a facebook now, and is the first to send messages full of virtual hugs and kisses to people on their birthdays and special occasions, the first to offer help re; housework, cooking, google-fu and ideas for stuff to do. There are always ways to say thank you, to show affection and to bond without needing to touch. And it is so much better for everyone when the affection is sincere and willingly, enthusiastically given.

  37. Katya
    Katya December 21, 2011 at 4:30 pm |

    “You don’t have to touch anyone you don’t want to unless someone wants to shake your hand or hug you when you are saying hello.”

    I would amend this to say that you do sometimes have to shake hands, but you pretty much never have to hug someone. I certainly don’t hug everyone who tries to hug me–if I’m not comfortable hugging someone, I just offer my hand. And you don’t even have to kiss French people–I have numerous European friends of different backgrounds, and you can shake hands if you want. They are familiar with the practice, and aware that American customs are different. If you extend your hand with a warm smile and some gracious words, you can convey greeting and affection without engaging in touch you aren’t comfortable with.

  38. Tamara
    Tamara December 21, 2011 at 4:30 pm |

    I completely agree with all this too. I usually ask my own children whether they want to be hugged or kissed, cause they don’t always. If they’re cranky that I’m going out without them they won’t feel like a kiss.

    Another thing that bothered me as a child was commend about my hair. It was orange and frizzy and people were always either complimenting it or telling me what to do with it. I think that was infringing my boundaries as well. One time I actually said to an elderly woman who had done that: “It’s my hair and I’ll do what I like with it.”. It was reported back to my mother who told me I had been rude. I said I thought the woman was rude but hey, grown ups get to do what they like I guess.

  39. Andie
    Andie December 21, 2011 at 4:39 pm |

    OT, but did anyone else read the title and have the urge to yell ‘No Touching’ a la Jeffrey Tambor?

  40. z
    z December 21, 2011 at 5:09 pm |

    I wish this was something my family understood and practiced. :/ I never liked being kissed by family members, and nobody seemed to think I had the right to refuse. Even now, I tell my mom I’ll be happy to hug her – as long as she doesn’t try to kiss me – and I’ll be relaxed doing it, since I’m not bracing myself for an unwanted kiss – and she interprets it as insufficient affection. :(

  41. carlamariee
    carlamariee December 21, 2011 at 5:51 pm |

    Tamara, I remember as a kid being reprimanded for telling an adult relative how much older she looked even though she had just said the same to me! So confusing!

  42. Alison
    Alison December 21, 2011 at 6:04 pm |

    Laurie: The fact remains that it is rude to decline some touching upon greeting people — a handshake, a hug, or perhaps two or three kisses on the cheek if you are greeting a French person — no matter how much you don’t want to do it.

    I happen to think it’s rude to demand physical contact from someone who does not wish to give it. There are plenty of ways to greet someone without contact – waving, bowing, simply smiling and saying hello – and “etiquette” should not be used as a way to shame someone for being uncomfortable with physical contact and force them to do something they don’t wish to do.

    Plus, as a woman, a sexual assault victim, a person very uncomfortable with certain forms of physical contact due to my current health and the current state of my body, the thought of a stranger embracing and/or kissing me could be enough to induce an anxiety attack. If it’s “rude” to not want to be driven to that, well then fuck it, I’m rude.

  43. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub December 21, 2011 at 6:25 pm |

    You know, even as an adult I get crap for not being all huggy with certain people. Oddly enough, if they push it, it makes me think my initial reluctance was spot on.

    And what’s rude is to demand contact that someone else is uncomfortable giving. It’s not rude to not hug someone or not kiss someone, no matter who they are or what nationality they are. It’s rude to not greet them/bid them farewell or acknowledge them, certainly. And it’s rude to expect people to hug you.

    Sorry, but this gets right up my nose. There was a guy I knew who insisted on trying to hug me when I’ve made it clear I didn’t want to hug him. He’d been stunningly inappropriate in the past, and I was extremely uncomfortable around him. I don’t need shaming bullshit around drawing a boundary. People’s boundaries have been pushed and violated thanks to demands for politeness. It’s got to stop.

  44. LotusBen
    LotusBen December 21, 2011 at 6:31 pm |

    I agree with what people have been saying. I mean it seems a little weird to me that someone would even WANT to hug someone who doesn’t want to hug them. Like, isn’t the point of the hug to express love? If it become some sort of obligatory mindless ritual, or worse, something that someone is coerced into doing regardless of whether they like it or not, then what the hell is the point? I mean I understand some people just need hugs. . .but Temple Grandin invented a hug machine that can take care of that for people:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hug_box

    So please. Stop manipulating children or others to hug you when they don’t want to do it.

  45. outrageandsprinkles
    outrageandsprinkles December 21, 2011 at 7:02 pm |

    Every now and then I get customers who want to touch my arm, lean really close to me, or hug me. It’s almost always little old ladies, so I usually go along with it because they don’t frighten me at all. I recently had a (VERY VERY TALL AND INTIMIDATING) man step in really close when I was talking to him about some product and without skipping a beat I just stepped backwards while still talking. I often feel that I can’t say or do much in these situations because they are my customers. I certainly don’t like the way it feels to be forced into physical contact, even when it’s supposedly friendly, so I fully support not making children feel that way either.

  46. outrageandsprinkles
    outrageandsprinkles December 21, 2011 at 7:02 pm |

    Every now and then I get customers who want to touch my arm, lean really close to me, or hug me. It’s almost always little old ladies, so I usually go along with it because they don’t frighten me at all. I recently had a (VERY VERY TALL AND INTIMIDATING) man step in really close when I was talking to him about some product and without skipping a beat I just stepped backwards while still talking. I often feel that I can’t say or do much in these situations because they are my customers. I certainly don’t like the way it feels to be forced into physical contact, even when it’s supposedly friendly, so I fully support not making children feel that way either.

  47. zuzu
    zuzu December 21, 2011 at 7:22 pm |

    DonnaL: Although I believe that it’s also important to talk to a child about why he or she feels that way — not to coerce them into doing hugging or kissing someone they don’t want to, but to understand what’s motivating them. If they’re just not huggy kids and there’s nothing specific about the person they’re shying away from, that’s one thing. But I remember that my reasons, for the most part, had to do with those relatives being elderly, and therefore looking “scary,” and smelling “funny,” and so on. I just wasn’t that used to “old people” other than my own surviving grandmother and grandfather. (And I’m sure the fact that most of the elderly women I was familiar with were children-eating witches in fairy tales didn’t help either.) Whereas I didn’t really have any objection to hugging relatives whom I didn’t know any better, who happened to be younger.

    I used to hide behind chairs when my grandfather came to visit because he scared the shit out of me. He was loud and demanding, and only became more so after a couple of drinks. He scared the shit out of my parents, too, but they couldn’t hide.

    I think a corollary to finding out why a kid doesn’t want to hug a relative is making sure the relative understands that the decision to hug is up to the child — and is told that in advance. It’s not really fair to either the relative or the kid to spring it on the relative; seems like that would lead to feelings of rejection/pressuring on the part of the relative, and getting pressure on the part of the kid.

  48. Annaleigh
    Annaleigh December 21, 2011 at 8:12 pm |

    I am so, so glad that an article like this is out there right now, because this is extremely important.

    Basically, the second round of CSA I went through as a kid was perpetrated by a member of my extended family, and it usually happened during family get-togethers, and yes, during holidays. Christmas was especially handy for the old bastard.

    Before, and during this time, I’d grown very uncomfortable with touch. I don’t recall being told to initiate hugs or kisses to relatives, but my extended family, (with the exception of the pedoscum, of course), are very loving and affectionate, so they tended to do the initiating, and I’d get into trouble with my mother because I’d go stiff as a board during hugs.

    I think that if my discomfort with hugs from loving, good family members had been respected, I might have had a better chance to stop the CSA.

    I’m still not a very physically touchy person, although I’ve worked at my healing long enough that touch is mostly not triggering, and mostly does not make my skin crawl. Now I don’t get hugs and like very often, but when it does happen it’s a nice surprise and I do enjoy it. The last time was a couple weeks ago at the tutor’s potlu ck at my college, an outgoing tutor who’s finished her time at the college gave me a hug before she left the party. That was a nice surprise and made me happy.

