As the barrage of explosive sexual harassment allegations continues against men in Hollywood, the media and Capitol Hill, Girl Scouts of USA is reminding parents that questions of consent apply to children too.
In a holiday-themed blog post gaining attention this week, the organization, which counts 1.8 million young girls as members, reminded parents to not “force” their daughters to hug or kiss relatives if they don’t want to. Doing so, read the post — which is entitled “She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays” — could give kids the “wrong idea about consent and physical affection.”
“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,” the post, first published online on Nov. 1, read.
“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,” it continued.
The blog post has been met with controversy on social media with some people accusing the Girl Scouts of sexualizing innocent family interactions and gestures. Many others, however, have lauded the organization for addressing the important issue of teaching children from a young age about their bodies and consent.
“Making [children of all genders] share their bodies with other people is not something we should be forcing,” pediatrics psychologist and mom Jillian Childres told the Tampa Bay Times in reaction to the blog post.
Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald said in a statement that though the “notion of consent may seem very grown-up and like something that doesn’t pertain to children ... the lessons girls learn when they’re young about setting physical boundaries and expecting them to be respected last a lifetime and can influence how she feels about herself and her body as she gets older.”
Girl Scouts told HuffPost on Wednesday that the blog post had been published in direct response to “recent news stories about sexual harassment.”
“Given our expertise in healthy relationship development for girls ... we are proud to provide girls’ parents and caregivers with age-appropriate guidance to use when discussing this sensitive matter and other challenging topics, should they wish to do so,” said a rep for the organization.
In the blog post, the Girl Scouts said that caregivers should teach children alternatives of showing affection ― such as giving high-fives or “air kisses” ― so kids can choose the expression most comfortable to them.
“Give your girl the space to decide when and how she wants to show affection ... Of course, this doesn’t give her license to be rude! There are many other ways to show appreciation, thankfulness, and love that don’t require physical contact,” the post reads.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), one in nine girls under the age of 18 experiences sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult, a vast majority of whom are family members. About 90 percent of child sex abuse cases involve a parent or a relative, said RAINN.