Overheard on CNN.com: Are you a 'huggy' person? Would you make a child hug?
Some experts advise parents not to make their children hug and kiss relatives, so children will feel in control of their bodies.
June 20th, 2012
09:00 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Are you a 'huggy' person? Would you make a child hug?

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

As the Jerry Sandusky trial moves forward, some people are talking about the roots of child molestation. Katia Hetter wrote an article about whether children should be required to hug or kiss their grandmothers, their relatives, and other people children are typically asked to embrace. Readers had varying attitudes toward such compulsory affection and any possible consequences that could result.

I don't own my child's body

Many readers were in support of letting the child have some freedom over who they hug and kiss, but others said there are lessons to be learned about manners and the way to show affection.

runabout: "Good article. I visited my cousin (who I had not seen in 10 years) and she practically forced her daughter to hug me goodbye. This kid had never seen me in her life and had now seen me for all of two hours. She didn't want to hug me. And I was OK with that. It felt weird she got forced by her Mom. I kept saying, 'It's OK, I understand ... why should she hug someone she barely knows.' Since I brought a little gift, it was appropriate that her Mom reminded her to say 'Thank You.' And I agree that a Mom should teach their kids to formally say 'Goodbye' to guests. But forcing unwanted touching? And if a older relative is offended ... tell them to get over it ... they are adults."

2sc00ps: "Um, long-lost cousin vs. grandmother is completely different. You're damn right you're going to hug the woman who gave your mother/father life so you could have life."

But what if there is something else going on with the child?

FreonP: "All of the people agreeing with the author clearly know nothing about autism or myriad other problems that can make an adult seem different or creepy to a child. They assume that a child's instincts are correct and that no child is ever controlling or cruel toward adults. If the child doesn't like hugging anyone, fine. But don't encourage the child to be cruel by discriminating."

Hugging can be a greeting in some cases.

russpro82: "But is asking them to give their grandmother a hug really a matter of controlling their body? It's a way that we greet people who are close and special to us, and I think if we explain to our children that we should hug grandma because she is a special lady and she deserves a hug, then we are teaching them that hugging is OK for special people but not for just anyone."

Scarred for life?

banjoist1234: "I have a friend who was forced by their parent to kiss their grandmother in her casket, and he carried that horrible memory into adulthood. Hearing him talk about it, you could hear the anger and resentment in his voice towards the parent, 40 years later. Kids are not intelligent obedient pets; they're human beings, and it's their body to control as they wish."

This person said they experienced an episode of abuse when younger, and didn't want their child to feel obligated to touch anyone.

penquin3: "I raised my children this way over 20 years ago. Why did we do this? Because I had been a victim of sexual abuse by a family 'friend' for many years as a child. I did not want my children to think they had to hug or touch others unless the contact was wanted. Now when my grandson does not feel like hugging me and his mom tries to make him, I tell her no, he has the right to his body and who touches it. Even though he is only 2 and his reasons are simply matters of him exerting independence, he still needs to learn his body is his own. This author is doing the right thing. By the way, all of my kids are college grads who have jobs."

Some said worrying children will be more vulnerable to child molesters if they hug might be a bit of a reach.

Selendis: "While I think having your child hug grandma as a precusor to being a victim is quite a reach, I do admire somebody willing to accept that their child has a right to make their own decisions about their bodies. This story shouldn't be so much about child molesters, as about respecting children as thinking, feeling beings."

Not everybody saw this point the same way.

Alex Bishop: "Last time I checked, there's a difference between hugging your grandmother and showering with your football coach."

KamJos: "Most children are molested by family members. It's not a difference."

Some readers pointed out that molestation often originates from the people children know the best.

Michelle M. Williams: "A lot of these people claiming that this kid is going to be a brat are part of the problem. Children are rarely molested by strangers. No, most relatives are not molesters but most molesters ARE relatives. Children often have a difficult time saying that they are molested. Often the first hints are that a kid doesn't want to go over to a relative's house or doesn't want to give them a hug. The VAST majority of parents blow off sexual abuse and don't believe the kid or they just think the kid is being a 'brat.' "

A commenter talked about how her son was reluctant to hug his 84-year-old grandmother, and the discussion turned to the ways predators reduce resistance in their victims.

blackhart: "Yes it is sad but that is how predators work ... they don't jump right in and start molesting kids ... otherwise it would be easy to catch them. They work on trust and inexperience. In your instance, you were there to reason with your son ... but what happens when you are not there and say a coach he sees on a regular basis gradually works on his emotions? We can't guard our children 24/7 most of us have to work its the way of the world. It's sad that a lot of things happen but unfortunately we need to empower even a child to protect themselves."

If kids are left to choose, might they hug anyway?

