Service of Hugs: A Girl Scouts Warning

January 4th, 2018

Categories: Gratitude, Hugs


You may have missed, as I did, this story in November when the Girl Scouts of the USA warned parents about urging their kids to hug relatives over the holidays. I looked it up after hearing Rob Astorino mention it on the Len Berman Morning Show on WOR 710 radio where he was a guest host between Christmas and New Year’s. The holidays are long gone but I thought that the topic was worth discussion because I’m clearly missing something.


Katie Kindelan, on, quoted a post on the Girl Scouts website: “Think of it this way, telling your child that she owes someone a hug either just because she hasn’t seen this person in a while or because they gave her a gift can set the stage for her questioning whether she ‘owes’ another person any type of physical affection when they have bought her dinner or done something else seemingly nice for her later in life.”

I disliked groping grownups who stuck their faces in mine when I was a kid and have always waited for a baby or child to approach me with a hug and if they do, I’m happy. If they don’t, I get it. I can’t recall any parent telling their child that they owe me a hug because I dropped by or gave them a gift. Most kids were taught to say “thank you,” but if distracted or disappointed, sometimes they needed to be reminded. Hugs? No.


Since the Dark Ages there’s been the dynamic between men and women–and countless movies and novels about the inflated expectations of some men after they’ve paid for a meal–but I see no connection between this and a child’s hug, except for using the word “owe.”

That’s the operative word. Do people really tell their children or their charges that a hug is owed? Do parents force children to hug others? If so, do you think a child would translate hugging grandpa or Uncle Frank to leaping into the arms of a boss who gave them a raise or bonus or into the bed of a date after a restaurant meal once they are grown?


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14 Responses to “Service of Hugs: A Girl Scouts Warning”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    Would be a far far better thing to teach the difference… Between just liking someone and hugging them, and “Owing” something to someone.

    There is a huge difference, and that’s what should be taught. I think they got the question wrong, the scouts that is!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You said it far more succinctly than I did. The warning struck me funny which is why I wrote the post.

  3. ASK Said:

    This admonition beggars belief…as a former Girl Scout, I find it insulting! Doesn’t anyone have any common sense any more? Can growing children no longer tell the difference between hugging family and friends vs. casual acquaintances or business associates, even though the latter two may desperately need or want one?

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Maybe the person who wrote the post didn’t understand the importance of the word OWE and the editor didn’t catch it. Just a thought. It’s still a puzzle that people jump from a child’s hug to a grownup’s inappropriate expression of gratitude. There are strange friends and relatives that a parent must protect their children from but to broad brush all hugs is too easy and a mistake.

  5. Lucan Said:

    I suppose anything is possible, but this sounds crazy to me. The very idea that hugging relatives could lead to a sex for pay habit!

    I’ve patted hugging men on the back while hugging them closely, as men do in Spain, and walked down Park Avenue holding hands with them, as they do in Beirut or Jeddah, but never thought of what I was doing as being homosexual. It was just the way my foreign friends were comfortable acting when they were with their friends at home.

    I am deeply reserved and decidedly undemonstrative and normally do not seek opportunities to exchange affectionate greetings. However, everything has its place and time, and whether it is to avoid rejecting someone, or to express strong feelings, I do occasionally hug. That is what I do; nobody taught me to be the way I am, and I can’t see anything wrong with it.

    Don’t worry about the kids. They will figure it out on their own.

  6. Jennifer Powell Said:

    Jennifer wrote on Facebook: Wow! I was definitely never told I “owe” anyone any hugs or kisses. I gave my grandparents and family members hugs and kisses because I love them and because I wanted to show my appreciation. Every Christmas, after opening gifts, most of my family would give hugs to one another to show our thanks, but it certainly was never forced.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I think that children follow the example of their elders. If a mother or father or other member of their family has his/her hands all over others inappropriately, that will impact future behavior far more than a warning not to hug cousin Joe. Reminds me of the parent who, from his bed on Sunday morning, yells at his children to get going and off to church on time. This person can roadblock all the hugs on the planet but whatever said would have microscopic effect.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’m with you. I like to think many families are like yours. To cancel the joy of hugging is overkill and a killjoy.

  9. Lucrezia Said:

    Spontaneity is key, so forcing signs of affection where they are nonexistent or not thought of is bone stupid. Everyone is unique, children being no exception. Each should have the freedom to develop his/her own style. When accepting a gift, a thank you is mandatory, but it need not come in the form of a hug. No way did I expose my children to such nonsense!

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    For the Girl Scouts to come up with this concept there must be some parents who force kids to hug but even that–along with the fake smiles many youngsters sport in photos because their parents make them grimace–shouldn’t teach a child to feel obliged to hug anyone as an adult or walk around with a moronic smirk.

    One of my cousins, when a youngster, raced out the door and ran to greet our car as it entered the driveway calling to his family, “they’re here!” and hugging us [his aunt, uncle and myself]. It’s an image I’ll always remember and I believe nobody nudged him to do this. Who wants to be hugged by someone ordered to do so? Ugh.

  11. Lucrezia Said:

    You’d be surprised at the extent of synthetic affection going around, but it’s not necessarily parents who are to blame. In some areas it’s “stylish” to hug just about anyone on the street! There’s no affection here, and it’s far fetched to propose it leads to sex.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Lucan’s comment should have triggered this memory but yours did for sure. There are cultures where the air kiss or hugging has happened between strangers for eons and there was nothing sexual about it. When I was in Argentina, aged 19, I was mildly surprised when my cousin introduced me to someone, male or female, and the stranger would lean in to kiss me on both cheeks. That’s what they did. I got used to it. Here, at the time, such behavior would have raised all sorts of eyebrows.

    Men have hugged in France for ages and today such hugs are ho hum here. I think they first started in Hollywood and on TV talk shows.

  13. JBS Said:

    I can’t imagine why a parent would insist that her/ his child hug someone. If a child wants to hug someone, I would encourage them to do so unless I thought the person might be a sexual predator. Insisting doesn’t make sense to me. It is the child’s body and they should make the choice about whether they want to hug someone or not. I wouldn’t teach them never to hug anyone.

    I did teach my children to thank people. In fact, I had them write thank you notes to people who gave them gifts if the gifter wasn’t present. (Obviously many other parents don’t teach their kids that. I have two nieces who never wrote notes after their weddings. One received a place setting of sterling silver, the other was given a Waterford pitcher. My mother really tore into them about that, since my brothers grew up in the same house I did and were taught the same things. Obviously, they didn’t pass it on !o their kids. I had to call to see if the gift had been delivered.) As a child, I had to write a note every Christmas to a great uncle who lived in NYC and gave each of us $25 savings bonds. I didn’ t like doing it at the time, but those bonds were very welcome when we bought our first home.

    When my son got married, I told him he would be strangled if he didn’t thank people promptly. He and his wife wrote notes promptly and many of the people who sent gifts commented to me not only about receiving the notes but also about the promptness. In fact, one gift never arrived and when the person who sent it asked me about it, I was able to confidently tell her that it must not have come. She learned that it had never been sent!

  14. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You hit the right note and agree with Lucan. Unless you sense danger, let the child decide about hugging. However, as people don’t get born with manners, kids need to be taught to thank in what ever way a parent thinks appropriate. If someone goes to the trouble to wrap and send something to you it’s appropriate to send a smoke signal of thanks–a text. email, phone call if not a note. From the reaction to previous posts on the subject of thanks for gifts, wedding, birthday, Christmas or otherwise, this custom has largely gone the way of black and white TV.

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