By Nick Allen
A row over political correctness erupted as the The Girl Scouts of America warned parents not to encourage their daughters to hug relatives who give them presents at Christmas.
The organisation suggested that, if young girls were told to hug aunts and uncles, they might later in life feel they “owed” physical affection to someone who bought them dinner.
One expert accused the group, which has 1.8 million members, of risking “a mass hysteria about physical contact with loved ones”.
The Girl Scouts’ advice to parents was titled “Reminder: She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays”.
It was was issued partly in response to revelations and allegations about sexual misconduct by a series of high profile men in politics, entertainment, and the media.
Instead of hugs it suggested parents should tell their daughters they could thank relatives with a smile or an air kiss.
In a statement the organisation said: “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 have bought her dinner, or done something else seemingly nice, for her later in life.”
It added: “There are many other ways to show appreciation, thankfulness, and love that don’t require physical contact.
“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.”
Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, a developmental psychologist for the Girl Scouts of America, said many children would naturally want to hug and kiss family members, friends, and neighbours, but those who were reticent should not be made to do so.
She added: “The notion of consent may seem very grown-up, and like something that doesn’t pertain to children, but the lessons girls learn when they’re young about setting physical boundaries, and expecting them to be respected, last a lifetime.”
However, Dr Janet Taylor, a New York psychiatrist, warned against “mass hysteria” and said it was important not to make children “afraid of who they should not be afraid of”.
She told ABC News: “I just caution parents about limiting family attachment and that kind of loving space that a lot of time only happens at the holidays.”
Actress Amber Tamblyn, who has campaigned against sexual harassment in Hollywood, backed the Girl Scouts.
She said on Twitter: “Our daughters owe no one hugs, smiles or kisses and we should start teaching them this young.”
But some parents reacted angrily on social media.
One said: “This is absolutely ridiculous. I MAKE my kids hug and kiss family members and close friends of the family when we say hello and goodbye!.It’s a sign of respect!!”
In statement the Girl Scouts of America said: “In light of recent news stories about sexual harassment we are proud to provide girls’ parents and caregivers with age-appropriate guidance.”