  49. Annaleigh
    Annaleigh December 21, 2011 at 8:18 pm |

    Alison: I happen to think it’s rude to demand physical contact from someone who does not wish to give it. There are plenty of ways to greet someone without contact – waving, bowing, simply smiling and saying hello – and “etiquette” should not be used as a way to shame someone for being uncomfortable with physical contact and force them to do something they don’t wish to do.

    Plus, as a woman, a sexual assault victim, a person very uncomfortable with certain forms of physical contact due to my current health and the current state of my body, the thought of a stranger embracing and/or kissing me could be enough to induce an anxiety attack. If it’s “rude” to not want to be driven to that, well then fuck it, I’m rude.

    Yep, my initial thoughts were, “etiquette schmetiqutte” and “fuck that.”

    Etiquette should never come before basic respect of one another’s boundaries.

  50. Issa
    Issa December 21, 2011 at 9:39 pm |

    Ugh. So many childhood memories of unwanted “polite” touching, which was basically “awkward, icky” touching. And my dad constantly ordering, “Go hug your mother,” which I loosely translated as him saying, “The emotional stability of this household is up to you. So get on it.”

    My kid is only 6 months old, but I already have to work to protect his personal boundaries. I don’t understand why people in public keep touching him after he clearly doesn’t respond happily. I try to end the touching smoothly, “politely”, because I don’t want to freak him out about people, but geez. I really don’t get why I have to intervene at all.

  51. EG
    EG December 21, 2011 at 11:14 pm |

    Issa: I don’t understand why people in public keep touching him after he clearly doesn’t respond happily.

    Jesus. If these people are strangers, I don’t understand why they think they have the right to touch him at all. I am often chatting with babies/kids/parents on the street, and I have to say, it would never occur to me to touch the kid without asking the permissions of both the parent and the kid. And even then, I’ve only done so in exceptional circumstances (in one case, I believe that as I was chatting with the parent, we discovered we had a friend in common, and her daughter was so enraptured with me for whatever reason that she kept steering her doll carriage into trees because she was looking at me instead of where she was going). That is some obnoxious bullshit right there, touching the kid at all.

  52. Annaleigh
    Annaleigh December 21, 2011 at 11:20 pm |

    Issa: I don’t understand why people in public keep touching him after he clearly doesn’t respond happily.

    Maybe the psychology behind it is the same behind people who insist on touching a heavily pregnant woman’s belly. In any case, they should knock it the hell off.

  53. DouglasG
    DouglasG December 21, 2011 at 11:49 pm |

    Eep. My mother was not only a Hug/Kiss Enforcer Extraordinaire, she would fairly often take one of her children’s hands and put it somewhere under her clothing to make it entirely clear how much she’d been sweating. At least parents seem to have improved considerably on this count.

    To expand a little on [okay, you don’t have to kiss Grandma, but you do have to be kind to Grandma. What are some other ways you could be kind to Grandma and show her that you love her?], what about Enforced Declarations of Love – another cause of frequent punishments in my childhood? Do parents class that as basically the same thing; similar but with distinct difference(s); entirely or almost entirely different? For that matter, how does the concept of agency in determining whom one loves get introduced with the very young?

  54. Angie unduplicated
    Angie unduplicated December 22, 2011 at 9:44 am |

    Everyone should have the option to say “No, thank you” to the hug or the coffee. My parents allowed and encouraged physical affection in the two “normal” children while training me explicitly not to ask for hugs. This became an advantage later, as I had fewer colds. Young’uns sre sensitive little critters and may smell illness on older people, or it may just be the smokers, snuff-dippers, and yesterday’s clothes they hate. Hugging also generates oxytocin, which induces trust, an emotion which is wildly inappropriate in many social contacts.

  55. Laurie
    Laurie December 22, 2011 at 10:54 am |

    Of course it’s rude to hug someone who has made it clear he or she doesn’t want to be hugged. I wasn’t trying to suggest otherwise.

    But when your Aunt Mary walks in the door assuming that she should hug you because she is a close relative and because hugging is what you do when you visit your relatives, I just don’t see how you can decline graciously. Or what about last weekend when I went to my boss’s holiday party and he and his wife both hugged me in greeting as I came in — how are they to know I wouldn’t want to be hugged when hugs on such occasions are a standard greeting, and how do I decline the hug politely? Obviously if I drew back and simply offered my hand, it would be rude for them to continue with the hug, but my actions would also have been ungracious, perhaps even unkind.

    Putting myself in the position of the hugger, it would be embarrassing and even humiliating to have someone decline to hug you or shake your hand. Now I understand that that doesn’t mean you have to tolerate every hug — it all depends on context.

  56. Poetree
    Poetree December 22, 2011 at 11:02 am |

    RE: other ways of showing love

    There are plenty of ways to show you love or care about a person without giving them physical contact. Of course this may still hurt the person’s feelings but it’s a boundary issue and people who don’t have a physical/sexual relationship with each other should learn to live with caring or loving someone who doesn’t want physical contact.

    Conversation is a a good way to show you care. Converse with this loved one, pay attention to them, you can do something nice like help grandma with her bags or get her something to drink. You can give compliments. You can share a toy. Physical contact isn’t the end all to be all.

    If someone doesn’t want to hug you, or your child it’s ok. People have different preferences on greetings and the amount of physical contact and sometimes a person just isn’t in the mood, children and adults alike.

  57. Laurie
    Laurie December 22, 2011 at 11:43 am |

    And I just want to be clear, I don’t intend to dismiss the legitimacy of not wanting a hug because it is triggering, panic-attack inducing or what have you. I am talking about people like me who just don’t care for hugging. I don’t like hugging one bit but I believe I’m obligated to tolerate it due to social convention.

    That said, thinking about this, I realized I do have a situation that calls my perspective into some question. My father-in-law is socially inappropriate pretty much at all times — tells dirty jokes in the context, is unable to relate to women at all without complimenting their looks or otherwise treating us in a mildly sexual way, and is generally skeevy. But he’s my husband’s father. Whenever he visits, he gives me a standard social hug, but his big paw always slides down my side to my waist so that he gets a good feel of my lovehandle on one side. I absolutely hate and resent it and it grosses me out. Knowing him as well as I do, I think it’s combination that no one ever taught him how to give an appropriate hug and he figures that social hugging is a chance to feel up women. I’ve chosen to go with it, but I realize that in this case, social convention and my politeness is providing a cover for this dude to impinge on my boundaries; he has just enough plausible deniability in this situation that I don’t have any easy out without making a fuss.

    Again, I realize my example supports the opposite of what I have been saying. It would help if more rigidly defined rules of good manners came back because that in itself would help to define and enforce boundaries so that everyone is on the same page. I particularly like the rule that men should not initiate contact with women in social settings. It should be up to the woman to decide whether to initiate a handshake or a hug or a peck on the cheek.

  58. Donna L
    Donna L December 22, 2011 at 11:57 am |

    Laurie: Or what about last weekend when I went to my boss’s holiday party and he and his wife both hugged me in greeting as I came in — how are they to know I wouldn’t want to be hugged when hugs on such occasions are a standard greeting, and how do I decline the hug politely? Obviously if I drew back and simply offered my hand, it would be rude for them to continue with the hug, but my actions would also have been ungracious, perhaps even unkind.

    I’m surprised. I don’t know what kind of work you do, but I can’t even imagine my boss of the last 16 years trying to hug me (or any other person from my office) in any setting, holiday party or otherwise. I would think of it as totally weird and entirely inappropriate, and verging on harassment. If I were friendly with him outside work it might be different, of course, but it’s equally difficult for me to imagine being that friendly with someone I work for.

    If I’m ever in a social setting where people appear to be hugging each other on arrival or departure, and it’s someone I have no desire to hug, I don’t generally find it that difficult to avoid. I either stand there with my arms at my sides as I say hello or goodbye, with a “don’t touch me” look on my face, and refuse to meet the person’s eyes, or I stick out my hand to shake. Both techniques work just fine. And if someone thinks I’m rude and standoffish and cold and so on, too bad.

