Editorial: Bad move for school to ban contact

By Annemarie Quill


Love is a battlefield. Sex is a weapon. Hugging is ... bullying. If it is done at school. Unless the hug is to congratulate someone for scoring a goal, then hugging is not appropriate at school.

That's the message at some Bay schools.

Hugging - something I think of as a natural human expression of friendship - is being discouraged at some Bay schools. Not because it is inappropriate between boys and girls, but because, say the principals, children use it as a way to exclude others. Otumoetai Intermediate principal Henk Popping even thinks hugging at school is "ridiculous", unless it is an appropriate context such as a sporting field. Tauranga Intermediate School recently had an assembly discouraging hugging. In some schools in New Zealand, hugging is banned.

I can understand why hugging between boys and girls of a certain age would be discouraged at school. Primary school hugging is likely innocent, but when my daughters get to intermediate level, I don't want them locking bodies with a male school friend.

Yet the concern that schools have about hugging is nothing to do with sex.

Mr Popping believes that some students use "hugging as a mechanism to exclude others".

Mr Popping says students have been told "don't hug each other like long-lost friends, just move to class quickly and without any delays".

And collect your cold stone heart on the way out.

I often greet friends with a hug. Over years of living here I have learned that some Kiwis are not big kissers, and if you lean forward for a European style double kiss on both cheeks, you may experience some awkward head shuffling.

At work I might hug a few people in the newsroom, and then there are others that would run a mile from my outstretched arms.

So I thought. Now I am wondering if in fact I am excluding them. Even bullying them? Does our designer cry into her pillow because I hugged the web editor when I clocked off but only said "see ya" to her? A colleague tells me not only is he not "a social hugger" but that he thinks hugging is so "Hollywood ... false ... social climbing."

Or is he sitting there feeling left out and longing for a squeeze?

What is wrong with children hugging hello to their friends? My 8-year-old daughter does it with her friends. I often admire how natural it is that they can easily express affection through touch, when in our own adult society people have such anxieties about personal touch. Babies thrive on touch. Young children love hugs. I have lived in Spain and Latin America where hugging and kissing is so natural between adults and children alike that a Kiwi/English culture seems lonely by comparison.

Certainly we should respect people's individual boundaries and cultural norms before leaning in for a squeeze. But what message are schools giving children when they are discouraging them from doing something natural? Discouraging hugging has implications that using personal touch as a means to communicate with your fellow humans is somehow wrong.

Bullying in schools is a serious issue and one that principals do need to tackle. If there are children who use hugging as a way to intimidate and hurt others, then schools should address the underlying reasons because if they are bullying through hugging, they are likely to be bullying in other ways too. And if your child is so 'billy no mates' that he never gets a hug, parents and teachers should help that child build the self esteem necessary to survive in the big wide world.

A blanket ban on hugging as a way to solve bullying shows that some principals are sadly, and literally, out of touch.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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