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The Debate: No Contact Allowed

A middle schooler puts his arm around his girlfriend and is sent to the school office for unlawful touching.

Two 14-year-old girls are kicked off a city bus and called "sickos" for kissing.

Since when has the human touch become so problematic? Bans on fighting make sense. Rules against excessive public displays of affection, sure. But hugging, handshakes, high fives, kisses -- these are normal behavior for kids and adults.

"You get into shades of gray," Fairfax County's Kilmer Middle School principal Deborah Hernandez said. "The kids say, 'If he can high-five, then I can do this.' ... You have to have an absolute rule with students, and wiggle room and good judgment on behalf of the staff."

I disagree. You need to teach right and wrong. And you need to fight the battles worth fighting, not enforce rules as though the world is black and white with only your values. What do you think? Do adults punish kids too much for the wrong things? Have we forgotten to teach rather than enforce? Or do "no, no, no" rules make sense?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  June 22, 2007; 9:00 AM ET  | Category:  The Debate
Previous: When The Kids Turn Independent | Next: Let Kids Be Kids

Comments


I think the no touching rule is absurd. It is yet another example of our society's tendency to overreact whenever something goes askew. For example, the shoebomber FAILED but suddenly lighters and matches aren't allowed on airplanes because of the threat they pose, despite the decades during which they were never a problem. Not to mention how dangerous hand lotion and sippy cups have become!

Drawing bright line rules and having zero tolerance policies are a copout, and relieve decisionmakers of their duty to assess a situation on a case-by-case basis and come to the apprpriate and reasonable resolution. It's lazy, and in the end, will not teach our children a valuable tool--the ability to reason.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 22, 2007 9:28 AM | Report abuse

I think the no touching rule is absurd. It is yet another example of our society's tendency to overreact whenever something goes askew. For example, the shoebomber FAILED but suddenly lighters and matches aren't allowed on airplanes because of the threat they pose, despite the decades during which they were never a problem. Not to mention how dangerous hand lotion and sippy cups have become!

Drawing bright line rules and having zero tolerance policies are a copout, and relieve decisionmakers of their duty to assess a situation on a case-by-case basis and come to the apprpriate and reasonable resolution. It's lazy, and in the end, will not teach our children a valuable tool--the ability to use reason.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 22, 2007 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Schools have enough issues enforcing rules as it is, it does not surprise me that (once again) a school has decided on a rule that would be nearly impossible to follow. A "no touching" serves to further the extraction of what few teeth are left for the teachers and administrators who have to enforce the rules.

It would help, I think, if schools were not increasingly expected to take over roles that have traditionally been held (or at least shared) by other parts of the community.

Posted by: David S | June 22, 2007 9:36 AM | Report abuse

A bright-line, zero tolerance rule makes sense in life and death situations...i.e. TSA rules on airplanse. If the plane goes down, there are rarely survivors. But in school, touching is not life and death. Kids need to learn that there are rules and consequences, but completely forbiding otherwise lawful and normal behavior (touching) is absurd.

Posted by: HappyDad | June 22, 2007 9:55 AM | Report abuse

A bright-line, zero tolerance rule makes sense in life and death situations...i.e. TSA rules on airplanes. If the plane goes down, there are rarely survivors. But in school, touching is not life and death. Kids need to learn that there are rules and consequences, but completely forbiding otherwise lawful and normal behavior (touching) is absurd.

Posted by: HappyDad | June 22, 2007 9:55 AM | Report abuse

About 4 1/2 years ago, I was a junior in HS. My dad had a heart attack about ten days before Christmas. At school the next day, my then-"boyfriend" gave me a hug (for no more than 3-5 seconds total) because I was still upset. My father was in the hospital & we weren't sure what would happen.

Big mistake - the vice principal of the school happened to be 20-30 feet away. She yelled at both of us and sent us to the office. No discretion whatsoever. Everyone in the crowded hall heard her screaming. When she came back to her office, she told me that people would think I was "promiscuous" for "allowing" a male individual to hug me, that I'd get a "bad reputation" and that people wouldn't respect me. She threatened to suspend me; this was the first time I'd ever been in any kind of trouble - I had no record. (This comes after I've set the record for the # of AP exams taken at my school while also earning an IB diploma.) She said nothing about his "reputation."

The worst part was that she knew that my father was in the hospital, but insisted that there was no good reason to hug anyone before, during, or after school. And plus, people at my school were known to do far more than engage in short hugs before class... there were plenty of other individuals available to reprimand had she wanted to enforce a strict rule.

I know that school authorities often have many serious problems with which they have to deal on a daily basis. Some standards of behavior must exist, but I would argue that authorities should at least consider the circumstances in evaluating whether to punish a student for minimal contact.

Posted by: LHM | June 22, 2007 10:15 AM | Report abuse

A no touching rule? Even though Fairfax County touts a high level of academic standards in this modern era, their social policies are approaching those of 1984.

