While a big hug may be a nice way to greet a relative, the Girl Scouts of the USA is warning parents against insisting their children do so. A post on their website reads:
“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.”
Crystal Frazier, a Psychologist at UT Health Northeast, says forced physical contact can have a negative impact on children down the line.
"It will make you feel like there's something wrong with you perhaps if you don't hug someone,” says Frazier. “It could make you feel obligated to hug them, or it can make you hug someone even though it's bad."
Former Girl Scout Stephanie Barnett says she's glad the organization is warning parents about the issue.
"Everyone needs to be comfortable with who they are and how they interact with other people," says Barnett.
The Girl Scouts say their reason for offering the advice was due in part to recent news stories about sexual harassment.
“Girls need to know that it's their body,” says Barnett. “It's their choices about what they want to do with their body."
Frazier says, parents should discuss the difference between good and bad touch with their children and serve as an example for how they should interact with others.
"If there is a family that hugs when they greet other family members, or if they are a family that shakes hands, however they greet each other, I think that's what the child should likely do," says Frazier. “But, ultimately how they choose to physically interact with the person should be up to the child and what makes them feel most comfortable.”