Children, boys or girls, shouldn't have to hug everyone in their family and should have complete control over their own personal space. How controversial! When you look at a child as a fully actualized human being from birth, with intrinsic worth equal to that of your own, you realize that they are not your trophy nor your puppet. They are not something or someone from which you should derive pride or your own self worth, and they are not there to put on a show or make other people feel good about themselves.
Children are on this planet to do their own soul's work: To Be, Do, and Have a life experience as a Divine Soul in a human body - living out their individualized existence to their own magical fullness.
Children have long been told and expected to hug family members to show love and respect, but many people who live consciously think this may not be the most effective, nor the healthiest practice. My husband and I have never made our daughter hug family members. We have always asked her if she wanted to give hugs (maybe even nudged or encouraged her to do so), if she felt right. But I recently realized that we still went with the flow of normalcy because while we never forced her to hug people, we didn't explicitly tell her she had the right to say no. I feel some regret about that now, as I have actually never felt right about her being expected to hug "on command."
Now that she is getting older, I am thinking more in terms of how she views the autonomy of her own body in terms of her future sexuality. I am thinking of the high incidence of peer-to-peer inappropriate touch, and of adult-on-child sexual molestation. As she enters adolescence, these possibilities have weighed heavily on my mind; and because I know how powerfully creative thoughts are, I don't want to concentrate on them, but I don't want to hide my head in the sand either. So I have found myself thinking even more than before about how to drive home, to her, the significance and the magnitude of her domain over her own body.
One of the things we have discussed over the past year is that she is never obligated to hug anyone, no matter who it is, ever. We have empowered her to say, "I'm too old for hugs!" Or "can I give you a high five today?" Or, "I'm sorry I'm not in the mood for a hug today." And we hope that the adults in her life will understand and respect her autonomy, and not take it personally. It's not that we think the family members or close friends will touch her inappropriately, at all. It's more about teaching her to feel confident in controlling who touches, and doesn't touch, her body. It's about feeling safe in saying, "No!" "Stop!" "Don't" in very assertive and non-threatening ways. It is also about her learning to distinguish between when she wants to be touched by others, and when she doesn't, so that she can carry that into adulthood. It should only take one "no" and it's hard to have to say it over and over. I want to teach people to empower their kids in all aspects, but especially in this one, so they know that they can say "no" over and over, louder and louder until someone listens because their body is their own property.
The hope is that this will enable her to be an assertive person in her adolescent, teenage, and adult years so that if she is ever confronted with inappropriate touch she will know how to extricate herself and get help, reach out to me, my husband, or another trusted adult, without hesitation.
However, instead of teaching our children to be safe in this way, it seems that we have gone the opposite way. We have outlawed and demonized any type of hugging and affectionate touch in schools for fear that it will all lead to sexual encounters (or the perception thereof). When in fact, if we taught children the proper words for their private body parts, (penis, vagina, urethra, breasts, anus) like we teach them the other body parts (arm, foot, and hand) and actually talked to them frankly about what parts are off limits for other people to touch unless it is in a medical exam or in bathing, children might be equipped to handle inappropriate situations. They might be better armed to come to us if an adult starts trying to groom them toward molestation. They might be able to pick up on subtle cues of manipulation. They might even feel more free to quickly say "stop" and scream for help if someone acts inappropriately toward them in a public place. In short, they could learn to understand, embrace, and moderate for themselves appropriate, loving, and healthful touch among their peers and with adults.
One things we have asked our daughter to practice, in case she is ever approached in public is to scream, "this is not my mommy/daddy!" to draw attention to herself, no matter where she is. This is different than, "Help!" because it clearly states that she needs help and why, leaving nothing to doubt.
Let me be clear that this is in no way blaming victims for their molestation or rape because they were not being assertive enough. Victims are not to blame. Perpetrators prey on victims. This is about equipping children to read intentions of others, to deal with situations efficiently, to garner the most helpful attention they can, and to extricate themselves as quickly as possible, should danger arise.
Will you join me in giving your children permission to determine who they hug and who they don't? Will you empower your child to learn from a young age how to have sovereignty over their own personal space? Will you join me in preparing your child, without fear, but with self-confidence and respect to know how to handle themselves if scary situations arise, in order to gather help in the quickest way possible?
Removing these worries leaves them to do the work of their soul, living their fullest, carefree life; and that's so important!
Emily A. Filmore is the author of the With My Child series of children's books about family bonding. Withmychildseries.com. She is the co-author of Conversations with God for Parents with Neale Donald Walsch and Laurie Lankins Farley. (Rainbow Ridge, 2015). And the author of The Marvelous Transformation: Living Well with Autoimmune Disease about her experiences with chronic illness. (Central Recovery Press 2015).