Our kids won’t be kissing any family members they don’t want to this Christmas
By forcing your girls – or boys – to kiss an aunt or uncle they don't want to this Christmas, you may be sending them the wrong message about physical affection and consent.
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*Update 5 December 2017: Many of our readers have pointed out that this is an issue for boys just as much as it is for girls, so while the post by the Girl Scouts of America is written for girls, we acknowledge that it applies to all our kids.

In a recent post titled Reminder: She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays, the Girl Scouts of America explained that while the holidays are supposed to be a time filled with festive cheer and family traditions, it may also be a time where our girls - and boys - dread the forced kisses and unwanted physical affection they have to endure from respective relatives. 

"Have you ever insisted, 'Uncle just got here – go give him a big hug!' or 'Auntie gave you that nice toy, go give her a kiss,' when you were worried your child might not offer affection on her own? If yes, you might want to reconsider the urge to do that in the future," reads the post.

They continue, "Think of it this way, telling your child that she owes someone a hug either just because she hasn’t seen this person in a while or because they gave her a gift can set the stage for her questioning whether she 'owes' another person any type of physical affection when they’ve bought her dinner or done something else seemingly nice for her later in life."

Now, while we understand that this may offend some parents, and we are in no way suggesting you discourage healthy family affection, we do feel that in light of recent allegations made against Hollywood hotshots and the disheartening statistics in our own country, we need to be mindful of possibly giving our kids the wrong idea about consent.

The situation in South Africa

The South African Police Service released a report on the crime situation in South Africa which revealed that from 1 April 2016 – 31 March 2017, 49 660 sexual offence cases had been reported.

That said, it has also been reported that an estimated 34% of South African children are victims of sexual violence and physical abuse before they turn 18. Thus, Paula Barnard, national director of World Vision South Africa, said violence against children should be treated as a "national disaster".

The national head of the police’s Family Violence Child Protection and Sexual Offences Investigation unit, Major General Tebello Mosikili, has also explained that more often than not these offences happen in the home. "More needs to be done to address the problem of domestic abuse. These crimes are taking place where they cannot be policed. They take place in bedrooms, homes and secluded areas where policing such crimes is almost impossible."

Dumisile Nala, national executive officer of Childline, says, "We give our children conflicting messages: We teach them to respect their elders and not talk back and yet we expect them to be able to shout 'No! in a situation of abuse. This needs to change. We should take responsibility as adults to protect our children."

Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist, Dr Andrea Bastiani Archibald, therefore explains that while the idea of consent may seem like a very grown-up and possibly premature concept to teach our little ones, it is in fact very necessary:

"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. Plus, sadly, we know that some adults prey on children, and teaching your daughter about consent early on can help her understand her rights, know when lines are being crossed, and when to go to you for help."

There are other ways to say thank you

But while the post explains how we shouldn’t force our kids to kiss any aunties and uncles they don’t want to, it also explains that this should in no way encourage them to be disrespectful.

So since we don’t want to offend a dear uncle or overly affectionate aunt, there are ways for the entire family to enjoy Christmas and embrace all the joy that the festive season brings, without our kids shying away at the dinner table and having us all sit in silence.

To name just a few, the Girl Scouts suggest that your little one verbally expresses how much they might have missed someone, say thank you with a smile or simply interact with a strong and enthusiastic high five.

They conclude saying that whichever way your child expresses her gratitude, "it’s important that she knows she gets to choose which feels most comfortable to her" to ensure that everyone has a good time and the best Christmas ever.

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How do you feel about having the kids not kiss any relatives they don't want to this Christmas? Do you agree with the Girl Scouts reminder? Tell us by emailing to chatback@parent24.com and we may publish your comments. 

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