Girl Scouts of the USA issued a warning to parents this holiday season, asking them to think twice before forcing their daughters to hug relatives at gatherings.
“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 have bought her dinner or done something else seemingly nice for her later in life,” reads the post on the Girl Scouts’ website.
The organization’s missive to parents comes as allegations of sexual misconduct by men ring out from every industry, including Hollywood, politics and the media.
One in nine girls under the age of 18 experiences sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult, according to data shared by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), an anti-sexual assault organization.
Past research also suggests that nearly one in three episodes of sexual abuse of a child is perpetrated by a family member.
The Girl Scouts' post encourages parents to offer their daughters ways to show gratitude that do not require physical contact, including "a smile, a high-five, or even an air kiss."
Dr. Janet Taylor, a psychiatrist based in New York City and Sarasota, Fla., said parents should be careful to not create "a mass hysteria about physical contact with loved ones," especially during the holiday season.
"As parents, we have to use common sense and also realize that it’s never too early to start a conversation about good touch and bad touch," said Taylor. "But also we don’t want to overstep our boundaries so our children are not afraid of who they should not be afraid of."
She added, "The awareness of unwanted contact that we have right now is needed ... I just caution parents about limiting family attachment and that kind of loving space that a lot of time only happens at the holidays."
The Girl Scouts’ membership includes 1.8 million girls, according to its website.
The post, titled "Reminder: She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays," has been shared nearly 7,000 times on Facebook, where it was met with mixed reactions.
“Seriously? So now teaching our kids to show affection to FAMILY is basically child abuse?," wrote one commenter. "Unless something inappropriate is going on, this shouldn’t even be a topic to discuss... and if that is the case, that is an entirely different discussion."
“This is right up there with giving out participation trophies-ridiculous!,” wrote another. “Teach your daughters to respect others and themselves. Teach them to know the difference.”
“If an adult is seriously offended by a CHILD not feeling comfortable with a hug, they need to grow up,” wrote a commenter in support of the Girl Scouts’ post. “Of course we all want our kids to be loving and kind. But doing something that doesn’t feel right to them just because an adult wants you to is wrong.”
“No one should be compelled to touch anyone they don't want to, especially children,” wrote another commenter in support. “It is HER choice if she wants to give or receive touch and we should respect that choice…”
The Girl Scouts told ABC News in a statement they offered the advice partly "in light of recent news stories about sexual harassment."
"Girl Scouts of the USA offers advice to girls’ parents and families (including those of current Girl Scouts) on how to talk to their daughters about issues in the larger world that they hear about or that directly affect them," the statement read. "Given our expertise in healthy relationship development for girls, and in light of recent news stories about sexual harassment, we are proud to provide girls’ parents and caregivers with age-appropriate guidance to use when discussing this sensitive matter and other challenging topics, should they wish to do so."
The statement continued, "Obviously, our advice will not apply in all situations, and we recognize that parents and caregivers are in the best position to judge which conversations they should have with their girls."
The organization cites its own developmental psychologist, Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, in telling parents why it believes it is important to teach girls early on about consent.
“The notion of consent may seem very grown-up and like something that doesn’t pertain to children, but 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," Archibald is quoted as saying. "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.”
When gathering at holiday events, parents can take the lead in modeling appropriate interactions for their children, according to Taylor.
She recalled modeling for her own four daughters when they were timid, at a young age, with relatives they had not seen in a while.
"I would walk with them and take them over [to the relatives] and allow them time to warm up," she said. "It certainly wasn’t an understanding that they’d never have to give a relative a hug."