  59. Kate
    Kate December 22, 2011 at 12:31 pm |

    Laurie:
    Itwouldhelpifmorerigidlydefinedrulesofgoodmannerscamebackbecausethatinitselfwouldhelptodefineandenforceboundariessothateveryoneisonthesamepage.Iparticularlyliketherulethatmenshouldnotinitiatecontactwithwomeninsocialsettings.Itshouldbeuptothewomantodecidewhethertoinitiateahandshakeorahugorapeckonthecheek.

    I don’t think there needs to be more defined rules so that everyone is on the same page since inevitably someone will be unhappy, and that makes sense since everyone is different and has different boundaries. I think that people who assert their boundaries need to be supported more, and respected. No one, absolutely no one of any gender, should feel obligated to hug or touch anyone else of any gender. It’s not about politeness or social propriety, screw social propriety that says I need to be OK with having someone touch me at any time. No. Just, no.

    You are OK with hugging people it seems you are saying (or rather, that you prefer to just hug for the sake of politeness regardless of how you really feel), and that is fine since it seems to work for you. But, it doesn’t work for me and it doesn’t work for a lot of people don’t especially kids, which is what the original article is about. And, the “more rigidly defined rules of good manners” that you seem to want to return to is what says children should hug and kiss adults in the first place.

    Essentially, everyone’s boundaries are different and if we just asked people what they wanted or were polite enough to respect when someone said “hey, I don’t feel like hugging right now, but it’s really great to see you” we would probably all be better off.

  60. going 2 anon 4 this 1
    going 2 anon 4 this 1 December 22, 2011 at 1:24 pm |

    My husband’s grandmother used to tell my husband and his brother (not sure about her other grandchildren) that their dutiful kisses hello were inadequate, and would say “Pretend I’m a beautiful woman” in the course of requesting additional or better kisses. She did this throughout their childhood and she’s done it in front of me, with them in their freaking mid-30′s.

    She once took me by the chin when I was presenting my cheek to her to be pecked, and deliberately turned my face so she could press a kiss to my lips. She said something nice as she did it, that she was so delighted I’d joined the family or something, so I eventually took the lip-kiss as a gesture (albeit a rather uncomfortable one for me) that she made for emphasis. At the time, I was unfortunately too stunned to do much of anything besides look momentarily stunned. Then my stupid people-pleasing instincts kicked in and instead of telling her whoa, that is not an okay spot to kiss me, I smiled, thanked her and moved away.

    The last time she complained about one of my brother-in-law’s hello kisses and said the “pretend I’m a beautiful woman” line, my husband shouted, so she’d be able to hear him ten feet away, “She wants you to slip her the tongue!” We all laughed, her included, but yeesh, it came from kind of an icky place. And it took him years to get to the point of saying something like that.

    It’s hard to say “his parents should have put a stop to it,” too, because even though I feel like they should have, it’s obvious my father-in-law didn’t have the luxury of learning to set healthy boundaries growing up with her, there are a bunch of horror stories about her as a mother-in-law, and she has the family reputation of being something of a steamroller, so I don’t think they were really equipped to put her on notice. And to many people I know it’s just standard operating procedure, you go hug and kiss your grandma because she’s your grandma, and it’s her due, and I doubt anyone ever prompted my in-laws to consider it differently. I doubt they’re going to appreciate my seeing it differently now that they’re the grandparents, but my hope is that after the initial “Hey, what?!!” reaction, they will.

    Even if my in-laws take it well, I know some of my partner’s extended family is going to put criticism and pressure out there if our child doesn’t want to hug and kiss them and we don’t obligingly prod her. Must be strong. Must not cave. Because even though it seems like a small thing, it sets such a huge precedent. And if a relative someday kisses my kid in a way zie doesn’t appreciate, I don’t want zie to react as I did, whether zie is 2 or 28.

  61. Rodeo
    Rodeo December 22, 2011 at 1:25 pm |

    I get what you’re saying Laurie, but I think the situation is different when we’re talking about kids.

    As a really short adult, when someone 2 feet taller and a hundred pounds heavier than me that I’ve never met comes toward me with open arms and demands a hug, I’m either going to freak the fuck out or freeze completely and wait for it to end. I can’t imagine kids see it much differently.

  62. Max
    Max December 22, 2011 at 1:25 pm |

    I understand where people are coming from on an etiquette standpoint, however, someone should not have to go along with touching just because it is the social standard. I wonder if it would be helpful to consider some touching opt-in and some touching opt-out. Opt-in would cover more intimate touching such as playing with someone’s hair or giving them a back rub, where people should really not attempt to engage in such touching without overt consent. Opt-out could include things that function as greetings, such as hugs and handshakes. For opt-out touching, the onus would be on the person who does not wish to participate to decline. Of course, the initiating person would then have to graciously accept the decline. Ex: My relative opens her arms to hug me when she sees me. If I don’t want to hug, I can say, “I’d rather not hug right now, but it’s great to see you.” I do not think my relative should have to ask me if I want to hug before opening her arms, but I still have every right to decline.

    I have been on the receiving end of this decline when holding my hand out to shake someone’s hand. People have declined because they are sick, they have something on their hands, or they have religious prohibitions against touching people of the opposite gender. All these instances have worked out fine even if they were awkward for the few seconds it took me to realize what was going on and pull my hand back in (not everyone is super clear about declining). I think these people all had the right to decline my offer of a handshake, but I also think it was okay for me to offer my hand without verbally clearing it with them first.

  63. Laurie
    Laurie December 22, 2011 at 1:34 pm |

    I realize that I am the person out of sync with society on the whole issue of etiquette. But my experience is that rigidly defined, universally accepted rules help to preserve people’s boundaries and dignity; it makes social interaction easier and less stressful. Yes, I am required to engage in some pro forma physical contact — a handshake or a quick hug — but these are limited and ritualistic. (And, yes, it would be better if one could simply bow or smile or wave without the contact for the comfort of people who would eschew contact for any number of very good reasons.)

    As things stand now, social interaction with regard to touching is confusing and chaotic. On the one hand, I deal with well-meaning men who give uncomfortable bear hugs because they don’t know any better, and not-so-well meaning men who give unwanted shoulder massages or overly intimate social hugs because there are no universally understood rules that say not to. On the other hand, I often find myself wondering whether to hug someone or not hug someone (and honestly, I really don’t want to hug anyone). If I hug this person, will he or she feel awkward or squicked out, or is a hug in fact expected on this social occasion? Should I just shake hands or is that too formal and standoffish? Should I just wave or is that too informal and standoffish? Who can tell? And certainly, I would smilingly accept it if someone said, “I am happy to see you but I just don’t feel like a hug,” but inside I would be thinking, “Oh my God, do I smell bad? Am I creepy? Did I just make a terrific ass out of myself by trying to hug this person?” I guess I just don’t see any way to refuse a hug without explanation (such as “I’m sick” or “My religion prohibits me from touching members of the opposite sex” or some such) without making the person feel snubbed.

  64. Laurie
    Laurie December 22, 2011 at 1:38 pm |

    Rodeo, I get what you are saying. And I do think there is leeway for kids to get to the developmental stage where they can figure out the social context of hugging. No one should get too offended by anything a kid does because kids are often, sensitive, shy, still learning, etc. But eventually, they should learn the social context of hugging.

  65. J
    J December 22, 2011 at 2:04 pm |

    Laurie, you are not and should not be responsible for other people’s emotions. Nobody should be. If I’m honest and civil in indicating my boundaries, the emotions other people have in response to that are their problem, not mine. I think it unfair to expect people to ignore their own boundaries for the sake of other people’s minor embarrassment. If they feel snubbed, they can ask (respectfully) why I didn’t want to hug them, or they can just deal with it. It’s not my problem, and I don’t see why I should be forced to ignore my boundaries for the sake of someone’s ego. I don’t see how that is in actuality AT ALL fair.

    Also, how on earth is one to construct a set of artificial rules that adequately takes into account the full variety of human beings and their feelings? You mentioned an example earlier centered on gender – men shouldn’t initiate, but wait for women to do so. Well, what are the rules for agender people, people with multiple genders that shift during the day, genderqueer people, etc.? Also, what are the “acceptable outs” for these rules? Does PTSD from being raped allow one to shun all physical contact without penalty? What if it’s ‘just’ temporary discomfort? Etc.

