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. For the children

    Children are the most vulnerable yet have the fewest protections of any group.
    This needs to change and soon.

    There is a monstrous blind spot in a great many people where children are concerned and I saw part of it in the article.

    The assumption is that a child cannot think for themselves and that there is no need to understand how the child views the world or why they might feel uncomfortable or scared to hug anyone. It is a part of most people's comments.

    This assumption undercuts all attempts to interact with the child in any way.

    It is a way of de-humanizing them and it is expressed in most damaging way in our legal system...where children's rights are considered less worthy than the rights of a slave.

    Imagine any case that involves a child. They are viewed as property, as personal slaves of the parent or guardian, and in many cases this translates into treating them as personal human experiments without hardly any restrictions or regulations in clear violation of the children's human rights.
    You people might say you are going to "raise your child the way you want regardless of what anyone else thinks" and convict yourself with your own words as someone who has no business raising kids or even being around them, in my opinion, for you have already declared your child a sub-human slave experiment subject who has absolutely no defense to anything you might want to do to them.

    They are helpless. They have almost no rights at all throughout the world. And they will die that way before anyone can help them or protect them in any way. There are children dying this very second. More will die before anything is done.

    June 21, 2012 at 7:22 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Caroline

    I am over 50 and do not like people forcing themselves on me for hugs. My in-laws have been this way for 30 years. Now I have confirmation that if you don't want to be touched by someone, there may be a reason. Father-in-law put his hands on my behind the last time I visited them - and yes, that was the last time I visited. Now, my hubby visits them on his own.

    June 21, 2012 at 7:52 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Philip

    Statistic: Most abused children are abused by their own family, with most of the remainder being abused by trusted family friends and authority figures in positions of trust. (like coaches or preachers/priests)
    As an adult survivor of child abuse, hell no. If I don't want to sit on Uncle Joe's lap complete with what seemed to be a hard snake wiggling under my ass, I shouldn't have to. But I'm only 5 freaking years old at the time. And when I tell of the snake, they think it's funny and laugh it off! Even though Uncle Joe rayped my mom when she was 11 and they already know.
    Mandatory investigations of extended family members/church leaders for ALL se xually abused children, with the CIA's help.
    Apply RICO in such cases to pay for it.

    June 21, 2012 at 8:03 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Philip

    Under the RICO statute (if applied), a man charged with raypeing a male 17 or younger, his personal property would be siezed and sold to finance investigating this man and his accomplices. We do this for drug traffikers, we can do this for our own kids.
    Of course on the boys 18th birthday, it's up to the boy to say 'yes' or 'no' on the gay issue. Until then, it's up to US.
    And so far, US is more scaredy cat of "terrorists" than of pervs stalking our own children whom we drug when they act this out too much, even inside Wal-Mart.

    June 21, 2012 at 8:14 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Philip

    Children who act-out in public are begging for US to help. There is something afoul in the family circle that even a little girl will dare to act it our in public. She would just sit you down and explain exactly what's going on, but she's only 5 and simply doesn't have the vocanulary needed to accomplish the task. So she screams her little head off, and in public outcry.
    But we let them down. We label them 'problem chhild' and add Ritilin to their diet.

    June 21, 2012 at 8:27 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Philip

    We protect our precious family name. We protect our church. We even protect our own asses by forceing our very own children to ingests very dangerous mind-altering substances so they'll shut the hell up about it...as "we" go about our rat killing.
    This MUST end for US to be strong and stable, with the basic unit of civilaization (the family unit) made of iron rather than the clay we've been using lately.

    June 21, 2012 at 8:32 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. raven

    I agree with the author of this article. We do not force our children to show affection if they don't want to. Even to their grandparents. When I read the article, my view is that the author included 'grandma' to prove a point. I have a child who is shy. I ask her to look at people when they are talking to her. She told me "I don't like talking to strangers." I think it's great to listen to children's words and notice their behaviors around certain people. As a child, I had uncles and male family friends who thought they could pat my butt or let their hand slide down to my butt during a hug. It was very confusing for me that I still had to be 'friendly" and hug these family members. Listen to the child. The child is in charge of his/her own body. Manners are important. So is trusting our own instincts. Respect the child's instincts.

    June 21, 2012 at 11:03 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Krista

    My sister is eight and my parents don't force her affection on anyone, even themselves. She's a pretty affectionate kid and nine times out of ten, she'll hug you. But even if she doesn't, she's always, always respectful and polite. She shakes hands, she greets people with polite words when they arrive and again when they leave, she says "Thank you" and "you're welcome." The fact that she doesn't HAVE to hug anyone, not even grandma, doesn't make her a brat. It doesn't make her spoiled. Besides, if a parent has to force a child to hug you, how meaningful is that interaction anyway? I really don't want to be hugged by a kid who clearly has no interest in me but is doing it because of his parents' force.

    June 21, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Hana

    Hugging is an acceptable form of showing mutual affection. If my parents hadn't encouraged me to hug grandma, would I never hug her to show I loved her? Would that have affected the way she felt? Draw lines, yes. Teach children what's appropriate and what isn't. Teacher touches you on the shoulder, that's cool. Coach touches you in the shower, that's bad. Grandma opens her arms when she sees you, that's fine. Stranger pokes your belly... well you get the picture.

    June 21, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Kim P.

    I think the author's approach is perfectly correct. A child shouldn't be forced to show affection for someone if they don't feel it, or even if they just don't want to show it at the time, as in the case of younger children asserting independence. It can and should be encouraged where appropriate, but never forced.

