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Have you ever asked your child to give grandma a kiss though they didn't want to, or told them to sit on Santa's lap? There's people who want you to stop doing that, and with good reason, but can offering your child bodily autonomy go a step too far?

If you're a parent, chances are that you've made some of these statements:

  • "Go put on a cardigan; it's cold out!"
  • "Smells like you need to take a bath today... remember to put your deodorant on after, OK?"
  • "We're about to cross the road, hold my hand, please!"

You may even have told your child, at one point or another, to hug her preschool peer after a fight or to shake the new sport's coach's hand. You might have wiped a loudly protesting toddler's snotty nose, or brushed a crying elementary aged child's tangled hair. You may have done all of these things without for a moment considering whether they were the right thing to do. 

No more.

If you're an involved, active parent and you have an internet connection, you've come across them, right? Those YouTube videos and blog posts about children's bodily autonomy?

You know, the ones that tell you that ignoring your child's claim to their own body now prepares them for a lifetime of thinking that their bodies aren't really theirs, that it's normal for other people to exercise a degree of control over their bodies?

Just the other day, I stumbled on a little "infographic" on Facebook under the heading of "Stop Forced Affection". No "give grandma a kiss", no "sit on Santa's lap", no "give Uncle a hug", no "I'm going to tickle you", and no "blow a kiss then", the little graphic said. Only in this way, the author of the graphic holds, can you really teach your children that their bodies are their own, and that they choose what happens to them. 

The comments were almost more interesting than the graphic itself. "Oh for crying out loud," one parent replied.

"Stop with all the dang rules. I'm the parent. I'll assess the situation (and my kid!) on a case by case basis and make the call. Stop with all the rules about everything. Give us parents a little bit of credit!"

One thing's clear: this is a controversial topic. No matter where you stand on it, however, it's one worth considering in detail, rather than simply letting your own socialization carry you along tides you may not want to be dragged into.

What Messages Are You Sending Your Child About Bodily Autonomy?

Let's launch right into it: nine out of 10 victims of child sexual abuse know the people who victimize them. What messages are you sending your young child when you strongly verbally encourage them to engage in some form of physical contact with someone they don't want that physical contact with (right now), and maybe even with the very same people who are eager to turn your child's body into a crime scene? Are you essentially telling them that it doesn't matter what they do and don't want to do with their bodies, that what other people want to do with their bodies is much more important, thereby leaving them vulnerable to abuse?

Years down the line, will you have subconsciously trained your child to kiss that crush on a first date even though they don't want to — because the date asked for it, just like you asked your child to give grandma a peck on the cheek? Especially if you have a daughter, are you teaching her that her body belongs to other people?

Is continuing to tickle your child after they've said "no" traumatizing, or at least simply plain wrong?

They're interesting questions. The connection between hugging Auntie and being pressured into sex later on might not be immediately apparent, but we've got to admit it — it's there, alright. Indeed, it's one of the reasons I prefer to leave it up to my kids whether they choose physical contact with other people or not, and why I teach them to ask other people before they initiate any. Auntie's wish to get a kiss doesn't trump my kid's wish not to give one.

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