    Frankly, any set of arbitrary rules is at bottom just a means of controlling people’s behavior. And if it’s not in favor of giving each individual the right to control how they are treated (i.e. if the rules aren’t in favor of the individual, as the ARE with the notion that the individual has a right to have hir boundaries respected, full stop), then it’s going to favor a particular group. And whoever that is, deserves a long hard look. (Meaning, it’s going to be unfair no matter what group is privileged). You say it makes social interaction easier and less stressful: no. It makes it easier and less stressful for those people whose personal boundaries align fairly closely to the rules. Those with differing boundaries are going to experience *more* stress. Stress borne, ultimately, for the sake of making things slightly more convenient for other people rather than asking them to treat me as an individual person with individual boundaries/needs. Fuck no.

  66. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. December 22, 2011 at 2:04 pm |

    @Laurie,

    Those rules do not “preserve” boundaries if they by definition violate boundries. I don’t hug. Instead I warmly and effusively greet people with an outstretched hand. I’ve rarely been considered standoffish as a consequence. As to making someone feel insecure, its not my job to sooth someone’s insecurities by letting them touch me in ways I find unpleasant. Women are often socialized to take care of everyone else’s feels at the expense of their own and I think this is one of thos situations.

  67. EG
    EG December 22, 2011 at 2:08 pm |

    I don’t get why this is such a big deal for some people. Some years ago, I met a woman who is now a very good friend. I hugged her hello the first time we met for lunch, and over lunch, she told me that she really doesn’t like hugs or physical contact; they make her uncomfortable. I apologized for hugging her–she said it was fine, I had no way of knowing–and haven’t initiated a hug or physical contact since, and somehow my feelings are unscathed. We’re even quite close! Adults who get hurt fee-fees because sometimes some people–of any age–don’t want to hug them need to grow the fuck up and realize that the world does not revolve around them.

  68. J
    J December 22, 2011 at 2:09 pm |

    @Kristen J. – WORD. Thank you.

  69. J
    J December 22, 2011 at 2:11 pm |

    @EG – Precisely.

  70. Katya
    Katya December 22, 2011 at 2:35 pm |

    On the one hand, I deal with well-meaning men who give uncomfortable bear hugs because they don’t know any better, and not-so-well meaning men who give unwanted shoulder massages or overly intimate social hugs because there are no universally understood rules that say not to.

    Um, the problem with not-well-meaning men who touch you in inappropriate ways is not that there are no universally understood rules against that. These men understand perfectly well that they are behaving in an overly familiar manner. They just don’t give a shit about your personal space. They like making you uncomfortable or asserting their control by touching you, trusting that you will submit rather than call them out.

  71. Laurie
    Laurie December 22, 2011 at 2:55 pm |

    Um, the problem with not-well-meaning men who touch you in inappropriate ways is not that there are no universally understood rules against that. These men understand perfectly well that they are behaving in an overly familiar manner. They just don’t give a shit about your personal space. They like making you uncomfortable or asserting their control by touching you, trusting that you will submit rather than call them out.

    Oh, absolutely. But the point is that they have the social cover to push those boundaries because modern manners, at least in the U.S., lack the clear definition of other times and places. I am not suggesting we bring back the Victorian era (obviously not a great time to be a feminist), but they did have clear rules of good manners, and a result of that you could count on not getting an unsolicited shoulder massage at a party. Anyone inclined to do so would know that such conduct would automatically be disapproved by everyone around him. That understanding is not quite so clear now. I think that’s because we have gotten away from the concept of having a shared understanding of proper behavior.

    Look, I am not saying there should be handshaking or hugging at all. I would be perfectly happy, and indeed would prefer, a system of bows and smiles. I would teach my child, however, that given the common understanding in our society know, he does have to shake hands or tolerate a quick hug when he greets someone or says good-bye.

  72. Katya
    Katya December 22, 2011 at 3:14 pm |

    Oh, absolutely. But the point is that they have the social cover to push those boundaries because modern manners, at least in the U.S., lack the clear definition of other times and places.

    I disagree that they have social cover. Remember when G.W. Bush gave Angela Merkel a shoulder rub at a summit? Almost everyone’s reaction was that it was a totally inappropriate thing to do, and what was he thinking? That some manners are in flux (often because they rested on sexist and classist assumptions that are being challenged) does not mean that there are no recognized boundaries. These men don’t have social cover–what they have are women who are socialized not to chastise or embarrass them, but to submit to their unwanted attentions.

  73. Suzanne B.
    Suzanne B. December 22, 2011 at 3:18 pm |

    My eight year old step-brother “Jason” doesn’t like to be hugged. He especially doesn’t like to be hugged by me, because I am female and older, and, as he so articulately put it, I have “cooties.”My step-sister, my brother, my father and his wife all try to insist that my stepbrother hugs me when he sees me. I always say “Guys, it’s fine” to which they respond some variation of “but he’s hurting your feelings” to which I go: “he’s really not. I know Jason likes me, and he doesn’t have to hug me to prove it. Hey Jason, how was your football game?”

    The problem is, my family then runs around joking that Jason will never hug me, and trying to push us together etc. So Jason basically wants to run out of the room whenever I go in. I’ve taken to walking around saying “I promise I’m not going to hug you, I’m just looking for the remote.”

    The thing is, even if Jason didn’t like me, that would be okay. He has a right. I am a reasonable twenty year old; I’m not going to be deeply hurt if an eight-year old doesn’t like me all that much. For me, Jason is a part of my family and I love him very much, but I can completely understand the notion that Jason might not have an instant connection to someone just because our parents decided to get married. You can’t force a relationship. In fact, I’m worried that the constant pushing of our parents/siblings to hug and be friends is just going to make him dislike me. ARGH!

  74. Han
    Han December 22, 2011 at 3:28 pm |

    This is such an important issue and I’m glad more people are talking about. It’s ALWAYS bothered me that we as a society are so quick to tell kids about OMG STRANGER DANGER and unwanted touching, but then we force them to hug/kiss people they don’t want to because it’s polite.

    It’s so annoying to me that this isn’t emphasized nearly as much as it should be. As a kid I had to hug/kiss all the relatives in my huge extended family, and, while I was okay with it for the most part, sometimes I just really didn’t want to at all.

    Once during one of the “good touch/bad touch” assemblies that often take place in elementary schools the woman presenting asked me explicitly if she had permission to put her hand on my shoulder. I remember thinking as a child how weird it was to me that an adult had asked ME for permission to touch my body, which I think is a pretty strong indicator of just how little children’s autonomy is recognized by society.

    And as an adult I find myself in situations with people, usually men, who INSIST on talking to me, interrupting me, following me, touching me, etc. when I’m extremely uncomfortable with it, but I still feel intense pressure to accommodate their advances some how. I think a lot of this stems from the fact that as a child (and especially as a girl) adults were more willing to sacrifice my boundaries than their feelings.

  75. Laurie
    Laurie December 22, 2011 at 3:52 pm |

    Katya, the Merkel example is a good point. But the expectations are still a lot murkier than they could be. People recognized the douchiness of Bush’s move, but it’s not as though an unsolicited shoulder rub is unthinkable in our society.

    Han, I totally agree with what you and others have been saying about the importance of supporting women and children, in particular, in the right to say no to intrusive bodily contact. But the irony is I always felt growing up that the boundaries of what I was required to tolerate were very clear. Yes, I have to shake hands or tolerate a hug in greeting or good-bye. Maybe the occasional hand on my shoulder. But other than that, I always knew from a very young age that I could tell anyone to stop touching me. In my mind the rules were clear: As a social aquaintance, you have a right to greet me with a handshake, hug and/or cheek kiss. Other than that, you are the one out of line if you presume any more, and at that point, I am not responsible for your feelings if I recoil, tell you to stop, back away, etc. In my mind, social convention supplied the boundaries that allowed me to identify what was out of line, and when it was reasonable to complain.

