Why is it that little boys are spared the discomfort of forced hugs, but little girls must take part in this dis-empowering ritual?
What negative message might this send little girls?
Do parents not care that their young girl hates hugging Aunt Peggi because the woman reeks of cigarette smoke?
Or maybe the “huggee” is the nice neighbor who gave the child a brand new hair ribbon. For Pete’s sake, why is a hug in order for this? Isn’t a big “Thank you!” enough?
Would YOU, the adult, hug your neighbor if this neighbor gave you a little trinket for your windowsill? (Come on, you know the answer is “No.”)
What is it about the female child that drives so many parents into forcing them to give hugs, while little boys’ feelings about this are far more respected?
FACT: Little girls, more often than boys, are ordered by parents to hug adults.
“There is an unfortunate expectation that girls are supposed to be more affectionate people pleasers,” says Carole Lieberman, MD, forensic psychiatrist and author of Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets.
Maybe the parents believe that making a young boy give a hug of gratitude or greeting would feminize or de-masculinize him.
A father would see it this way more than would a mother.
The typical dad doesn’t want his young son to come across as “girlie” or effeminate, so he is thus apt to respect the boy’s feelings about not wanting to give a hug.
In fact, Dad won’t even put the boy in a situation in the first place where the boy would have to protest about any hugging. The father may think, “That’s girl stuff!”
But it’s just as wrong to force little girls to give and receive hugs as it is to make young boys do this.
“Trying to force your child to hug someone is not only counterproductive,” says Dr. Lieberman, “it can lead to dangerous consequences. In no case should you try to force a child to hug anyone, even though it may be embarrassing for you at times.”
And it’s embarrassing only if you, the parent, permits this.
Do not rank the feelings of the “huggee” over your own feelings and especially the feelings of your child.
That neighbor, school teacher, aunt or uncle is not more important than your young daughter. And they’re not more important than you, either:
Let them wonder all they want about why you’re not ordering your daughter to give a hug.
If that adult isn’t happy with just a greeting, smile or a “Thank you,” that’s their problem, not yours.
It’s just so wrong to wrap your daughter into this predetermined little package with a bright yellow bow, while boys get a pass.
“Forced hugs won’t teach your child to be compassionate or loving,” says Dr. Lieberman. “Only your behavior towards them and towards the rest of the world will teach this.”
As for being made to hug relatives, Dr. Lieberman puts it this way: “Maybe they don’t want to hug uncle Joe because he’s been touching them inappropriately.”
But what if the recipient is a woman? Rules still apply. “Forcing your children to yield their body to someone whom they don’t want to be in contact with teaches them to do this in other situations,” says Dr. Lieberman, “which makes them vulnerable to being a victim of sexual abuse.”
Just think about that for a moment. Ask yourself why there are so many women out there who have reported sexual abuse — even as women, not necessarily as children — and I’m not talking about being slammed to the ground by a 6’, 200 pound brute, but responding submissively to groping or a non-authorized kiss on the lips — by a man who doesn’t even look like he could do a single pushup.
“It [forced hugs] makes kids believe that they have to please others who want to touch their body,” says Dr. Lieberman, “this makes it less likely they’ll recognize how wrong sexual abuse is, and be less likely to refuse these advances and report it right away.”
Makes sense! This explains why a woman will allow a physically non-imposing or aging man to grope or fondle her or “force” a kiss to her lips!
Children should never be made to give or receive hugs simply because they’re girls rather than boys.
And making boys do this won’t undo the harm, either. If you have both sons and daughters, the rule should be no forced hugs, period.
And when I say “forced,” this doesn’t necessarily mean threats or physically dragging the child to the recipient.
It could mean a simple verbal order that the girl feels she has no choice but to obey.
She just goes along with it because it’s an order, even though she does not want to give or receive any hugs.
Dr. Lieberman analyzes the psychological impact of world events, as a guest and/or host on all major media outlets. Her appearances include “Larry King Live,” “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” “Entertainment Tonight,” CNN and Fox News.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.