Schools Begin to Ban Hugging: Have They Gone Too Far?
Stateside and overseas, there's a new no-touch rule
A 12-year-old student was recently given detention for hugging her classmate after the school bell rang.
The Adam Road Primary School in Australia punished young Amber Rome for her quick embrace, as doing so violated its no-hugging policy which, according to acting principal Gemma Preston, was introduced after parents complained of children being "bruised" from "excessive hugging"—an act that had also become "disruptive to classes."
Dr. Fran Walfish, a California-based child, couple and family psychotherapist, understands that though who is showing affection (and where) can vary, the school's regulation is within reason.
"Hugging inside the classroom is disruptive to teaching—it should not be allowed," said Walfish. "On the playground, hugging is a very different thing. Girls enjoy hugging a friend for companionship; boys enjoy putting their arm around a friend at that latency age from 7 to 12 years, but hugging can quickly turn into rough-housing and aggression. Some school administrators do not know how to enforce reasonable boundaries. In this case, officials find it easier to take the position of zero-tolerance."
Though Adam Road certainly isn't the first to enforce such a ban, other institutions haven't done so as successfully or skillfully.
One day in March, students came home from Matawan-Aberdeen Middle School in New Jersey telling parents stories about an announcement made by the principal over the loudspeaker: ‘We are a no-hugging school. This is our new policy."
Soon after, parents received a recorded message from the principal too, this time with what sounded like a retraction: “Hugging can be inappropriate and we want to make sure that there’s no inappropriate physical contact. We certainly do not have a policy against hugging nor do we intend to or have we suspended students for hugging."
Similarly, in October, after students at North Carolina's Chase Middle School organized a hug-in to protest the principal's order to stop hugging, district superintendent Dr. Janet Mason clarified that the school had no written ban against the affectionate act, but that "there is a line for appropriate touch in school and what's not.”
It seems both institutions aimed, but struggled, to define what is and isn't proper. As a teacher of over 40 years, Jennifer Little, Ph.D., of Parents Teach Kids, can relate.
"Public displays of affection are rampant in schools," said Little. "Hallways are clogged as the couples hug and sneak kisses—sometimes they are a bit too passionate—and some have been interrupted during their extreme coupling in locker rooms, closets and unoccupied classrooms. Banning the PDA is a way to interrupt the overly social scene. Schools are under pressure for grades and achievement; social scenes distract from that."
In comparison, however, American couples aren't all that touchy-feely. According to Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School, French couples spend about three times as much time touching than Americans. Field also noted that physical contact in the workplace is threatened by the "legal climate."
Still, California-based psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman, argues that hugging isn't harmful.
"It is outrageous for schools to have policies against hugging," said Lieberman. "We need more friendly hugging to help kids cope with all the stresses of their lives. In fact, research has shown we need four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs a day for maintenance and 12 hugs a day for growth. So to teach kids that hugs are wrong is criminal. Parents need to fight back and get schools with such nonsensical policies to change their ways."
Indeed, hugging has its health benefits. Embracing can lower both blood pressure and your heart rate; it can make you feel calmer and less anxious; and ultimately, it's good for your relationship as it increases emotional connection and intimacy.
So, until parents and professors can come to agreement, we advise mom and pop to, at the very least, continue to hug their kids in the safety (and privacy) of their own homes where they can still reap the rewards, without the regulation. A win-win for all.