    Now I can already hear people saying well, it should always be considered reasonable to tell someone that you don’t want any physical contact. And I agree that such statements should be respected. But I think when the contact at issue is something that is standard and expected in society (whether a handshake or 3 kisses on the cheek in some places), then there is a burden on the person eschewing contact to make explanations and apologies. (“My religion prohibits shaking hands with men, but I am glad to meet you,” or “I’m really sorry but I have a general aversion to physical contact” is fine.) But if you recoil, send off “Please-dear-god-don’t-hug-me” vibes, or say, “I just don’t feel like hugging you right now,” when the contact at issue is standard and pro forma, then I think you ARE responsible for the other person’s feelings of offense and embarrassment because you have shot down without explanation a standard and expected social contact.

  76. Laurie
    Laurie December 22, 2011 at 3:59 pm |

    I just realized the witching hour has come for me to take off for holiday related family stuff, including a skeevy hug from my inappropriate father-in-law. I am also starting to feel a little troll-like in my comments — not a nice feeling when I am wholeheartedly in agreement with this community on most occasions. So I am not flouncing just bowing out for the time being. This has been a thought provoking thread and has caused me to think a little more about my ideas about consent, bodily autonomy, manners, and all that. I don’t know that I will ever get to the point that I would feel comfortable telling my child, “You only have to hug or shake hands in greeting when you feel like it.” To me, it’s just one of those things you have to do, like making small talk with a crashing bore at a party, writing thank you notes for gifts you hated, and telling your mother you love her new haircut even when you think it is utterly hideous.

  77. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub December 22, 2011 at 4:05 pm |

    Maybe it’s my New England background, but I don’t hug people when I first meet them and it would feel weird and fake of me to do so. I greet them politely (perhaps warmly, depending on the situation), shake their hand, and am polite. With relatives and friends, I’m always polite and kind (unless they’re being really awful, in which case I’m curt and cold and GTFO of there). But there are some people I really don’t want to hug. I’ve had my boundaries pushed and ignored way too many times to be okay with the shaming around manners! on this one. Manners extend both ways.

    I lived in Japan for awhile, and my friend’s nephew (who was around seven at the time) was terrified to be around me, let alone hug me, because he’d never seen a person of non-Asian descent before, and it freaked him out. I wasn’t going to be upset over it or figure he’d grow up to be a xenophobic jerk, I just figured he was a kid who was a little freaked by the funny looking chick at his aunt’s house. I think pushing him or shaming him would have made things worse. I just let him be and he eventually felt comfortable enough to hang out with us all.

  78. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub December 22, 2011 at 4:11 pm |

    I think that’s because we have gotten away from the concept of having a shared understanding of proper behavior.

    Laurie, I think we do have a shared understanding of proper behavior, though. There’s no rule that says we have to hug friends or acquaintances hello, but in some areas, there is a lot of social pressure and shaming focused on people who would prefer not to. And I think it gets trickier when it’s an adult relative and a reluctant child–I can’t see anyone in the Victorian era being okay with a child not wanting to hug their Uncle Harold or Grandma Prudence.

  79. Renee
    Renee December 22, 2011 at 9:03 pm |

    You’re not alone Laurie. It’s a matter of learning common curtesy and how you are supposed to behave with family. This article encourages kids to be disrespectful, dismissive and distant with adult relatives. There is a huge difference between insisting a child greet grandma with a kiss, and giving the message it’s o.k. for grandpa to feel her up. This article is mixing apples with oranges on a slippery slope. Like all slippery slope arguments, this is only reasonable when fear overrides reason. Kissing or hugging upon greeting family members is our tradition. Too bad if grandma has bad breath or Aunt Edna is handicapped and the child is repulsed. No, this message this article is sending is just wrong. We are teaching kids about good and bad touch from the time a baby is put to the breast. Kids are pretty smart. They can learn to say no and exert authority over those who try to inappropriatly touch them without parents throwing custom and good manners out the window.

  80. Annaleigh
    Annaleigh December 23, 2011 at 4:46 pm |

    Renee: This article encourages kids to be disrespectful, dismissive and distant with adult relatives. There is a huge difference between insisting a child greet grandma with a kiss, and giving the message it’s o.k. for grandpa to feel her up. This article is mixing apples with oranges on a slippery slope.

    Nope, not at all. If a child learns from her or his parents and family that the preference not to be touched by well-meaning people will not be respected, then they will wonder how the desire not to endure bad touch in a family setting will ever be respected. The person who barks at their kids to kiss grandma no matter without regard for the child will be less trustworthy when it comes time to disclose uncomfortable behavior by grandpa. Full stop. Not mention many people here have emphasized being polite to adults while respecting a child’s choice to avoid physical contact, so all this Miss Manners crap is moot.

  81. sophiefair
    sophiefair December 23, 2011 at 7:35 pm |

    My grandfather used enforced hugs and kisses to touch me inappropriately. I am not sure how my parents missed it, but there was lots of tickling and wriggling and screams, and I believe them when they tell me they thought everything was innocent. However, they did have to compel me to hug and kiss him, and that should have been a clue.

    My kids have never, and will never be forced to hug anyone, not even me. Their bodies belong to them, and they get to decide who touches them socially.

    I almost never get triggered, but reading some of the justifications for enforced hugging and kissing is making me feel sick. Which is worse, that your child is at risk of being seen as rude, or that your child is at risk for being molested? And Laurie, just because the lines were clear in YOUR head as a child, doesn’t mean that all children will feel that way, or feel safe speaking up. I didn’t tell my parents about my abuse until my grandfather was dead, and I was an adult and a mother myself. Heck, I couldn’t even bring myself to face it and name it till I was 16.

  82. Renee
    Renee December 23, 2011 at 9:18 pm |

    It is NOT acceptable that grandchildren act coldly, throw a tantrum, or otherwise avoid me when I walk in the door. I am not encouraging my grandkids to let people molest them by insisting on a kiss! Yes, it’s obligatory and I do not think it is a lie simply because of that. It’s like smiling. When you force yourself to smile, by practicing smiling, the feelings associated with smiling follow over time (behavioral psychology). This is a cultural issue not really a safety issue. My family kisses and hugs when we greet each other. When someone needs a hug, we respond without asking, “Is it o.k. if I give you a hug?” To ask such a question makes the whole experience stilted. We talk loudly and we are very demonstrative. There is nothing wrong with that! I get we are different from most of you people. I grew up in a house where we didn’t have a problem getting dressed in the same room and it was o.k. to go jump in bed with Mom and Dad if you got scared in the middle of the night, etc, We don’t have to all be the same in child rearing practices in order to get the message across that grandpa is not allowed to touch in the wrong places. Suzie will still be able to speak up and say “WTH!” even though I insist she greet me with a peck on the cheek!

  83. Annaleigh
    Annaleigh December 23, 2011 at 10:45 pm |

    Renee: It is NOT acceptable that grandchildren act coldly, throw a tantrum, or otherwise avoid me when I walk in the door. I am not encouraging my grandkids to let people molest them by insisting on a kiss! Yes, it’s obligatory and I do not think it is a lie simply because of that. It’s like smiling. When you force yourself to smile, by practicing smiling, the feelings associated with smiling follow over time (behavioral psychology). This is a cultural issue not really a safety issue. My family kisses and hugs when we greet each other. When someone needs a hug, we respond without asking, “Is it o.k. if I give you a hug?” To ask such a question makes the whole experience stilted. We talk loudly and we are very demonstrative. There is nothing wrong with that! I get we are different from most of you people. I grew up in a house where we didn’t have a problem getting dressed in the same room and it was o.k. to go jump in bed with Mom and Dad if you got scared in the middle of the night, etc, We don’t have to all be the same in child rearing practices in order to get the message across that grandpa is not allowed to touch in the wrong places. Suzie will still be able to speak up and say “WTH!” even though I insist she greet me with a peck on the cheek!

    First, no, this is not merely a culture issue. It is indeed a safety issue.

    I think you are having all-or-nothing thinking here. Just because a child is uncomfortable with physical contact, *does not* mean that the child will act cold, rude, or avoidant, nor does it mean they should, although I can understand why a child would want to be cold, rude, or avoidant if an adult is demonstrating they don’t give a shit about the child’s wishes or preferences.

