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Hugs, high fives and other PDAs: How much is too much?

High fives after the big game, a fist bump to say hello, a hug to say good bye. Today’s kids, from elementary school to university, are an affectionate bunch. While affection and a certain level of human intimacy is not only healthy but necessary for development and fulfillment, some schools and administrators are beginning to express an increasing level of discomfort at these overtly public displays of affection.Hugs, for instance, have come under so much scrutiny in the past few years that some schools have even gone so far as to enforce a maximum time limit for hugs taking place on school property or banning them altogether, arguing that hugging clogs hallways, contributes to tardiness or puts schools at risk for sexual harassment suits. Countless news stories have reported these efforts, along with varying responses from students and parents. It has created such a debate that it’s quite likely your school has broached the subject, too.Due to the very strong opinions of students, parents, teachers and administrators alike when it comes to public displays of affection at school, extra care should be taken when communicating your school’s decision to establish policies regarding hugging, touching and other displays of affection. Here are some tips to spread the word.

For teachers

  • Brief teachers
    Prepare your teachers to respond to questions, concerns and even criticism regarding new policies. Provide FAQ sheets and meet with teachers to role-play potential conversations that could take place in response to policies. Place the written policy, procedures for handling reporting and violations, along with this FAQ sheet and any other material, in a folder or a pad holder to make sure teachers have easy access to it while on the phone or at their desks.
  • Warn monitors
    As with most new rules and guidelines, any new policy put in place will likely take some getting used to. Those teachers and administrators also serving as hall, recess or cafeteria monitors should be on high alert to correct inappropriate behavior prior to enforcement of consequences. Whistles have proven indispensible in situations like this in schools for years. 

For students

  • Hold an assembly
    Alert students to new guidelines in homeroom classes or larger student assembly settings. The purpose should be to provide understanding and explanations of expectations in light of the new guidelines. To try not to make the tone too serious, consider a fun item like a Cuddly Bear or some Hand Clappers to help spread the word.
  • Offer alternatives
    Instead of simply outlining what students are not allowed to do regarding policy-based displays of affection, be sure to supplement communications of these guidelines to students with actions they are permitted to do. If all touch has been banned, consider creating a school-wide greeting. Hold a contest to devise a school-wide secret handshake, wave or other salutation. Winners could receive bragging rights, plus fun prizes like a Book Light. As the new greeting is adopted into standard occurrence, reward students caught using it throughout the day with affirming trinkets like cool Shades.

For parents

  • Be specific
    Outline exactly why the decision to enact a policy regarding physical contact has been put into place. While it should be implied, take care to remind parents that administration’s ultimate goal is to prepare and protect students today so that they can be intelligent and respectful members of society tomorrow.
  • Take care
    Prepare parents for the fact that perhaps their students may be receiving less physical affection from friends while at school, and they may require some extra attention at home in order to compensate for this loss.

Just because a controversial topic provokes a new guideline doesn’t mean the new guideline has to be controversial, too. Communication and support will help mitigate any uncertainty among teachers, parents and students.

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