Now…Give Your Uncle A Kiss

The shocking and tragic events at Penn State that have unfolded over the past two weeks, which have exposed former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, as a sexual predator, have (yet again) brought the issue of child sex abuse to the forefront of our collective consciousness.

In light of recent events, I want to discuss an issue, a behavior, that has bothered me for some time. It’s about how we encourage our kids to abandon their sense of self-trust–their instinct and intuition–in order to be polite through showing physical affection to adults.

How often, especially during the holidays, are children confronted with moments like this one: a relative comes to visit and the child’s parents say something like, “Now, give your uncle a hug and kiss.”

And when the child refuses to provide physical affection, or hesitates at the request, they sometimes hear things like, “You’re hurting your uncle’s feelings. It’s not polite. Now, go give him a hug and kiss.”

Some of us even remember our relatives asking us (some may say pleading or begging) for affection, “Aren’t you going to give me a hug and kiss? Please?!”

I think this insisting and cajoling of a child into showing physical affection towards an adult is incredibly dangerous. Whether it’s a relationship between a child and his/her relatives or one between a kid and an adult who is an acquaintance, family friend, mentor, this type of behavior, in which children are expected to show physical affection as a sign of respect, is something I think we all need to be careful about.

For me, it’s about the issue of when a child gives us the sense that they don’t want to be physically affectionate with someone, and our tendency to encourage the child, at that particular moment, to abandon their intuition and instinct. It’s a small step towards the erosion of that child’s sense of self-trust.

At that moment, we are telling them, “Forget about how you feel. Do something that makes you feel uncertain and uncomfortable, so that someone else (an adult) can feel acknowledged and respected.”

We are all built with a natural, innate inclination, a real sense of what feels right and wrong. Every species of animal is born with an instinctual drive. Unfortunately, the human species is the only one continually taught to ignore their instincts.

There is, however, a difference between intuition and instinct. Even though the words are often confused as synonyms for each other, there is a simple way to separate the two. We are all born with instinct, but intuition is built through education, living, and practice. Our intuition is linked to a keen and quick insight.

These two internal senses, intuition and instinct, make up my idea of self-trust. I see self-trust as related to trusting your reactions, your feelings about people, circumstances, and decisions. I see self-trust as the most authentic reactions and feelings.

I acknowledge that some kids are just being difficult, but it’s not about their motivation so much as it is about our reaction. At that moment, we initiate a process where we require boys and girls to have physical interaction when they don’t want to and at that moment, we also tell them to ignore their sense of self-trust. We are teaching kids that adults are in charge of who they should be and are affectionate with. We are telling them that they don’t have the right or power to make their own decisions about human, physical interaction.

Again, it’s the little moments that create a big collective weight over time.

But my point is, no one has the right to receive affection, especially from a child. It’s not part of normal, polite interactions. It’s extra. When we ask kids to offer physical signs of affection, a hug or a kiss may seem innocuous enough to us, as adults.

Can you imagine asking, or expecting an adult to hug and kiss another adult, as a way to show acknowledgement or respect? Normally, we wouldn’t encourage two adults to have that sort of interaction because we all have a sense of what kinds of physical affection are appropriate in a given circumstance. We have a sense of what we feel comfortable with and we react according to our gut.

Why can’t we allow children to tap into this same instinctive, internal sense?

This doesn’t mean I think we should live in a society without affection. To the contrary.

But the idea that a child can be guilt-tripped or cajoled into affection is disgusting to me. It’s not a light-hearted or funny moment, it’s sad. At that moment, we are telling that child to give their physical selves in order to appease us adults, for reasons that they don’t fully understand or appreciate. Our motivation, whether it’s social embarrassment or a desire to connect with the child, puts us first, rather than thinking of them first…as it should be.

When it comes to acknowledging other people, the most we can expect from children is for them to politely and verbally greet adults. And as far as I’m concerned, anything else, is expecting too much and is patently unfair.

Some may say that this way of handling interaction between adults and children will build up cynicism in kids, will rob them of their innocent childhood, and will make them overly cautious of adults–or even teach them to be aloof.

Well, our childhoods have never been innocent (now or ever). One out of every four girls and one of out of every six boys will face sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. We only have to look at the numbers to understand that for many kids, there have never been bright, sunny childhoods.

For much too long, they have been filled with silent moments of sexual abuse, we just haven’t discussed them. They have been hidden away, just like the victims of Jerry Sandusky. It’s only when we shatter this myth of a childhood era of innocence that we can begin to understand what children truly face.

Sexual abuse completely revamps the blueprint of the victim’s life. Their worldview shifts, the way they process trust, how they build relationships, their sense of safety, are all permanently altered.

