06/28/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

New York Times Baffled By Teenagers Hugging

It happens to all of us, at one time or another. You're out there, just living your life. And then you suddenly catch a glimpse of the New York Times, and you remember: "My God! The Thursday Styles section truly is a monument to vapidity!" To wit: children. They are hugging. A lot. And NOBODY REALLY KNOWS WHY! It's the movie that M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening should have been! NAIL THIS STORY, TIMES!

Girls embracing girls, girls embracing boys, boys embracing each other -- the hug has become the favorite social greeting when teenagers meet or part these days. Teachers joke about "one hour" and "six hour" hugs, saying that students hug one another all day as if they were separated for the entire summer.

A measure of how rapidly the ritual is spreading is that some students complain of peer pressure to hug to fit in. And schools from Hillsdale, N.J., to Bend, Ore., wary in a litigious era about sexual harassment or improper touching -- or citing hallway clogging and late arrivals to class -- have banned hugging or imposed a three-second rule.

Parents, who grew up in a generation more likely to use the handshake, the low-five or the high-five, are often baffled by the close physical contact. "It's a wordless custom, from what I've observed," wrote Beth J. Harpaz, the mother of two boys, 11 and 16, and a parenting columnist for The Associated Press, in a new book, "13 Is the New 18."

"And there doesn't seem to be any other overt way in which they acknowledge knowing each other," she continued, describing the scene at her older son's school in Manhattan. "No hi, no smile, no wave, no high-five -- just the hug. Witnessing this interaction always makes me feel like I am a tourist in a country where I do not know the customs and cannot speak the language."

I've long thought the idea that paying the New York Times for online content was absurd. Naturally, this changes everything.

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