The Problem with Hugging

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

In a valiant effort to join my husband in one of his rituals, I recently girded my loins and settled into the serial viewing of an evening’s news shows. I was set on ignoring the racist and misogynistic slurs against President Obama’s Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor. I planned to zone out as the strategically matched, aesthetically pleasing male and female co-anchors blathered segues from story to story. I was determined to avoid imagining the thousands of autoworkers’ families poised for despair as industry and political leaders negotiated in the billions. I even committed to withholding my normal rant that the commercials require reducing the television volume three or four bars. And, my fail-safe device, I had an adult beverage in hand, ready to comfort when reports of violence cut through my emotional insulation. But, despite my intent to remain unresponsive, I was wholly unprepared for the revelation that hugging among teens is a phenomenon — and a bad one according to some schools.

Where have I been, lo these many — apparently naïve — years? With my head up the armpit of an inappropriately affectionate hugger? Have the countless embraces I have received and committed been the subtle precursors to sexual harassment or — horror! — the authority-challenging pursuit of "excessive displays of affection"?

I learned that term when I couldn’t stand the news anymore and got up to research this phenomenon of affection that made it from a feature in The New York Times to my coast’s evening drivel. Our local high school’s 2008-2009 Student Handbook says, “Excessive display of affection is inappropriate on school grounds or at school sponsored activities;” the Band Room rules preclude everything but handholding; and violations have consequences:

1st offense — 2 hrs of Thursday school 2nd offense — 4 hrs of Saturday school 3rd offense — 1 to 5 days of home suspension, parent contact Ed. Code 48900 (k)

I don’t know what Thursday school is, but it sounds bad, and Saturday school? That’s definitely bad. Home suspension could actually be OK, but the referenced education code says a California public school student can only be suspended if he or she has been really bad — violent, in possession of a weapon or drugs … disruptive of school activities or defiant toward a “valid authority.” Hmm, hugging on a par with violence?

This means if a California student were to hug someone and if a valid school authority observed the hug and deemed it disruptive and demanded the hug be discontinued and if the student defied the request, he or she could be suspended.

Oh, the idiocy of it!

hugs1My daughter attended a charter high school where public displays of affection (PDA) were de rigueur — same and opposite sex. So I called Kate for a reality check. She’s now 20, not much removed from her high school years.

Me: Honey, did you hear about the problem with hugging?

Kate: What?

Me: Hugging.

Kate: What? (Lots of background noise.)

Me: HUGGING! Apparently it’s a problem with teens. It was in the news. Some high schools have prohibited it. One put a time limit on it: Two seconds max or you’re out.

Kate: Whaat! People should be embracing the fact that kids are open and warm with each other instead of being hostile and hateful — like the adults who are persecuting them. This is one step closer to “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

I love my kid’s sense of wordplay. And her literacy.

Kate: This is really offensive to me. My friends and I — everyone I knew in high school, boys and girls — hugged each other to say hello. It’s not like we were trying to get off. We were being friendly. It’s a human thing to do. This isn’t the dark ages. It’s not like we’re whipping out sex toys and going at it. It’s just saying hello. There is a difference!

Kate was with a couple of friends in a coffee shop, probably surrounded by folks hugging unfettered, and her friends were equally passionate about PDAs.

Vartuhi: This is why people hate Americans! I’ve been hugging my friends since junior high, so I really don’t understand why this is an issue. We watched [the video] and we all thought we were back in the 1950s, where these moronic “problems” were an issue to people — it’s puritanical! It’s sad that people think it is an issue when there are actual issues they should be dealing with – teen pregnancy, drugs, violence, all the budget cuts in schools.

Ariel: So much of kids’ socializing is on the computer, texting and Facebook and stuff, parents should be glad their kids can connect in person — hugging is a way to compensate for all that. If kids are hugging, it’s filling a social, emotional and physical need. There are so many things the schools should be focusing on, like sex education. [Hugging] is a way for kids to learn to be comfortable with their own bodies and other people’s bodies, without being sexual.

These gals are smart. They represent three well-populated and distinct ethnic groups for whom teen hugging has long been healthy and normal — and they know a violation of the human right to express affection when it whops them upside the head.

So that’s it. I’m not taking it anymore. It’s time for a revolution! I’m marching over to Fallbrook High and organizing a hug-in. Guess I better start with the WASPy kids.

Love, K-B

©2009 Kit-Bacon Gressitt

(Photo by antes yo no era ahora soy via a Creative Commons license.)

(Editor’s Note: This piece is cross-posted with