So, I think I’d much rather have our children be slightly cynical and aware, to encourage them to follow their sense of self-trust, and as a result, to give them a better chance at protecting themselves, than to insist that kids must show physical affection when they don’t feel comfortable.

After all, it’s not like we’ve done our part to protect our kids, not at all. And if we have any doubt about that, all we have to do is think about Mike McQueary, looking on as that poor boy was raped in the locker room shower at Penn State.

We will be soon releasing his first short e-book, entitled, A Message To Women From A Man: You Are Not Crazy — How We Teach Men That Women Are Crazy and How We Convince Women To Ignore Their Instincts. If you are interested and want to be notified when the book is released, please click here to sign-up.

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25 Responses to “Now…Give Your Uncle A Kiss”

  1. Avatar of catt9
    catt9 May 31, 2012 at 11:55 pm #

    As someone who has always felt uncomfortable with unknown children hugging/kissing her I stand behind this article… Not necessarily because of the parental degeneration that seems be mildly assumed (forgive me if I read too deep into it)or the fact that kids do need to learn that feelings and instincts are not the most important thing in your life (I’d like to reserve honest communication and a self-awareness for a higher spot)but more so because those weird relative kids need to stop hugging me and telling me that I smell like weird things. Yes you sticky ragamuffin I smell weird I smell like every form of alcohol I could find at this reunion/Christmas/Easter/funeral, lol. Not to say that I don’t like kids I know giving me hugs, sitting on my lap for a story (ok as a nanny when the first kid did that to me I freaked a little) or giving me a kiss but I would like if I knew them better than some twice a year gathering…and could find their parents easily. I am PAID to watch children not coerced through cuteness (aka stickiness)

  2. Avatar of Kate Harding
    Kate Harding December 3, 2011 at 5:51 pm #

    I’m so with you. It’s appalling that we tell children who they should give physical (or non-physical) affection to, and when. As a child, I felt this very strongly as an emotional violation, and it still horrifies me every time I see it done.

    And I don’t think we need to relate this behaviour to child abuse in order for it to be worth condemning. I’m not saying there’s no valid connection – simply that our ordinary attitudes to children are awful enough to warrant changing.

    We’re all used to hearing that we treat women as sex objects. But few people realise that we treat children as love objects – ‘things’ that we can use to meet our desire for loving contact, regardless of how they feel about it.

    The ‘love objects’ idea was formed by John Holt, the incredible educator and advocate for children’s rights. I can’t recommend his books highly enough. Or for anyone who wants a quick taster, there’s an excerpt of one of his books at http://www.naturalchild.org/guest/john_holt4.html.

    • Avatar of ivaa
      ivaa December 7, 2011 at 3:41 am #

      @Kate Harding – I agree so much! And thank you for reminding me about “love objects” – John Holt’s books have been important to me since they were new, and I’ve been exploring the concept of children as objects recently, and now the twain have met!

  3. Avatar of Jens Jen
    Jens Jen November 25, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    THANK YOU!
    As a child, I was taught that my body is not my own. I was sexually abused. I was told that no matter how much I didn’t want to kiss or touch another human being, it didn’t matter… I had to give myself and my body over to their needs, wants, and desires.

    As an adult, I continued right on believing that I was not my own. I didn’t get to choose how close I let people get. I didn’t get to choose what I wanted or felt or needed when it came to my body. (I’m being vague… Sometimes it is still hard for me to say the words.) My body belonged to my husband, so whether I wanted sex or not, I HAD to give it… and if I didn’t give willingly, he would take by whatever force necessary.

    I believe children have the right to decide who they hug or kiss and when. Most children will hug those they are comfortable with. Most children are VERY affectionate, but when you tell them that they HAVE to be affectionate with someone, you are putting them at risk.

    Teach children their body is their own. They decide what is to be done with it. Talk to them about how if an adult insists they do something with their body that they don’t want to do, to talk to someone they trust. And in order to BE someone a child trusts, you can’t go around telling them that they have to hug and touch and kiss an adult just because the adult wants it.

  4. Avatar of Coleen
    Coleen November 22, 2011 at 10:42 am #

    I COMPLETELY AGREE with “Emma_K7″ !!!! I really think a few months/years in another culture might broaden some people’s horizons(perhaps France, where men, women and children kiss each on the cheek as a greeting)- this article is very “closed-minded”. Do you really want a world void of emotional expression? If you raise kids to reject it in their youth you will have a sad society as a result afterwards. Sexual abuse of children is not the result of children kissing their uncle or grandmother. I think children don’t learn to be affectionate enough in many cultures, which is much more likely to be a cause of violence and abuse than a presence of affection within a culture.

