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Inappropriate touching: Forcing children to kiss relatives IS harmful (so there!)

9 January, 2014

In this post I am going to argue that inappropriate touching is any touching that is not consented to by the child. In my work for a Child Abuse Prevention charity I have become absolutely convinced that even “harmless” hello and goodbye hugs when forced upon a child make up inappropriate touching. If we want our children to get their heads around inappropriate touching than we need to give them the space to say YES or NO to even our kindest relatives who would like to show physical affection.

It is funny when someone says something in the newspaper that is clearly 100% reasonable and then you read the comments on it and realise that 100% of the rest of humankind think it is unreasonable.

Today it was Lucy Emmerson, of the Sex Education Forum, who suggested that children shouldn’t be forced to kiss relatives as it’s important for children to learn that their bodies are their own.

I read the article and thought “Yep, er, no brainer. If we respect a child’s body, they will learn to respect it and will understand when someone isn’t respecting it. Always good to reiterate it.” And then, in a blatant and outrageous breaking of the Number One Rule for Calm Internet Use, scrolled through the comments and I was completely gobsmacked.

People were SPITTING TACKS! Breathing fire! Doing voodoo! They absolutely HATED what Lucy had to say!

I took a few breaths and tried to read the comments with my understanding face on. Fortunately for me, I pay £3 a month for the privilege of having my own wee piece of the internet and can answer some of the tack-spitting objections leisurely right here, in the safe knowledge they will never see it and do voodoo on me, but I will still have it off my chest:

“More socialist drivel!”
HARHAHAHAHAHA *falls about* I love how right-wingers blame everything they disagree with on socialism! (What? Pot? Kettle? Black? But everything rubbish in the world IS Thatcher’s fault!) But you know what? This dude has a point. The way we treat children DOES have an enormous impact on society and its structures. Forcing children to do something they don’t want to do just to fit into societal rituals WILL likely create a generation of people who nod along with the current unfair, Capitalist system. (So, if you’d like your children to be discerning adults that listen to their hearts and don’t blithely follow authority then consider how you should treat them now, and whether that involves forcing them to kiss Aunty Vernon goodbye.)

“Not hugging someone who wants a hug is offensive!”
People are worried that not simply letting Aunty Vernon give their toddler a smooch might offend Aunty Vernon and the rest of the family. It is hard, offending family members. But what is more important to you- hurting Aunty Vernon’s feelings or your child’s? You can always make up for it by giving Aunty an extra enormous hug from your own full heart.

(Also, notice how similar to the “I was too embarrassed to say no!” we often hear about teenage peer pressue?)


Plus, if your children swear as much as mine Aunty Vernon not getting a kiss is the least of your families worries. ARHAHAHA.

“Children need physical touch!”
They do. It is vital! As many hugs and kisses as they like! (As THEY LIKE.) Ramona loves to cuddle her grandparents. She climbs onto their laps all the time and loves them dearly. But she finds goodbyes really hard and doesn’t enjoy those goodbye kisses. By not forcing them to happen we are simply respecting her body and emotions.

Even if you are not entirely convinced that building a culture of consent/ and lack of a culture of consent begins in our very youngest children (I am convinced, don’t know if you picked that up?) surely we can all agree that children should quite simply be treated with the respect with which we treat adults? I would never, ever in a million years try and coerce another adult to do something physical against his wishes and I just don’t think children should be coerced in this way either.

It’s the Golden Rule- and it applies to children too.

“This teaches kids that all adults are predators!”
Noone is saying to the child “Don’t let adults hug or kiss you- they are all devils!” – in fact, for small children it’s unlikely sinister stuff has come up at all as a topic of conversation. Adults can simply let their child decline a cuddle, if they don’t feel like it. There is time and space to talk about consent and the fact that there are bad people out there- but that is a good conversation to have sensitively at the right time. What this does teach is that a child’s body is their own body, providing a firm foundation for self respecting body autonomy.

I really do want to say to people who worry about this: People who allow body autonomy in their children are not saying you are a predator. They are not suspicious people. They are not writing off men as monsters. We are helping our children to trust themselves and to be strong within themselves.

“If we let them choose who they kiss and hug, where does it stop?!”
Ah, well, EXACTLY. And, to end on a light note, there’s the beauty of this body autonomy thing – it also applies to things like wiping snot from your kid’s nose. So if you follow it all the way through your kid will be wiping their own nose, very badly, and Aunty Vernon won’t even WANT a hug from your crunchy-bogey faced kid. That is one way we get around it.

Please help your child understand that THEY and only THEY get to say who touches thier body. Anything less than full consent = inappropriate touching.

Do you enforce goodbye kisses and cuddles? What made you realise you were going to let your child decide how to greet/ farewell people? What would some of your answers be to these objections?

PS- If you want to find out more about building a culture of consent even with babies read this fantastic article by His Feminist Mama.

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