    I too grew up in a loud, boisterous, and demonstrative extended family. But I was STILL sexually abused by a member of my family, and what most people saw of his behavior was kissing and hugging. I have a large, wonderful family, but they still ignored my discomfort with touch. Considering I was expected to submit to hugging and kissing regardless of my wishes, how could I expect them to notice or take action when I was especially miserable because the hugger/kisser was the family pedophile? How could I even trust them to tell them of that discomfort when I couldn’t even trust them to respect my discomfort with hugs?

    I love my rich, wonderful Mexican-American culture, but no child of mine will ever be sacrificed to its norms, nor to the expectations of etiquette.

  84. DouglasG
    DouglasG December 23, 2011 at 10:52 pm |

    [It is NOT acceptable that grandchildren act coldly, throw a tantrum, or otherwise avoid me when I walk in the door. I am not encouraging my grandkids to let people molest them by insisting on a kiss! Yes, it’s obligatory and I do not think it is a lie simply because of that. It’s like smiling. When you force yourself to smile, by practicing smiling, the feelings associated with smiling follow over time (behavioral psychology).]

    How about hiding? I got to be quite good at hiding so that it was more trouble than it was worth to find me. And, given how my relationships with the people in my life who treated me the way you treat your grandchildren developed, I dispute your claim on behalf of those who feel terrorized by such conduct. I congratulate you if you have no such young person in your life. And, by the way, how do you enforce your will when your subject is old enough and big enough to mount an effective resistance?

  85. Sandy
    Sandy December 23, 2011 at 11:21 pm |

    Renee: I am not encouraging my grandkids to let people molest them by insisting on a kiss!

    You ARE telling them that what you want them to do with their bodies is more important than their wishes regarding their bodies, that other people’s desire to be touched and kissed is more important than their desire not to kiss or be touched. Don’t you see how that sets an icky precedent for other times, other people, other situations?

    Not hugging or kissing you is not the same as throwing a tantrum or being cold. Why not leave it up to the other person in the situation, who has less power than you have? Isn’t it going to feel better to get a hug and kiss because little Suzie wants to throw her arms around you and plant one on your cheek, rather then because she’s been forced to?

  86. igglanova
    igglanova December 23, 2011 at 11:50 pm |

    I’d just like to put in a little reminder that the degree of ‘touchy-feelyness’ (for lack of a better word) people are comfortable with varies widely by culture. For example, middle class WASP-y North Americans are a lot more likely to be hands-off in their affection than, say, Latin@ people living in the same area. (Please feel free to correct me if I’m remembering that wrong; it’s been a little while since my last Soc class and my city doesn’t have that big of a Latin@ population.) So there may be a cultural bias here regarding what behaviours we are trying to define as acceptable, polite, or rude.

    I personally agree completely with the OP. However, I could see how my opinion could change if I were living in a different community. It might actually be pretty far outside accepted social norms in some places to refuse hugs or other physical displays of affection.

  87. Annaleigh
    Annaleigh December 24, 2011 at 12:01 am |

    igglanova: I’d just like to put in a little reminder that the degree of ‘touchy-feelyness’ (for lack of a better word) people are comfortable with varies widely by culture.

    Of course, but there are individual people within every culture, and some of those individuals are part of a culture that leans towards lots of physical contact, but themselves are not comfortable with it, and should be respected. No one needs to be nasty if they decline to be touched, nor should they, but they should be respected.

  88. igglanova
    igglanova December 24, 2011 at 12:06 am |

    Fair enough. But I was getting a weird and very…white, judgemental vibe from this thread that often seems to crop up during parenting discussions here. Even if you (general) disagree with me or ultimately decide to disregard what I’m saying, that’s cool, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to address this dynamic.

  89. Annaleigh
    Annaleigh December 24, 2011 at 12:27 am |

    igglanova: Fair enough. But I was getting a weird and very…white, judgemental vibe from this thread that often seems to crop up during parenting discussions here. Even if you (general) disagree with me or ultimately decide to disregard what I’m saying, that’s cool, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to address this dynamic.

    Ok, well, the reason I responded to your post is precisely because I am Chicana, grew up in a family and local culture that has a lot of physical contact, and it was very difficult for me as a shy introvert, and as a CSA survivor. Maybe some people are judging because of culture differences, but that doesn’t negate the rights of people growing up in touchy-feely cultures to decide that being touched is wrong for us and to have that respected.

  90. EG
    EG December 24, 2011 at 2:00 am |

    Renee: This article encourages kids to be disrespectful, dismissive and distant with adult relatives.

    I have no problem with that whatsoever. For one thing, not all, or even most, adults deserve respect. I see no reason why children should be forced to give it to them. Second, if you want respect, you need to model respectful behavior. When I was a kid, my father would become incensed when I would say to him “No, you shut up.” Well, you know what? It would never have crossed my mind to say such a thing if he hadn’t told me to shut up, so on his own head be it. I have never had a problem with any of the many, many children I’ve looked at being disrespectful, in part because I have never that I can remember treated any of them with disrespect.

    As for dismissive and distant? If a kid sees you once or twice a year, why shouldn’t he or she be distant? If you want a warm and close relationship with somebody, you actually have to make that relationship happen–and of course they get to decide if they want a warm and close relationship with you.

    Renee: They can learn to say no and exert authority over those who try to inappropriatly touch them without parents throwing custom and good manners out the window.

    So, tell me, at what age do they get to start deciding who touches them and how? And if they’ve always been told that they have to hug and kiss Great-Uncle Larry even if they get a funny feeling from him–i.e. don’t trust your feelings, they’re not as important as his–at what point do they get to decide that his hand has started slipping too low during that hug?

    Renee: It is NOT acceptable that grandchildren act coldly, throw a tantrum, or otherwise avoid me when I walk in the door.

    OK, so not giving you a kiss and a hug is the same thing as acting coldly, throwing a tantrum, or avoiding you? If your presence is eliciting the above behaviors, perhaps the problem is not with your grandchildren.

    You are making up strawmen. Nobody has said “If little Timmy hangs back and doesn’t want to kiss Grandma, then the appropriate thing to do is to encourage him to throw a temper tantrum and shout and scream, run away and hide under the bed, or turn his back and refuse to acknowledge her.” What people have said is “If little Timmy hangs back and doesn’t want to kiss Grandma, then the best thing to do is to say ‘It’s OK not to kiss Grandma, Timmy, but how about a big smile and a wave?’”

    Renee: When you force yourself to smile, by practicing smiling, the feelings associated with smiling follow over time (behavioral psychology).

    This is a vast oversimplification, for one thing. If you’re actually feeling depressed, walking around smiling is not going to help (Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided is a great take-down of the US cult of positive thinking and its significant downsides). If you actually don’t want to kiss someone, kissing them will not make you desire to do so. Also, kissing and smiling are not the same thing. Smiling is an expression of feeling, so your brain will interpret the muscles moving as signalling that something is worth smiling about, to a certain extent. Kissing is an interaction, and there’s no reason to think that it will make you feel loving toward the person you are unwillingly kissing. Let me assure you, I have had sex with people when I did not want to, multiple times. It did not actually make me want to have sex with them; it just made me like sex a lot less. This analogy is no less valid than yours.

    And just for the record, I grew up in a loud, boisterous, Jewish family with a lot of kissing and cuddling and hugging. I am very hands-on with kids. However, I have found that kids–especially ones that are initially shy–are far more enthusiastic about me being hands-on with them if I have demonstrated that I’m willing to keep my hands to myself until they’re cool with it (some are cooler with it far earlier than others, of course). I will also point out that I would like to teach my children not to touch other people, including me, unless they’re OK with it. When I first meet a small kid “Can I touch your hair?” is something I want to encourage (I have brightly colored hair; small girls sometimes act like touching it is the single most exciting and transcendent experience they have ever been blessed with), and when a kid touches it without asking permission, I take her hand and tell her that I know she likes my hair, but next time, I’d like her to ask before grabbing it. If you want kids to respect your boundaries (“You may not jump onto my back while I’m on my hands and knees helping you clean up the legos, even though it’s fun for you. It hurts and I don’t like it.”), you need to respect theirs (“Just like I may not kiss you when you don’t like it, even if I want to.”).