  5. Avatar of notjustaprettyface
    notjustaprettyface November 20, 2011 at 6:56 am #

    i was reading this and thinking about all the times i was heard this as a child. i remember never feeling comfortable being forced to show love this way. i grew to never want to go to relative’s houses partially for this reason. and then whenever we did go i’d give hugs that would keep me as far from the person as possible. then after awhile my mother started telling me how hurt my family was cuz i didnt give them “warm welcomes” and made me feel guilty saying “they’re your family, they love you. they just wanna hug you and be around you. what’s wrong with you?” not the best way to make me want to be around them. they hug me to close and i despise being forced to plaster my body to theirs, i don’t even do that with boyfriends. why should i be forced to do that with my grandpa?
    and about them wanting children to stay innocent? the only way you’ll manage that is to homeschool them from the get-go. i had to give my 10 year old sister the talk because mother refuses to ackowledge it and the kids in her class were talking about this stuff and giving her the wrong idea about sex. im just glad she felt comfortable enough to talk to me about it and tell me what was going on. kids aren’t innocent anymore, i know of 2nd graders who know more swear words than i do. i guess im trying to say that parents need to stop wearing blinders, and if they were more proactive about things maybe we wouldn’t have so much child abuse, teen pregnancies, or so many other things wrong with the world.

    • Avatar of pandora
      pandora November 25, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

      @notjustaprettyface

      I concur with what you’ve said. I remember being told to hug some adult as a child and not wanting to do it. I also agree with this article.

      However, this crap doesn’t stop it continues into adulthood. I am not a huggy person. It’s just not who I am. I’m friendly and polite but I don’t want to hug people. I hug my close friends and a immediate family members that is it. I don’t feel like going around and hugging everyone. I was living in a country of Eastern Europe as an American expat and I went to a b-day party of a fellow American expat. I hadn’t seen her in a while. She gave me a big hug and I returned it. Afterwards she commented that I was so stiff and stuck up when I had arrived in that country but after a while I had loosened up/relaxed was fun to be around. I was really offended by that statement because it was judgmental and condescending. This particular person is extroverted loud, boisterous, and loves to hug. Good for her. Not everyone is like that.

      That was a bit off topic but it’s the same way people treat kids.
      “Oh don’t be like that jessica/bobby…give your aunt a hug.” Well not everyone is super affectionate. Human beings need to quit trying to control other human beings and just let people be themselves. It takes all kinds of people to make a world. Not everyone wants to be hugged, kissed, and petted. Those of us that are not super affectionate are not cold or out-of-touch with are feelings either, everyone expresses themselves differently.

  6. Avatar of smibbo
    smibbo November 15, 2011 at 8:19 am #

    Completely agree, Yashar. This is why I (and all of my parent-friends) do not command our children to display affection. All of us remember clearly being pushed (or forced) to do so when WE were children. Personally I am surprised anyone still does this. Because whether or not you were a victim of sexual violation or not, I’m sure everyone can grasp the concept of self-determination. I want my daughter to know she can say “no” to any advances and not feel “bad” about it. I want my sons to know that no one is required to give in to another’s demand for affection. What does it teach our children if we do not respect their physical space? That their physical space is not theirs to command. I’ll not teach any child that. Happily, the few times I’ve met up with a child whose parent was urging them to engage with me, i’ve told the child “its okay, you don’t know me, you don’t have to have to” and the parent has accepted that and stopped the prompting.

  7. Avatar of yourspiritualtruth
    yourspiritualtruth November 14, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

    Yashar, thank you for bringing light on this very important topic. My friend and colleague, Renee Beese just released a children’s book that empowers them to listen to their own intuition regarding who may or may not be of danger to them. The book is entitled, “My Stranger Belly” and is available on Amazon. etc.

  8. Avatar of Emma_K7
    Emma_K7 November 14, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    “Can you imagine asking, or expecting an adult to hug and kiss another adult, as a way to show acknowledgement or respect?”
    Yes, I can, mainly because I probably come from a different culture than you do when it is considered the norm to hug and kiss someone when you greet them. So difference of culture plays a role.

    That’s my only point of objection to this I guess. Seems a bit far fetched to me. Also, children pick up fears from here and there and most small children tend to be shy around adults. So it’s not just their “instinct”, it’s socialisation, which starts from birth.