Jennifer65: "I am a parent, and I demand that my child be respectful, polite, kind to others, do his chores and maintain excellent grades. He doesn't have an Xbox, and is being raised without the obscene sense of entitlement too prevalent today. He is not, however, forced to hug or kiss people. I give him the respect to decide on his own when and to whom he offers physical affection. And by the way, he has never chosen to not hug or kiss a grandparent."

Who needs a hug?

Techsupp0rt: "What is it with people being so hell bent on hugging kids anyway? Why do they feel so entitled to snuggle up to a kid if they don't want it? Why do they feel they should be offended if they don't? Are these people that hard up for affection? THAT is freakin' creepy."

A child's apprehension can also be a teaching moment.

true2faith: "At 4 years old, my son decided he didn't want to hug his 94-year-old grandma when we visited with her at the nursing home. She said it was OK and nodded in understanding, but we couldn't help but see in her eyes that it hurt her feelings. When it came time to tuck our son in that night, my husband and I decided against hugging and kissing him. Why? Because he needed to learn compassion ... the impact of his actions on others. We wanted for him to understand how grandma felt when he didn't want to hug her. I can now say 'remember how it felt?' and he understands. Part of my job as a parent is to teach him what he needs to know to grow into a good, kind, caring, compassionate person. The Sandusky comparison is so absurd, I'm not even going to bother addressing that."

This reader says they don't mind if their grandsons don't hug them.

JaJaD: "I have two grandsons, 6 and 2, and sometimes they don't want to hug me hello and/or goodbye and that's OK; that's their choice and I respect that. I'm not generally a hugger myself so I respect when others don't want to hug, people should never be obligated to touch, wish I hadn't been obligated to as a child."

This reader is tired of feeling obligated to hug people, and said the need to hug is a fairly recent phenomena they observed starting roughly in the 1990s.

charley764: "I often wonder how the U.S. turned into this must-hug culture. When I was a kid, you might hug your mother, but you certainly didn't go around hugging your friends when they came over, your neighbor when she gave you a birthday present, etc. You used to say "thank you" or shake hands. Nowadays everybody is expected to hug everyone else and nobody is asking why. As recently as the 1980s, social hugging was considered rather outrageous. Remember Leo Buscaglia, who used to go around encouraging people to show love with hugs? That was considered goofy in the '80s! Now it's expected or even demanded from men, women, children. When I go out to dinner with a friend and we part at the end of the night, hugging is expected. When I see my family members, hugging is expected. I think it's weird, and I'd like people to keep in mind that this is a very new phenomenon."

One reader griped about people that are too eager to touch kids.

locovelo: "I also hate it when grown-ups just pick up and hug little kids, pinch their cheeks, kiss them, as if they were a puppy or a toy. Even when I say "don't touch them, they have a cold" they say "Oh, I don't mind." They are just clueless."

MomofThree66: "You're absolutely right. No boundaries ... on the part of the adults, not the kids! My first daughter was six weeks premature and born in the winter. Therefore, we were on high alert for RSV that whole first winter. So, we took her out in a stroller and put a blanket over the top of it so that she was hidden. Still, at times, we had to stop complete strangers from grabbing for the blanket to yank it aside so they could stick their gross faces into my daughter's as she slept, on a heart monitor, in her stroller."

drowlord: "Where do you live? Someone would get shot in Texas for that. Hell, I'd shoot twice. An armed society is a polite society."

Where are your boundaries?

runabout: "The article is a little overdramatic, but I agree with a major theme. People (and children are people) shouldn't be required to touch someone they don't want to. Be polite ... yes. Be considerate ... yes. Give a fake compliment about Grandma's funny looking hat ... yes."

Chad Deering: "I like hugging my Grandma : )"

AndreaMilnes: "I'm sorry but you're the parent, she's the 4-year-old. Kids these days too often don't understand that sometimes you have to do things you don't like. Of course teach them "no-no parts" and things like that, but not hugging grandma because she doesn't want to is pure idiocy. You're raising a spoiled brat."

Ule Notknow: "No, you don't have to hug Grandma. But if you don't, forget about licking the leftover frosting out of the bowl."

Share your opinion in the comments area below and in the latest stories on CNN.com. Or sound off on video via CNN iReport.

Compiled by the CNN.com moderation staff. Some comments edited for length or clarity.

soundoff (90 Responses)
  1. Mel

    When I was really young, about 5 or 6 my Mom visited the older people in our church. She would encourage me to give them a hug but never forced me. I remember being really scared of the old people, but warmed up to them and felt good giving them hugs they probably didn't get anywhere else. I do believe human touch can remedy all kind of maladies. However, there was a older neighbor of ours that ended up molesting me while sitting on his lap. My Mother never even knew and she was in the next room. So, bad things sometimes happen but I don't think people should withhold hugs or love from those that need it. My Mother should have been a little more careful though and watched more closely.

