The Problem with Hugging

by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

In a valiant effort to join my husband in one of his rituals, I recently girded my loins and settled into the serial viewing of an evening’s news shows. I was set on ignoring the racist and misogynistic slurs against President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor. I planned to zone out as the strategically matched, aesthetically pleasing male and female co-anchors blathered segues from story to story. I even committed to withholding my normal rant that the commercials require reducing the television volume three or four bars. But, despite my intent to remain unresponsive, I was wholly unprepared for the revelation that hugging among teens is a phenomenon — and a bad one according to some schools.

Where have I been, lo these many — apparently naïve — years? With my head up the armpit of an inappropriately affectionate hugger? Have my countless embraces the subtle precursors to sexual harassment or — horror! — the authority-challenging pursuit of excessive displays of affection?

I learned that term when I couldn’t stand the news anymore and got up to research this phenomenon of affection that made it from a feature in The New York Times to my coast’s evening drivel. Our local high school’s 2008-2009 Student Handbook says, “Excessive display of affection is inappropriate on school grounds or at school sponsored activities;” the Band Room rules preclude everything but handholding; and violations have consequences:

1st offense — 2 hrs of Thursday school
2nd offense — 4 hrs of Saturday school
3rd offense — 1 to 5 days of home suspension, parent contact Ed. Code 48900 (k)
The referenced education code says a California public school student can be suspended if he or she has been really bad — violent, in possession of a weapon or drugs… disruptive of school activities or defiant toward a “valid authority.” Hmm, hugging on a par with violence?

Oh, the idiocy of it!

My daughter attended a charter high school where public displays of affection (PDA) were de rigueur — same and opposite sex. So I called Kate for a reality check. She’s now 20, not much removed from her high school years.

Me: Honey, did you hear about the problem with hugging?

Kate: What?

Me: Hugging.

Kate: What? (Lots of background noise.)

Me: HUGGING! Apparently it’s a problem with teens. It was in the news. Some high schools have prohibited it. One put a time limit on it: Two seconds max or you’re out.

Kate: Whaat! People should be embracing the fact that kids are open and warm with each other instead of being hostile and hateful — like the adults who are persecuting them. This is one step closer to The Handmaid’s Tale. This is really offensive to me. My friends and I, everyone I knew in high school, boys and girls, hugged each other to say hello. It’s not like we were trying to get off. We were being friendly. It’s a human thing to do. This isn’t the dark ages. It’s not like we’re whipping out sex toys and going at it. It’s just saying hello. There is a difference!”

Kate was with a couple of friends in a coffee shop, probably surrounded by folks hugging unfettered, and her friends were equally passionate about PDAs.

Vartuhi: This is why people hate Americans! I’ve been hugging my friends since junior high, so I really don’t understand why this is an issue. We watched [the video] and we all thought we were back in the 1950s, where these moronic problems were an issue to people — it’s puritanical! It’s sad that people think it is an issue when there are actual issues they should be dealing with teen pregnancy, drugs, violence, all the budget cuts in schools.

Ariel: So much of kids’ socializing is on the computer, texting and Facebook and stuff, parents should be glad their kids can connect in person — hugging is a way to compensate for all that. If kids are hugging, it’s filling a social, emotional and physical need. There are so many things the schools should be focusing on, like sex education. [Hugging] is a way for kids to learn to be comfortable with their own bodies and other people’s bodies, without being sexual.

These gals are smart. They represent three well-populated and distinct ethnic groups for whom teen hugging has long been healthy and normal — and they know a violation of the human right to express affection when it whops them upside the head.

So that’s it. I’m not taking it anymore. It’s time for a revolution! I’m marching over to Fallbrook High and organizing a hug-in. I guess I better start with the WASPy kids.

(Editor's Note: This is an abridged version of this piece. The original, unabridged version can be found at Kit-Bacon Gressitt's personal blog, Excuse Me, I'm Writing. Ms. Gressitt regularly cross-posts her writing with this blog.)

(The photo is by kalandrakas of Fujisawa, Japan via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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