  91. Annaleigh
    Annaleigh December 24, 2011 at 2:19 am |

    EG: If you’re actually feeling depressed, walking around smiling is not going to help (Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided is a great take-down of the US cult of positive thinking and its significant downsides).

    Thank you, I thought of this too when Renee said that. Being touched when I don’t want to be doesn’t make me want more physical contact. It makes me want to withdraw and avoid physical contact even more.

  92. librarygoose
    librarygoose December 24, 2011 at 2:58 am |

    Renee: It is NOT acceptable that grandchildren act coldly, throw a tantrum, or otherwise avoid me when I walk in the door.

    Fuck you. Relatives like you made family gatherings hell for me when I was a kid. Hugs and kisses didn’t make me happier, they made the muscles in my jaw and back ache from being tense for hours. Some of my family figured out I was not touchy kid, and some got offended. But you know what? It wasn’t about them, it was about me. I was physically uncomfortable with touching people. Being around a large crowd was bad enough, but to have each one hugging me? It was fucking hell. It made my behavior deteriorate. Some kids aren’t extroverted, and touching people they don’t know well (or even really well) isn’t something they want to do. Why would you force that on someone?

  93. Henry
    Henry December 24, 2011 at 3:25 am |

    Being part French decent, I have noticed a strange phenomenon in the USA over the past decade, where some men insist on kissing women (usually younger women) on the cheek French greeting style (women they are not dating or in any relationship with), yet they only shake hands for the men…hmmm I’ve always wanted to plant a nice three kiss slobery wet spot on their cheeks in the proper tradition like my grandpa did to everyone – just so they know wanting to appear European cultured (or whatever is going through their heads – I suspect something more given our society) is not an excuse to kiss women w/o asking.

  94. DonnaL
    DonnaL December 24, 2011 at 3:34 am |

    Thank you, EG. As usual, I agree with every word. Including “and” and “the.” (To take Mary McCarthy completely out of context!)

    Children are powerless enough, and have little enough control over their lives — I remember very well the sense of powerlessness, and the sense of injustice I used to feel about it. Apart from all the other important reasons people have mentioned, is it too much to ask that they be taught that they at least have the right to decide whether and when they express physical affection? “Culture” shouldn’t have anything to do with it. I grew up in a loud and boisterous and affectionate Jewish family myself (except for my father, perhaps because he was raised in Westchester County), and my son and I are certainly that way with each other , and I adore little children as much as anyone, but being expected or forced to hug and kiss virtual strangers, related or otherwise, was never really part of my upbringing. Fortunately. And I still don’t “get” the practice as a meaningless social convention, and don’t really like it, especially when the hug is dispensed by some guy I barely know who’s a foot taller than I am and my face ends up buried in his chest. So I usually manage to disappear when people are saying goodbye and it’s time to exchange hugs! I don’t think of myself as being an unusually rude person, but if that’s how people think of me, and I go to etiquette Hell for it, so be it.

    I particularly like this:

    EG: If you’re actually feeling depressed, walking around smiling is not going to help (Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided is a great take-down of the US cult of positive thinking and its significant downsides). If you actually don’t want to kiss someone, kissing them will not make you desire to do so.

    I cannot stand, I passionately despise, so many aspects of the “positive thinking” cult. It’s not a long road from there before you get to people who believe, and are sometimes quite happy to tell you, that nobody can hurt you by their words and actions unless you allow them to, that almost any illness can be cured with the right frame of mind, and, in essence, that people are responsible for their own illnesses and it’s their own fault if they don’t get better. Ugh.

  95. Helen Huntingdon
    Helen Huntingdon December 24, 2011 at 8:07 am |

    Renee:
    ItisNOTacceptablethatgrandchildrenactcoldly,throwatantrum,orotherwiseavoidmewhenIwalkinthedoor.

    Sounds like they know you’re going to force them to do things they don’t want to.

    Seriously, why not address the question of why you’re so unpleasant to be around, if that’s how they react to you?

  96. Renee
    Renee December 24, 2011 at 6:24 pm |

    Really pushed everyone’s buttons here by being skeptical of this advice. The ad hominems haven’t changed my mind. The comment about Ehrenreich doesn’t fit. I happen to agree whole heartedly with her. She does not dismiss the technique I referred to as a way to improve inner personal attitude. I still believe this article is based on a fallacous slippery slope argument. There are a lot of personal experience testimonials here. That’s not science. In fact, the retreaded memories of past painful experiences are really the wrong thing to base any objective conclusions on; if you know anything about neurology and how memories are changed every time they are accessed. O.K., I’ll throw the article a bone, it gives victims a way to feel they are doing something positive for someone else which is a really good thing. I just don’t happen to believe this leads to positive outcomes. I still think retaining our custom of greeting is a good thing for transmittin our values of respect and care to our children. Kids have a way of sorting good and bad in their little lives. Hallitosis, grey hair, cubbiness, and even a little good natured squeezing should be tolerated by children. They need to learn selflessness and humility somewhere. What hasn’t been discussed in this thread is intention and the power of it. Parents can be instructive and sensitive as a guide, but granting an ill humored child adult sensibilities and power is foolish in so many ways.

  97. DonnaL
    DonnaL December 24, 2011 at 7:17 pm |

    Renee: Hallitosis, grey hair, cubbiness, and even a little good natured squeezing should be tolerated by children. They need to learn selflessness and humility somewhere.

    As many a priest has said to many a little boy as he good-naturedly squeezes him.

    My answer to your first sentence is a question: why do you include good-natured squeezing in your list? You’ve never attempted to explain it, other than by making a series of unsupported pronouncements of what is supposedly necessary. Do you not understand, despite all the attempts to explain it, the line between states of being and physical attributes on the one hand, and physical actions directed at children on the other hand, as things children must learn to tolerate and be “selfless and humble” about? What possible benefit to any child, or to society, is teaching them that the latter — but only up to some mysterious limit that children are apparently supposed to comprehend instinctively — is to be included with halitosis and gray hair on the “must tolerate” list? Your own very personal, culture-specific notions of “proper etiquette,” which are hardly as universally followed as you seem to think?

    You also continue to ignore the points people have made that the “either-or” dichotomy you’ve attempted to draw between tolerating unwanted hugs and kisses, and being rude and ill-humored, is absurd. There’s a very long way, and there are many intermediate and perfectly polite ways of greeting, between one and the other (wholly apart from the insulting nature of your assumption that rudeness and ill humor are children’s only reasons for not wanting to engage in the “good-natured squeezing” you love so much).

    Finally, perhaps you could do some self-education on the subject of the purported magic and power of good intentions. Hint: most children who don’t like being hugged and kissed by virtual strangers (including relatives), or by anyone, are well aware that the intentions are good. It doesn’t help them to know that, or make them suddenly “like” what they don’t like. And it isn’t your place to tell anyone, even your own grandchildren, that they “must” like it.

  98. sophiefair
    sophiefair December 24, 2011 at 8:50 pm |

    Renee, you clearly know fuck-all about the process of “grooming”, and really the condescending “bone” you are throwing to those of us who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse is just vile. I wanted to assume good faith on your part before your last comment, but that really made me question your intentions. I don’t need some article on the Internet Patting me on the head and making me feel better. I had to do a fuck-ton of reading and work to process what happened to me, to know that I could parent effectively. I know that one of the ways that pedophiles groom their victims is by steadily encroaching on their boundaries. And I will not put my children at risk by putting into question their right to those boundaries.

    I insist that people respect my kids’ physical boundaries because I have no way of knowing that every family member, or every honorary family member, is safe. I sincerely hope they are. But I know that everyone thought my pedophile grandfather was the most awesome guy, and I was the super-mouthy kid that everyone would have assumed would tell if someone was abusing me.

    We do kids no service when we teach them to ignore their instincts, we do them real harm when we override those instincts because we are worried that others will think them rude. Social conventions have been covers for all kinds of evil done to women and children. There are so many ways to teach kids respect and manners that don’t involve allowing all and sundry to grab them.

    Amazingly, given my over-reactions and oversensitivity, I have lovely, strong, polite teenage daughters. One is very physically demonstrative, and one is not. But no one has ever called them rude…

  99. Annaleigh
    Annaleigh December 24, 2011 at 8:55 pm |

    Amen sophiefair, amen. Co-signed absolutely.

