The Girl Scouts organization has a message for parents this holiday season. Do not make your child hug anyone, not even relatives.
At a time when issues of sexual harassment and consent are in the news the Girl Scouts are asking parents to start a conversation with their children.
What about here in Hawaii, where in many cultures, physical contact is a part of everyday life?
Dr. Allana Coffee says giving young girls and boys a voice in the conversation of consent is a good thing. “It’s validating for the little girls or the teens to know that somebody is saying there’s a limit and a barrier and you have a right to assert what you’re comfortable or not comfortable with.”
But she says in Hawaii with the role physical affection has in many cultures, the conversation becomes more complicated. “I don’t think it applies everywhere. We live in a culture where people are very physically affectionate it’s considered a sign of both affection and respect so I think here the conversation is a little different but it might be across the nation.”
Part of the Girl Scouts post reads, “Give your girl the space to decide when and how she wants to show affection…but if your daughter is reticent, don’t force her…telling your child that she owes someone a hug either just because she hasn’t seen this person in a while…or because they gave her a gift can set the stage for her questioning whether she “owes” another person any type of physical affection.”
Coffee, adds it can help if there’s an open dialogue about what kids are comfortable with, and with who. “Sometimes it’s very difficult for kids to discuss because it might be a close family member a close relative that they are not comfortable with. As long as we create a safe space for them to come and tell someone what they are thinking or feeling without getting in trouble that’s really valuable.”
She also says kids consume news just like adults, so with sexual harrassment a being a major headline recently, it’s an opportunity for parents to get in front of the message. “It’s not such a black-and-white issue it’s very gray, what’s comfortable and not comfortable, what’s appropriate and not appropriate touch. So these kinds of conversations with whole families can clarify what’s ok and what’s not ok for their kids.”