Friday, June 22, 2012

"I don't own my child's body" article

CNN article, posted June 20: I don't own my child's body


The author writes about how her 4-year-old daughter is allowed to say no to a relative who wants a hug or kiss.  "I would like you to hug Grandma, but I won't make you do it."  Because if we force children to give physical affection, it teaches them that their bodies do not belong to them.  It teaches them to use their bodies to please other people.  This could lead to sexual abuse, maybe in the form of child predators, maybe in the form of a boyfriend saying "If you love me, you'll have sex with me."

And no, it's not because she's a bad parent and she's teaching her daughter to be rude.  Her daughter will always offer a handshake or high-five.  Being polite isn't the same thing as allowing everyone access to your body.


I love this and I totally agree- kids shouldn't be forced to hug or kiss anyone, even if it's Grandma.  When the author talks about how it could lead to sexual abuse if you don't allow your kids to say no to little innocent things like hugs from relatives- well, I don't know if that connection is valid or not, but it doesn't matter.  Everyone is in charge of their own body, and something doesn't have to be sexual in order to be a not-okay violation of someone's space.

This is something I personally wonder about how to manage, because for a long time I've had a policy of not hugging guys.  And I have a lot of reasons for this, and they're good reasons, and I know it's the right policy for me.  But what do I do when some guy who's my friend tries to give me a hug, just to say hi or whatever?

I feel like, I don't want to make a big deal out of it, because it's not like they did anything wrong.  Some people are fine with being hugged, and some people aren't, and they just didn't realize I was in the second category.  I'm always afraid if I say something, I'll be making too much of a big deal out of it, or I'll have to explain why, etc.

I wonder about the ways people might respond to a child refusing to give them a hug.  People are going to say "why are you making such a big deal out of it?"  My response would be to ask them why they're making such a big deal out of it.  Why is it more weird to think that acquaintances do NOT have a right to touch me than to think that they do?

Maybe forcing kids to give the relatives a kiss makes them more vulnerable to sexual abuse later, maybe not.  It doesn't matter.  If the kid doesn't want to kiss their aunt, for any reason at all, they shouldn't have to.  Who says the only valid reason to not allow someone to touch you is something related to sex?

So, what do you think?  Agree with me, or do you think it's rude for a child to not kiss their uncles?  How to deal with people who think it's unreasonable to refuse to hug them?  Is there a difference between a child and an adult in regard to the rights they have over their own body?


  1. Coming from a dutch mennonite background (at least on one branch of the family) I was definitely forced to hug (and kiss) random extended family members. I do remember being uncomfortable with it and now when I read articles and blog posts like yours I wish my parents had given me the freedom to refuse. Particularly since I later learned that there *were* multiple incidents of molestation in my extended family! :( But I think that option wasn't even an idea in those days/that age/that cultural background. Nobody would have thought of it.

    If I have kids someday I will definitely be going the body autonomy route.

    1. Wow, yeah, thanks for your comment. I agree.

  2. It's not rude for a child to refuse that.

    But as to hugging - usually when somebody goes to hug another person, they get some kind of eye contact or reciprocal motion to assure themselves that the hug is welcome. And some people just aren't the hugging kind. Nothing wrong with that.

    I worked, briefly, with some folks from Brazil. The men wanted to kiss me on the cheek when we met. I understand that in that culture it's totally accepted, but that is not my culture and it seemed overly familiar to me. So I made a habit of stepping back and putting my hand out to shake, and it didn't seem to hurt their feelings.

    OTOH I once accidentally kind of shamed a devout Muslim into shaking my hand ... felt bad about it when I realized what I'd done. He was too nice to not do it.

    1. Thanks for bringing up the "reciprocal motion" thing- there usually is body language to indicate whether the recipient is okay with giving a hug. Definitely.

  3. I'll give my child the option to refuse a hug if she doesn't want to - kids have usually got good instincts as to who they feel comfortable with for whatever reason and if that's how they feel then I don't think it's great to force them to be physically affectionate.
    As for me, I am NOT a 'hug person; I think I just like my personal space.

  4. My daughter is 15 now and I raised her up to know that her body belongs to her. I never forced her to kiss or hug anyone she didn't feel comfortable doing that with, no matter what were her reasons. No questions asked. I definitely agree one hundred percent with the article. I would have liked to feel more empowered about my own body when I was a kid. It would have prevented many of the situations I experienced. Boys are just as susceptible to sexual abuse as girls are, and for that reason I empower my sons as well. I am very frank when I tell them, "It's YOUR body and you never have to let anyone touch it or give or receive kisses with anyone if you don't want to." The same applies for Showing body parts or a grownup making you touch them. You can never be too cautious when it comes to protecting your children from sexual abuse.

    1. Wow that policy makes a lot of sense. I don't have kids so I haven't thought about this kind of stuff before- I'm happy to see a lot of people agreeing that yes, each person (even kids) owns their own body.