    Good article though! Definitely good food for thought, I am not very familiar with the subject anyway :)

    • Avatar of Lestat
      Lestat November 14, 2011 at 8:09 pm #

      I doubt you hug and kiss every adult you come in contact with, just those you choose to! Those it comes naturally for you to hug, which should be the same for children.

      • Avatar of TampaTurk
        TampaTurk November 15, 2011 at 8:21 am #

        I’ve been in situations where, yes, I DO have to show physical affection for adults due to cultural impacts and I do not want to. My husband is from a culture where EVERYONE greets friends, family, new acquaintances, everyone, with a kiss. I am not from this culture. I do not feel comfortable doing it, but it is expected and imposed on me and I comply. I fully understand Emma’s statement.

    • Avatar of Kate Harding
      Kate Harding December 4, 2011 at 5:51 am #

      I can see why this issue would seem puzzling to people from cultures where physical affection is more common. I’ve lived in Argentina, where it’s normal to kiss hello (on the cheek) with strangers, and to hug hello with people you know only a little. In such cultures, teaching a child to kiss hello must be not much different from teaching them to say please and thankyou.

      But the thing is, it’s not the specific gesture that’s the issue, but what it means. Every culture has rules about what level of physical affection is acceptable at various degrees of familiarity, and everyone in that culture knows when a boundary’s been crossed.

      For example, in Argentina, you would naturally give a little abrazo to some you’d met just a few times. But in such a hug, there’s a natural point at which you let go. If someone holds on too long, you know it, and it feels uncomfortable – you know they’re not just hugging hello, they’re attempting a level of physical intimacy which is inappropriate. Similarly, you may kiss a stranger on the cheek, but not on the lips.

      So if you mentally substitute a kind of physical contact which is *not* normal for your culture, you’ll easily see the problem. Imagine your boss insisted on kissing you on the lips every time you left the office. Or imagine that you were expected to go and sit in the lap of a total stranger and give them a long cuddle.

      It takes *less* physical contact to make people uncomfortable in the US or the UK, but the point is, we all know when someone is being more physically intimate with us than is culturally appropriate – and yet we expect children to put up with it every day.

  9. Avatar of ivaa
    ivaa November 14, 2011 at 1:22 pm #

    As one who sexually violated by a priest and “honorary uncle” as a child, I applaud what you have written – and I’m very pleased to see my grandchildren stop and think “Do I really want to give Granny a hug?” before they do … or don’t.

    And, Yashar, I’d like to pick a nit with you: From my POV, the expression “sexual abuse” is offensive. It might be a language thing, as I’m Norwegian: To me, “sexual abuse of children” seems to imply that there are circumstances where it’s OK to “USE” children sexually.

    We have an equivalent expression in Norwegian, but I am pleased to see that in the past 20+ years it is being replaced by the equivalent of “violations”

    • Avatar of Julie
      Julie November 14, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

      The term sexual abuse isn’t meant to imply that it is ever okay to be sexual with children; it just means abuse of a sexual nature. Hope that makes more sense.

    • Avatar of liz
      liz November 18, 2011 at 12:56 pm #

      As a native English speaker who knows Norwegian, and also as a psychologist, AND as a survivor of abuse myself, I can tell you “sexual abuse” is correct in English!

      I imagine you’re thinking of “bruk” v. “misbruk”, which would translate more directly to “use” v. “misuse”, not “use” v. “abuse”.

      English speakers don’t even usually think of “abuse” as being linguistically related to “use” (although it is). The previous commenter is correct; “sexual” specifies type of “abuse”, rather than making “sexual use” a consideration.

      • Avatar of ivaa
        ivaa December 7, 2011 at 3:51 am #

        @Julie. I had to think about this for a while, and I think my gut reaction of the word “abuse” is caused by the “use”, more than the “sexual”.

        @Kate Harding writes here about children as objects – and that’s where the word “abuse” takes me. When is it ever OK to USE children? In any way at all, not just sexually?

      • Avatar of ivaa
        ivaa December 7, 2011 at 4:14 am #

        @liz – I wrote a response to @Julie which is also relevant here, and I’m adding a question: How does the distinction between misuse and abuse work, from a psychologist’s POV?

        “abuse” is defined as:
        1 use to bad effect or for a bad purpose.
        2 treat with cruelty or violence.

        1 the improper use of something.
        2 cruel and violent treatment.

        and misuse as:
        1 use wrongly.
        2 treat badly or unfairly.

        The main distinction I can find is that “abuse” can be a noun.

        The word “misbruk” was in common use here in Norway until the late 80s, when feminists and incest awareness activists began to protest the unconscious acceptance of the “bruk/use” that was hidden within it.

        I would like to see the same change in English, but is there a good replacement word?

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