’Tis the season! The holidays are often a time for family gatheringsget-togethers with yummy food, funny stories, family traditions and a lot of love. But could young girls be getting the wrong idea about consent through the constant physical affection they are often made to shower upon relatives they might barely know?

Photo Illustration by Puja Thapa

Photo Illustration by Puja Thapa

Could insisting, “Go give uncle a big hug!” or “Auntie is leaving, —give her a kiss!” actually be doing more harm than good?

As the holidays are rapidly approaching, Girl Scouts recently issued a warning to parents, asking them to reconsider making their daughters hug relatives at family gatherings. These hugs are obviously not sexual in nature, just doting aunts, uncles and grandparents who have not seen their grandchildren lately.

They come to holiday gatherings inclined to big embraces and cheek pinches. However, the post made by Girl Scouts said that this could set the stage for unexpected consequences.

“Think of it this way,” Girl Scouts said. “Telling your child that she owes someone a hug 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.” The post aimed to call attention to the rising number of sexual assault cases and urged parents to be cautious.

The post, “Reminder: She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays,” has been shared nearly 7,000 times on Facebook and has been met with some mixed reactions. Many supported the post while others viewed it as completely rude.

“No girl is going to seriously think that she has to get physical with a guy to be polite, just because she had to give Aunt Betty a hug at Christmas when she was little,” one reader, Angelique McKowan states. However, many were supportive of the Girl Scouts’ post.

One parent, Jenifer Davis-Batista, wrote, “If an adult is seriously offended by a CHILD not feeling comfortable with a hug, they need to grow up. 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.”

After receiving some backlash from the post, Girl Scouts issued a statement to NBC news. Girl Scouts stated that the advice was meant as a “license to be rude.”

They simply wanted to emphasize that there are other ways for young girls to show gratitude and love towards relatives, other than physical affection. “Saying how much she’s missed someone or thank you with a smile, a high-five, or even an air kiss are all ways she can express herself, and it’s important she knows that she gets to choose which feels most comfortable to her,” they said.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN,) one in nine girls under the age of 18 has experienced sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult.

Sadly, past research also indicates that nearly one third of these episodes are perpetrated by a family member.

Girl Scouts created the post to bring attention to the rising number of sexual assault cases and to urge parents to be cautious.

“The notion of consent may seem very grown-up and like something that doesn’t pertain to children,” Girl Scouts developmental psychologist, Andrea Bastiani Archibald said. “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. 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 have been crossed, and when to go to you for help.”

Ultimately, as the holidays approach, Girl Scouts aims to spread the message to let your children decide when and how she wants to show affection. They recognize that this won’t be necessary for every child — some kids may want to show affection right away.

If a child wants to kiss and hug their family members and friends, that’s lovely. But if a child — or anyone — seems reticent, let them choose what to do.

Giving people the choice on how to show affection this holiday season will help people feel more in control of these situations during these hectic times. Hugging and kissing are great ways to show affection, but they are not the only ways.

Letting people choose what they’re comfortable with will make the holidays an even merrier time.

Lindsay Gibbons can be contacted at lgibbons@kscequinox.com