Border Mail Column, Wednesday 7 November, 2012
They can lower blood pressure, improve self-esteem, comfort, reduce pain but mostly the giving or receiving of them makes us feel good.
‘They’ are hugs, but last week for a 12-year-old Bunbury girl giving her best friend a hug earned her a detention because hugging during school time is breaking the rules at Adam Road Primary School.
The ‘no hug’ rule was introduced by the school after a number of parents reportedly complained that their children were being physically hurt by excessive or over enthusiastic hugging or were ‘missing out’ and being given no hugs at all.
According to the school’s acting principal, Gemma Preston, the behaviour was ‘getting out of control with students hugging each other several times a day, and this was becoming disruptive to classes.’
I keep going over this trying to imagine what type of disruption all of this hugging might be fuelling when all of the evidence points to, when consensual, its benefits.
Was it really taking time away from their daily lessons and eating into precious time when they should be learning maths, English, science, music or reading? (According to one commenter on the news.com.au site where this story first appeared it is making students late for class – I agree that is a disciplinary issue.)
Another commenter labelled the behaviour as just another ‘over the top’ American custom creeping into Australia, but the need for affection, including hugging, is a basic human one proven to be vital for not only our emotional but also our physical health.
I recall a case study in a psychology text that examined the consequences of babies whose physical needs were met, but who received no physical comfort. These babies did not thrive and there was the suggestion that some may have died.
There is much evidence to show that when a baby cries the easiest and quickest way to soothe them (apart from feeding and changing) is to hold them close.
When a toddler falls and hurts itself, or when as adults we are upset the first response by those who care for us is to hug us, but as we get older the number of hugs we receive each day lessens.
For some this can result in a condition known as ‘touch deficit’ where when someone does hug them they respond echidna-like and put out spikes to put a barrier between themselves and the would-be hugger.
It has been suggested the crackdown on hugging stems from an increased concern about inappropriate touching and sexual harassment, but we can teach our children from an early age how to trust their inbuilt radar when it comes to who has permission to hug them.
In 2004, an Australian man known as Juan Mann started the ‘Free Hugs’ campaign where he stood in Pitt Street in Sydney with a sign that read ‘Free Hugs’.
Initially viewed with some wariness, the movement grew and was celebrated throughout the world and has been used to highlight a number of social and health issues.
I think it was at this time stickers began to appear asking ‘Have you hugged your child today?’ and I recall stopping momentarily, answering this question in the positive and then thinking how strange that I should even have to consider the question.
American psychotherapist, Virgina Satir, whose universal mantra was ‘peace within, peace between, peace among ’ determined “We need four hugs a day for our survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”
May you receive your twelve hugs today.