Girl Scouts urging parents to not force kids to hug relatives, friends this holiday season

Girl Scouts urging parents to not force kids to hug relatives, friends this holiday season

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - As new sexual harassment stories made headlines everyday, one national organization has a message for parents this holiday season.

The Girl Scouts of USA issued a reminder on it's website for parents ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday when it comes to interaction between your children and other family members or friends at functions.

The post is titled "Reminder: She Doesn't Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays."  The "hugs" addressed in the post are of a non-sexual nature, but according to the Girl Scouts' developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, "the lessons girls learn when they're young about setting physical boundaries and expecting them to be respected last a lifetime, and can influence how she feels about herself and her body as she gets older."

Lt. Latosha Myers-Mitchell with the Hattiesburg Police Department said she agrees with the message from the Girls Scouts.

"We've all had that aunt or that uncle to say, 'go give them a kiss' or 'go give them a hug' and children are not comfortable with that sometimes and they should not be," Myers-Mitchell said.

While this may be an uncomfortable thought for parents just days before Thanksgiving, Lt. Latosha Myers-Mitchell, who heads the Domestic Violence and Victim Services Division with HPD, said it's an important topic to discuss.

"It's very important to know who you are with, know your environment, know who your children are around," Myers-Mitchell said.  "Don't get so caught up in the holidays that you aren't being a parent."

The idea from the Girl Scouts is to let children decide how and when they want to show affection.

"If they don't want to wiggle and give Uncle Joe a hug or give Aunt Sally a kiss, don't force it on your children," Myers-Mitchell said.

Some on social media accused the Girl Scouts of blowing an innocent family interaction out of proportion, but others said the issue is a valid topic in parenting circles.

Lt. Myers-Mitchell said most sexual assaults occur with someone the victim knows or has been acquainted with in the past and that means it could be a family member or close friend of the family.

"Sometimes monsters are not always in the closet," she said.

The Girl Scouts suggest parents give a daughter space to decide when and how she wants to show affection.  The post gives other ways to show appreciation, thankfulness and love that don't require physical contact. "Saying how much she's missed someone or thank you with a smile, a high-five, or even an air kiss," the post reads.

Myers-Mitchell said the most important thing a parent can do is talk to their child and pay attention during this busy time of the year.

"Have that talk with them on good touches, bad touches, inappropriate looks, anything that's said out the way. Children need to hear that from their parents, an adult," Myers-Mitchell said.  "They don't need to hear it from a friend or someone who may be manipulative. So, have that talk with them. It may be uncomfortable, but it may save their life."