Yashar Ali wants us to stop telling our children who they should be affectionate with.
The shocking and tragic events at Penn State that have unfolded over the past two weeks, which have exposed former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, as a sexual predator, have (yet again) brought the issue of child sex abuse to the forefront of our collective consciousness.
In light of recent events, I want to discuss an issue, a behavior, that has bothered me for some time. It’s about how we encourage our kids to abandon their sense of self-trust—their instinct and intuition—in order to be polite through showing physical affection to adults.
How often, especially during the holidays, are children confronted with moments like this one: a relative comes to visit and the child’s parents say something like, “Now, give your uncle a hug and kiss.”
And when the child refuses to provide physical affection, or hesitates at the request, they sometimes hear things like, “You’re hurting your uncle’s feelings. It’s not polite. Now, go give him a hug and kiss.”
Some of us even remember our relatives asking us (some may say pleading or begging) for affection, “Aren’t you going to give me a hug and kiss? Please?!”
I think this insisting and cajoling of a child into showing physical affection towards an adult is incredibly dangerous. Whether it’s a relationship between a child and his/her relatives or one between a kid and an adult who is an acquaintance, family friend, mentor, this type of behavior, in which children are expected to show physical affection as a sign of respect, is something I think we all need to be careful about.
For me, it’s about the issue of when a child gives us the sense that they don’t want to be physically affectionate with someone, and our tendency to encourage the child, at that particular moment, to abandon their intuition and instinct. It’s a small step towards the erosion of that child’s sense of self-trust.
At that moment, we are telling them, “Forget about how you feel. Do something that makes you feel uncertain and uncomfortable, so that someone else (an adult) can feel acknowledged and respected.”
We are all built with a natural, innate inclination, a real sense of what feels right and wrong. Every species of animal is born with an instinctual drive. Unfortunately, the human species is the only one continually taught to ignore their instincts.
There is, however, a difference between intuition and instinct. Even though the words are often confused as synonyms for each other, there is a simple way to separate the two. We are all born with instinct, but intuition is built through education, living, and practice. Our intuition is linked to a keen and quick insight.
These two internal senses, intuition and instinct, make up my idea of self-trust. I see self-trust as related to trusting your reactions, your feelings about people, circumstances, and decisions. I see self-trust as the most authentic reactions and feelings.
I acknowledge that some kids are just being difficult, but it’s not about their motivation so much as it is about our reaction. At that moment, we initiate a process where we require boys and girls to have physical interaction when they don’t want to and at that moment, we also tell them to ignore their sense of self-trust. We are teaching kids that adults are in charge of who they should be and are affectionate with. We are telling them that they don’t have the right or power to make their own decisions about human, physical interaction.
Again, it’s the little moments that create a big collective weight over time.
But my point is, no one has the right to receive affection, especially from a child. It’s not part of normal, polite interactions. It’s extra. When we ask kids to offer physical signs of affection, a hug or a kiss may seem innocuous enough to us, as adults.
Can you imagine asking or expecting an adult to hug and kiss another adult, as a way to show acknowledgement or respect? Normally, we wouldn’t encourage two adults to have that sort of interaction because we all have a sense of what kinds of physical affection are appropriate in a given circumstance. We have a sense of what we feel comfortable with and we react according to our gut.
Why can’t we allow children to tap into this same instinctive, internal sense?
This doesn’t mean I think we should live in a society without affection. To the contrary.
But the idea that a child can be guilt-tripped or cajoled into affection is disgusting to me. It’s not a light-hearted or funny moment; it’s sad. At that moment, we are telling that child to give their physical selves in order to appease us adults, for reasons that they don’t fully understand or appreciate. Our motivation, whether it’s social embarrassment or a desire to connect with the child, puts us first, rather than thinking of them first … as it should be.
When it comes to acknowledging other people, the most we can expect from children is for them to politely and verbally greet adults. And as far as I’m concerned, anything else, is expecting too much and is patently unfair.
Some may say that this way of handling interaction between adults and children will build up cynicism in kids, will rob them of their innocent childhood, and will make them overly cautious of adults—or even teach them to be aloof.
Well, our childhoods have never been innocent (now or ever). One out of every four girls and one of out of every six boys will face sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. We only have to look at the numbers to understand that for many kids, there have never been bright, sunny childhoods.
For much too long, they have been filled with silent moments of sexual abuse, we just haven’t discussed them. They have been hidden away, just like the victims of Jerry Sandusky. It’s only when we shatter this myth of a childhood era of innocence that we can begin to understand what children truly face.
Sexual abuse completely revamps the blueprint of the victim’s life. Their worldview shifts, the way they process trust, how they build relationships, their sense of safety, are all permanently altered.
So, I think I’d much rather have our children be slightly cynical and aware, to encourage them to follow their sense of self-trust, and as a result, to give them a better chance at protecting themselves, than to insist that kids must show physical affection when they don’t feel comfortable.
After all, it’s not like we’ve done our part to protect our kids, not at all. And if we have any doubt about that, all we have to do is think about Mike McQueary, looking on as that poor boy was raped in the locker room shower at Penn State.
Yashar will be soon releasing his first short e-book, entitled, A Message To Women From A Man: You Are Not Crazy, How We Teach Women to Ignore Their Intuition and Silence Their Own Voices If you are interested and want to be notified when the book is released, please click here to sign-up.
This piece originally appeared on The Current Conscience.
Photo by D Sharon Pruit / Flickr