    June 26, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. KA

    It appears some have missed the point and validity of the article. It is full of examples and research to support the examples. As a teacher who works with young kids, some diagnosed with Autism, I am aware of and have learned through higher education various ways to encourage positive social interactions of all children and how to differentiate for each child. Through my experience and research, a child with Autism more often than not demonstrates the characteristic of not acting developmentally appropriately in social situations, ex.) lacks eye contact. A wave, high-five or simple spoken "hello" (even a "hello" with no eye contact) is still encouraging the child to be social. One step at a time. I personally enjoyed the article very much and thought about sharing it with the parents of my students. I, in no way, was offended or felt children with Autism were being overlooked.

    June 27, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. snowbird50

    Appropriate hugging and kissing are part of a child's social development. Of course kids should not be forced to hug and kiss everyone. At the same time, we want our kids to feel comfortable with human contact that is positive. It's a delicate balance that parents need to determine. Some kids feel more comfortable with that human contact than others. This is not a one size fits all issue. I find it disturbing when a 4 year old climbs on anyone's lap and seems to crave affection. I find it equally disturbing when a 4 year old screams NO when asked to give Grandma a hug goodbye. If it's a control game being played by the child, then parents need to recognize that and gain control of the moment. However, if it's a child who is naturally shy or reticent about close contact with others, then parents need to respect that aspect of their child's personality. Parents need to spend time with their kids and know what makes them tick – and also recognize possible threats to their innocence – family or friend.

    June 29, 2012 at 9:05 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Cindy Granier

    I totally agree with Charley 764.

    July 3, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Carol

    I agree with this article 100%. When I got married, my father-in-law felt it was appropriate to kiss me on the lips when greeting. This was not acceptable to me at all, and I politely declined; a hug was okay but no one should be required to suffer physical contact from someone else simply because they are related. I never forced my children to give affection to ANYONE. They were very warm and affectionate to those that they felt close to. My only mandate was that they greet people with eye contact and a handshake or high five. I think it is important for everyone to understand that physical contact is a choice, not an obligation.

    July 4, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Rob

    I agree with the author. A child should not be forced to hug or kiss anyone, period. However, the action one person did (not giving child kiss goodnight to show them what it feels like to deny someone a kiss) was also a very good teaching tool. Children intuit things much more clearly than adults and have no idea why they get these feelings. Adults should not be calling those feelings "bad". They are there for a reason and should be listened to. Just like our animals don't like certain people...I would never fully trust anyone my dog didn't like (so don't write and say I put children and dogs on the same level, this is just an example!). Many times children can see auras before we shame them out of it, so don't think children are just being honary. If they are afraid it is for a reason. Otherwise they are shy, and that too is for a reason. People need to wake up and realize children see and sense things and have valid feelings just like adults. Maybe adults should start listening to them and trying to understand WHY they get these feelings; open their minds and hearts instead of demanding your own way. I also acknowledge there are cultures much more huggy than others. Still, children should be respected, and in turn they will grow up respecting you.

    July 11, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cairsten

      I don't actually think that was a good teaching tool at all; what it tolod the kid was that if he doesn't hug or kiss on command, Mommy and Daddy will withdraw affection from *him*. They might as well have forced him to hug her on the spot - the end result is the same, and it would have been less hurtful. Now, if they had sat him down and said "we hug you because hugging feels good, and it makes the people we hug feel good too," the next time he saw his grandmother, he probably would have been willing to hug her to make her feel good. Assuming, of course, that he *likes* Grandma to begin with.

      July 16, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. moldyrottencarrots

    You know, though this isn't entirely relavent... but I had a recent incident at work. I am a caregiver for a paranoid schizophrenic (been working with her for about 4 months). She doesn't like to be touched at all, and will let you know in a kind way when you've invaded her bubble. It's summer, so sunscreen is really important. One day, I asked if she'd like me to put sunscreen on her back, ensuring that I explained everywhere I'd have to touch... about halfway through, she jumped back and said, "I'm not comfortable with this, I don't know you that well." I said OK, no problem, would you like *name of the other staff working who my client had known for 2+ years* to do this?" She said yes. When I explained the situation to my coworker, she said, "I totally understand that you're uncomfortable, wouldn't want to do this for our clients anyway." The way I took is was that she was implying that I was supposed to somehow convince my client to let me put the sunscreen on. I was not at all offended that my client had said she was uncomfortable with me, because honestly, I was uncomfortable with it too. I believe in letting our feelings decide when we are ready to let someone do certain things for us. But I was offended that my coworker implied that I wasn't doing my job.

    July 24, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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