We are created for connection.
Think about that for a moment. From the time we are born, we crave touch—as a matter of fact, without it, we die. Yesterday, in the library, a child wandered off from his mom who was in the children’s section looking for books. She thought he was close, but he made it to the adult section in search of her before he finally located a colleague of mine and tearfully announced that he’d lost his mom. She came out from behind the counter and he reached up and took her hand.
HE took her hand.
She located his mother for him and all was well. But a little later, she quietly wondered to me whether it was okay for her to have touched him. She asked, “Do you think it was okay for me to have held his hand?” I said yes.
This is no condemnation of my co-worker. Not in the least. She just happens to be terribly cautious because of the hyper-awareness our “no safe touch” ideas have caused. But I am saddened that a lost little boy who needed the security of a held hand might have been denied it on another day.
Yes. We have child predators. They are pretty ladies and handsome men, and homeroom teachers and soccer coaches, and the weird guy up the street that freaks people out. We don’t know who they are for sure, so we make everyone stay away. No touching! Not even a little bit. But, I fear that this stricture is backfiring on us. Crystal Leonard, in a paper entitled The Sense of Touch And How It Affects Development (2009), states:
“…affectionate touch “is associated with enhanced learning, language processing, improved problem solving, increased physical recovery speeds” (Hatfield), decreased stress, physical growth in infants and children, less cardiovascular disease in adults, and a decrease in pain experienced by those suffering from chronic diseases such as arthritis or fibromyalgia (Field).”
Why would we want to give that up? Even worse, in Born for Love, Maia Szalavitz and Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD argue that:
“Nursery schools and preschools-and even high schools-sometimes ban physical contact in a misguided attempt to avoid sexual abuse. That’s likely not only to be ineffective, but actively counterproductive. If kids don’t get healthy touch, they are more vulnerable to predators who will ultimately harm them. Indeed, some cross-cultural research suggests that cultures which lavish more affection on infants and children are less violent and less prone to crime.”
Did you catch that? By avoiding physical contact with children in our care, we make them MORE vulnerable to predators, and may be making them more violent.
Please understand that I have no intention of pulling children who wander by into my lap for a good cuddle. Far from it! I’m also not suggesting that libraries become a free-for-all of touch. I just think that, as a society, we need to reexamine our attitudes towards touch and come down on the side of common sense rather than fear. And, until our attitudes and policies change, can we at least agree that it’s okay to hold the hands of lost little boys until we can find their mothers?