  100. EG
    EG December 24, 2011 at 11:44 pm |

    Renee: That’s not science. In fact, the retreaded memories of past painful experiences are really the wrong thing to base any objective conclusions on; if you know anything about neurology and how memories are changed every time they are accessed.

    And if you could just direct me to the scientific study that allows you to generalize from “smiling can make you feel somewhat better sometimes” to “it’s a good idea to kiss someone you don’t want to kiss”? Because I’m failing to see the inherent connection.

    Renee: I still think retaining our custom of greeting is a good thing for transmittin our values of respect and care to our children. Kids have a way of sorting good and bad in their little lives. Hallitosis, grey hair, cubbiness, and even a little good natured squeezing should be tolerated by children. They need to learn selflessness and humility somewhere.

    My values of respect and care include applying respect and care to children. Children’s lives are not “little”–they are quite full-sized to the people living them, and their aversions are no less truly felt than my own. And I do not consider selflessness and humility virtues; rather, I consider them “ideals” held up by those in power in order to manipulate those over whom they have power into doing what they want. If they were virtues, I don’t see why the onus should be on the kid. Why shouldn’t adults exercise a little selflessness and humility, and remember that their desire to squeeze a cute kid isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things, or that by quelling their disappointment, they’re reinforcing a child’s sense of boundaries and self-respect? Aren’t adults supposed to be the more mature ones? Shouldn’t we be the ones to exercise these supposed virtues?

    Renee: granting an ill humored child adult sensibilities and power is foolish in so many ways.

    This is you being dismissive and condescending about children’s desires and boundaries again. Why on earth would you assume that a child who doesn’t want to hug or kiss you is “ill-natured”? Is that really the only reason you can imagine that child might not feel like hugging and kissing?

  101. DonnaL
    DonnaL December 25, 2011 at 12:05 am |

    EG: Children’s lives are not “little”–they are quite full-sized to the people living them, and their aversions are no less truly felt than my own

    Thank you. I will never, ever understand why so many adults seem to find it so easy to forget that, and to forget what it actually feels like to be a child.

  102. Issa
    Issa December 25, 2011 at 2:00 pm |

    It’s like smiling. When you force yourself to smile, by practicing smiling, the feelings associated with smiling follow over time (behavioral psychology).

    Really? That sounds like, “I’m going to touch you until you like it.” Disturbing.

  103. Audrey
    Audrey December 25, 2011 at 2:24 pm |

    EG:
    If you want a warm and close relationship with somebody, you actually have to make that relationship happen–and of course they get to decide if they want a warm and close relationship with you.

    This. Thank you.

    I am a very demonstrative person. I love embracing, smelling, touching, and holding most of my close friends who enjoy or at least amusedly tolerate it — I respect my friends’ boundaries. But touching people is an intimate, close thing. I don’t understand the tendency or desire in our society to show physical affection between people who aren’t close. Do people wish that they were closer with others (distant relatives, grandchildren, etc.), and so use affection to make themselves feel as if they were? It really don’t like — it skeeves me out — and I’d prefer that people who don’t know me — regardless of our consanguinity — would stick to waves and perhaps handshakes.

  104. Audrey
    Audrey December 25, 2011 at 2:34 pm |

    Renee:
    Like all slippery slope arguments, this is only reasonable when fear overrides reason. Kissing or hugging upon greeting family members is our tradition.

    I fail to understand why reason would entitle you to physical affection from anyone who doesn’t want to touch you. This isn’t reason; this is sick and pathetic.

  105. DouglasG
    DouglasG December 25, 2011 at 3:35 pm |

    Ms Donna, I envy your son his good fortune in the parental lot.

  106. Jackie
    Jackie December 29, 2011 at 11:46 pm |

    Meredith L your dad doesn’t sound that weird, menhave enjoyed butt and fart jokes since probably forever. Heard of Ren & Stimpy?

  107. Jessica Metaneira
    Jessica Metaneira December 31, 2011 at 12:31 pm |

    I was one of those. I used to hate being touched by anyone but especially a lot of adults because it felt less like affection and more of a display of power. I’ve also got mild Asperger’s symptoms, though I couldn’t tell you if I have the fullblooded thing – one of which is aversion to touch.

    I still get pissed off when I remember being called rude and misbehaved because I refused hugs and other touch from adults I didn’t know. Yet if I were the one randomly touching people that would be considered very inappropriate.

    I don’t hug kids. If they want to actively come up and hug me I won’t run away, but I don’t try and hug them.

    I go for handshakes rather than hugs, usually, unless I know someone very well. Shaking hands isn’t invasive the way someone coming up and hugging you is.

  108. Jessica Metaneira
    Jessica Metaneira December 31, 2011 at 12:32 pm |

    Good for all those parents who support their kid’s bodily autonomy.

    My mom, to her credit, explained to me that it’s ok to refuse touch but you should do so politely eg. ‘Excuse me, but I only like people I know well touching me’.

    It sucked when everyone else thought it was ok to randomly grab me, though.

  109. Jessica Metaneira
    Jessica Metaneira December 31, 2011 at 12:36 pm |

    Renee:

    It is NOT acceptable that grandchildren act coldly, throw a tantrum, or otherwise avoid me when I walk in the door. I am not encouraging my grandkids to let people molest them by insisting on a kiss!

    It’s not acceptable to insist on a kiss.

    You are not obliged to kiss anyone. Why should they be?

  110. Norma
    Norma December 31, 2011 at 1:13 pm |

    Renee:

    She does not dismiss the technique I referred to as a way to improve inner personal attitude.

    You’re really misunderstanding those studies. They demonstrate feedback loops between facial expressions and emotion; they have nothing to do with interaction between people.

    In fact, the retreaded memories of past painful experiences are really the wrong thing to base any objective conclusions on; if you know anything about neurology and how memories are changed every time they are accessed.

    Huh? You’re basing your argument that kids should be forced to be physically intimate with adults largely on *your* own memories of being cool with intimacy/nakedness in your family.

  111. Jessica Metaneira
    Jessica Metaneira December 31, 2011 at 6:36 pm |

    Memories can change subtly but this does not mean the original memory was not negative and painful.

    Kids at the age they are can tell you that being forced to touch people is distressing. Why not….*gasp* listen to them?

  112. Jessica Metaneira
    Jessica Metaneira January 1, 2012 at 1:10 pm |

    Renee, do you honestly think respecting a child’s wish not to have to hug and kiss people is giving them adult powers? Dear god, use some logic.

    Adult powers would be if we gave them the right to vote, to have bank accounts, etc. Obviously we do not do any of these things. If you want children to learn respect and humility then you need to actually show it yourself otherwise all you are actually teaching them is that people bigger and stronger than you make all the rules and you have no power at all.

    What makes you think it acceptable to distress a child so you can have a hug or kiss?

  113. j.
    j. January 5, 2012 at 7:29 am |

    Wow. Nobody said anything to Emily Guy Birken, whose main reaction to her disabled aunt was not sympathy but revulsion?

    I’m not for making kids hug or kiss people they don’t want to, either, but doesn’t sound to me like Emily learned any damned empathy for PwD there.

  114. EG
    EG January 5, 2012 at 10:26 am |

    I don’t see revulsion. She said the aunt was not pleasant to be around in a purely physical sense, because her family could/did not take as good care of her as would have been ideal. She didn’t say anything about how she feels about the aunt now, which is reasonable because it wasn’t relevant to the topic.

  115. Andie
    Andie January 5, 2012 at 10:52 am |

    I don’t see revulsion. She said the aunt was not pleasant to be around in a purely physical sense, because her family could/did not take as good care of her as would have been ideal. She didn’t say anything about how she feels about the aunt now, which is reasonable because it wasn’t relevant to the topic.

    That’s how I read it as well… I have had relatives like this as well. There are people who, for random example, have severe body odor issues, which might make it unpleasant to be in their physical proximity.. Mentioning this in a relevant post (such as one about why a kid might not want to hug a relative) is not such a horrible thing, if it’s handled respectfully.

    It’s not like she was going.. “I didn’t like hugging this aunt because OMG GROSS!!”

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