With the Christmas season approaching, family get-togethers hold the promise of Christmas cookies, funny stories, and joyful traditions. But they could also be a time when our children hear the wrong message about consent and physical affection.
With all of the sexual harassment charges circling in the media recently, you may find yourself advising your children to withhold physical affection from well-meaning family and friends. It’s understandable if we feel wary about physical affection right now, but erring too far on the side of caution could also have negative effects on your children.
Think of it this way: telling your child that she doesn’t have to hug a family member or friend could be sending the message that physical affection is bad–that we should be fearful of speaking this language of the body. It can convey that it is some sort of trading commodity–something we either “owe” someone or not–rather than a gift to be freely given. And while caution and vigilance are certainly in order, our children also need to be protected from withholding the kind of love that others might truly need.
I have an aunt who used to smother me in kisses and hug me until it hurt every time I saw her. I couldn’t have escaped her hugs even if I had tried. But I never felt violated by it. It was simply how she expressed her love. And now that same aunt sits in a lonely nursing home. She suffers from dementia. Her mind may not be there, but her body still is, and she obviously loves the comfort of physical touch. She is someone who I would encourage my children to hug. It can be appropriate to nudge our children a bit out of their comfort zones to learn the love language of another.
I’m not talking about forcing, but rather, teaching our children how to speak a language that will carry them through their dating years, marriage or a religious vocation, and the final days of their lives here on earth. In a world where “connection” is defined more often by our internet speed than by physical proximity, the language of the body is becoming a lost art.
But we were made for this.
“The Theology of the Body tells us that we were made for love and that even our bodies are wired for love. [Studies show that] children who received extravagant levels of affection demonstrated the greatest degree of those skills associated with good moral decision making. If parents want moral kids, we need to do much more than sheltering kids’ innocence and telling them the difference between right from wrong. Parents need to prepare their children’s brains for the work of moral decision making by rooting them in extravagant physical affection and generous displays of parental love.” (read Dr. Greg Popcak’s full article on this topic here.)
Physical affection is good for our kids (and for all human beings), and they need to know this! Certainly, I want to protect my children from true sexual predators, but I also don’t want their need for touch to become so starved that they’ll do anything to feed that hunger.
Our children can learn the lines that shouldn’t be crossed, while at the same time learning to give of themselves freely. They can be encouraged to give their well meaning uncle a hug “because that tells him it’s nice to see him again” or give their aunt a kiss on the cheek “because that’s how she knows you liked her gift.” If our children simply won’t do this in the moment, then of course they don’t have to–but it’s okay to continue to nudge them along in their understanding of the language of the body.
The body is a gift and it’s language is powerful. To truly master it, our children need to practice speaking with it–generously yet appropriately.
And what better time to shower our kids with physical affection than Christmas–the moment when God Himself became flesh so that He, too, could speak the language of the body.
Copyright 2017 Charisse Tierney