NEW YORK — Telling your child to show physical affection — even to relatives, even during the holidays — can cause young girls to misunderstand consent, the Girl Scouts warn parents.
Ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, the Girl Scouts offered the following message, in part:
Have you ever insisted, “Uncle just got here—go give him a big hug!” or “Auntie gave you that nice toy, go give her a kiss,” when you were worried your child might not offer affection on her own? If yes, you might want to reconsider the urge to do that in the future.
Think of it this way, telling your child that she owes someone a hug either just because she hasn’t seen this person in a while or because they gave her a gift can set the stage for her questioning whether she “owes” another person any type of physical affection when they’ve bought her dinner or done something else seemingly nice for her later in life.
Girls, naturally, become women, and a lifetime of being told they “owe” people aspects of their body can cause confusion later in life.
“The notion of consent may seem very grown-up and like something that doesn’t pertain to children,” said Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, “but the lessons girls learn when they’re young about setting physical boundaries and expecting them to be respected last a lifetime.”
While influencing the way girls view and feel about their own bodies later in life, there is a reason to teach them about consent earlier than later.
“Sadly, we know that some adults prey on children, and teaching your daughter about consent early on can help her understand her rights, know when lines are being crossed, and when to go to you for help,” Archibald said.
The Girl Scouts advise girls be given the “space” to decide how and when she want to show affection, and to whom.
Affection does not need to be discouraged, but rather allowed to form organically for each individual.
Choosing not to hug a relative does not mean the child is rude, and should not give her license to be rude, Girl Scouts add.
“Saying how much she’s missed someone or thank you with a smile, a high-five, or even an air kiss are all ways she can express herself, and it’s important that she knows she gets to choose which feels most comfortable to her,” the Girl Scouts state.