Teachers and Touching
Teachers are afraid to touch students. According to a recent New York Times article, teachers fear that their customary hugs and touches may lead to criminal prosecution for sexual abuse. They have reason to fear. Many sexual abuse cases brought against teachers have resembled witch-hunts and have gained national notoriety. Public school and day care teachers have been imprisoned based solely on the non-corroborated testimony of children in their care.
Teachers' organizations and school administrators nationwide have been advising teachers not to touch children. Seminars instruct teachers and day care providers in defensive behavior: Do not initiate any touching or hugging, avoid one-on-one after-school conferences with kids (keep the door open during the conference), always change a diaper or a child's clothing in the presence of a colleague.
More Than Words
Early childhood education has always fostered the importance of physical affection and comfort from adults. We know being touched is an integral part of children's emotional, social, and intellectual development. How many times have kids' spirits been lifted by a loving hug? Or had their self-esteem anchored by an encouraging arm around the shoulder? Do you think the Special Olympics volunteers should trade in their hugs for handshakes? Sometimes words just aren't enough.
It's not just teachers and day care providers who are reconsidering touching kids. Coaches, scout leaders, and camp counselors are also backing off. Nobody wants to be tarred and feathered in our litigious society. For years, several friends, family, and professional associates have cautioned me against any physical contact with kids whom I see in therapy. Some say I'm courting disaster by seeing kids alone.
Should we adopt a hands-off policy? If we drop our guard and touch kids, will they turn us in? In this brave new world of paranoid "no touching," adults and kids are suspicious adversaries incapable of mutual trust.
I will continue to touch and to hold the children in my care. I will not be denied nor will I deny them the transformative power of human touch. Our children's need to be nurtured must outweigh the threat of false accusation.