    Reading over these comments, I am somewhat shocked by the people who would force their children to hug a relative. This is not simply because they disagree, but in a lot of cases it seems like they would force their child simply because they don't wish to be embarrassed. Forget the child's feelings, let's not look bad in front of grandma.

    Then there are the parents that withheld their own hugs from their child after he didn't want to hug his grandmother in a nursing home. No mention of whether the nursing home or any of the medical equipment that could have been present might have scared a four-year old, just a little emotional manipulation when the child didn't act as desired. That's a great lesson. In the comment itself, the author makes no mention of trying to figure out why the child didn't perform as the parents wanted him to; instead they just twisted it around so that he learned that you are supposed to act contrary to how you feel.

    And for those who think the child needs to hug a relative who is special to you, then the answer is that you (and that relative) need to help the child form a special bond with the person so that they will have the same regard for the person. Forcing your child to act on your feelings is selfish.

    What the author suggests seems like a brilliant way to encourage a child's self esteem by valuing and teaching them to trust their own feelings. I also think children accorded such basic respect and courtesy will be healthier in many senses and more prone to show such respect and courtesy to others through their lives. My son or daughter arrives in just a few more months, and I hope to follow the author's lead.

    June 21, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • True2Faith

      As the parent who withheld a hug, I can tell you that we had been to the nursing home many, many times. He was not afraid of the environment. That particular day, he just preferred playing with his toys and just didn't feel like giving a hug. And, more importantly, he didn't realize how his actions and behavior made his Grandma feel. There was nothing manipulative about it...this is a lesson, again, about compassion and understanding the impact of our actions on others. I do ask him to do many things he doesn't always feel like doing–pick up his room, eat balanced meals, play outside instead of watching TV, etc. You may not agree, but having already successfully raised two other children to be beautiful, smart, good-hearted, adults...something seems to be working.

      June 21, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  11. guessthat

    Well, I guess that makes it unanimous. We won't be dressing our kids in cute little get-ups and send them out at night begging for candy this year come halloween. :)

    June 21, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Dermorgen

    As someone diagnosed late in life with auspergers, a level of autism, I loathe being touched by strangers. For decades I "had a cold" to refuse shaking hands and while I now shake hands at job interviews it still makes my flesh crawl. My husband, bless his very patient soul, will say "I'm going to hug you now" and I'll say "Now?" And he'll reply "Yes". And then he'll jug me while I jokingly try to negotiate my way out of the situation. I am who I am and we have become comfortable with that fact.

    I can remember every forced hug as a child, every casual ruffle of the hair. I hated the fact that people could touch me and I had no control over it. Once, I was forced to "peck" kiss a distant relative with downs syndrome, whose lips don't feel quite normal, and I fell into a hysterical mess. I remember it like it was yesterday and I bear the grudge for each of those times. My body, my self, is not a bargaining chip in your relationship with your parents and it's absolutely disgusting to me that people would sell their children that way.

    Not everyone feels the way I feel but I wonder even now if people had just stopped touching me then, had allowed me my private body, if I would be more comfortable today.

    June 21, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. cindefckinrella

    I believe that children should be taught how and when to set boundaries for their body and vicinity. I was not taught and I will NOT make that mistake with my own children. I was taught that hugging and kissing is an appropriate way of greeting people you know. I am a huggy person, whether that was taught or just the way I am I know not, but I do know that because of things that I was forced to deal with even though they made me super uncomfortable, I don't trust or feel comfortable with older men. I always feel kinda weird when I am hugging older men, including family. But the way I was raised to hug them anyway because theirs no reason not to (besides my feelings which are clearly not enough) made me feel like I couldn't have boundaries.

    I was at a party when i was almost 21, there was an older guy there that my friend told me was supposed to protect us from other older creeps.. I fought my instincts and I gave him a hug (a proper way of greeting, remember). We all laughed and drank and had fun.. all I did was hug him... but somehow he go another message and once it started I didn't know how to stop him.

    I feel like if I had been raised that I could set boundaries for everyone on who can touch me and who I don't want to.. that it was acceptable to say no to someone older.. I had to learn the hard way that if I don't want someone to touch me its ok and I can tell them no and fight to keep it that way.

    That being said, I always hug my grandma and grandpa, I would still snuggle with my grandma, but not my grandpa. I give long hugs to my aunts to tell them I missed them but pull away quickly from my uncles.

    Teach kids it okay to say no now, so that they know how to say it later in harder situations.

    June 21, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. James Sullivan

    I'm a 62 YO GrandPA, & Children should never be forced to show affection to those that they don't want to. I don't care who it is. They have their reasons that maybe they can't express or whatever. Regardless, If they feel comfortable with someone they will hag & or kiss them naturally. You have to be observant about what the child's behavior is telling you. Allow them to interact naturally & if they shy away from someone you had better pay attention.

    June 21, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Ann

    I cannot believe this author compared Grandma asking for a hug to Jerry Sandusky. You have got to be kidding me.

    Now, I am a grandma, and I do like getting hugs – but I don't insist on them.

    What I DO insist on is a polite greeting. One of the commenters here mentioned being 5 years old and "more interested" in playing with toys than greeting Grandma. Um, sorry, kid, but you need to learn basic manners and respect for your elders. If Grandma comes over to visit, you will put down your toy, come over, and politely say hello. A hug would be nice, but optional. Then you can ask to be excused, and go back to playing. That is NOT too much to ask from a 5-year-old.

    June 22, 2012 at 10:36 am | Report abuse | Reply
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