Suppose basketball, dancing, wrestling, and what the heck, excersize are getting scratched from the physical education classes too.

Not only is a no touch policy is absurd, I think its flat out a human rights violation.

Posted by: Lil Husky | June 22, 2007 10:23 AM | Report abuse

The reason for all these stupid rules that are beyond the pale is because people sue at the drop of a hat. Case in point: the moronic judge in DC who thinks his pants are worth $54 million.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | June 22, 2007 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Gaahhh....

There were days in middle and high school (in the last decade) where my more affectionate friends would come up and hug me on sight, and on particularly crappy days this made life significantly better. Continued in college, and I still hug these friends when I see them for similar reasons and maybe I can brighten their days a bit like they did to mine. :)

I understand the idea behind it, but can't they distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate touch? Ugh!

Posted by: Anonymous | June 22, 2007 10:28 AM | Report abuse

What's absurd is to suggest that kids - particularly high school kids - won't take advantage of any leeway you give them. If PDAs, handshakes that double as gang signs, and physical intimidation and bullying are problems, then a no-touching rule makes perfect sense. Why should teachers and administrators, who have much better things to do with their time, have to explain to a kid and his parents why the kid's behavior was more on the molestation-by-consent line than the innocent-contact line? Or why a kid who shoved the hell out of another kid is in trouble even if it was "in jest"?

The problem here is that many parents aren't willing to make their kids behave, but they aren't willing to let the schools enforce good behavior either. So when the kids step over the appropriate-contact line, the parents automatically take the kids' side and yell at the administration for being unreasonable. If parents took more responsibility for their own kids, none of this would be an issue.

Posted by: Kate | June 22, 2007 10:33 AM | Report abuse

The issue here is our societal fear of adolescent sexuality and body issues on the one hand and our sexual idealization of the adolescent body on the other hand. We desire the adolescent body. We fear the adolescent body. We, above all, make the adolescent body into a thing and we deny the healthiness of physical contact. It's absurd.

We have to change. We have to talk and teach about appropriate adolescent (and pre-adolescent) physical touch, connectedness, and sexuality.

Karen Rayne, Ph.D.
http://www.adolescentsexualitytoday.blogspot.com

Posted by: Karen Rayne | June 22, 2007 10:37 AM | Report abuse

I disagree, Karen Rayne. The problem, in this case, has to do with sexuality. But the larger problem that schools and others face when it comes to rules (any rules) is that, if they have rules on a case-by-case basis, they WILL be sued. And they will be sued by people just like you all -- people who get upset by every little thing.

The problem with case-by-case rules is that each teacher may have a slightly different line. Therefore, acceptable behavior for one teacher is over the line for another. Eventually, a student who faces punishment will claim that it's unfair. The parents and other outside groups (maybe the ACLU) will become involved and sue the school district for not having a "uniform" policy. Specifically, they'll say crap like "My kid's due process was violated", as if people in this country knew what "due process" was. Because activities such as touching fall along a continuous and infinite spectrum, it is impossible to create a "uniform" policy. So, the schools end up with "zero-tolerance" policies.

I disagree with zero-tolerance policies but I greatly sympathize with school systems that are constantly being sued by wacko parents upset about their children being disciplined. I'm sure the "no-touching" policy, if it hangs around, will be the subject of a lawsuit in a few years. So, really, it's a no-win situation, although the school district stands a better chance of winning with a zero-tolerance policy.

Anyway, I think it would be great if the people posting on here could acknowledge the roots of the problem -- they lie in anyone who gets outraged by a policy that results in their kids' discipline.

Posted by: Ryan | June 22, 2007 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Kate, I don't know where you come from, but I know of no parents that teach their children that hugging is misbehaving.

The big problem here is that making rediculus, impossible to follow rules is that they can only be randomly enforced. The children regard these unreasonable rules as something you get caught at and not something to abide by. Kids recognize justice and when it is not rationally applied, lose respect, and rightfully so, for the authority that tries to implement them.

Parents, not only have the right, but the duty to complain about irrational policies their children are subjected to.

Posted by: Lil Husky | June 22, 2007 12:58 PM | Report abuse

I'm not talking about hugging - of course hugging is ok. But what about hugging with your hands on the other person's hips or butt? What about hugging and kissing on the cheek or on the lips? Where do you draw the line? I completely agree with Ryan - wherever you try to draw it, there will be parents who complain when their kid gets in trouble for stepping over it.

Plus, there's the very real issue that some kids don't feel comfortable hugging, particularly hugging people of the opposite sex, and won't feel comfortable saying "Don't hug me" either, because it makes them sound unsociable.

A no-contact rule seems to resolve both issues. No one is happy with it, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's not the best solution out there.

Posted by: Kate | June 22, 2007 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Kate, I see no purpose making a rule that doesn't make anyone happy. The rule will be broken, the authorities don't want to enforce it, and it can only be arbitrarily applied. The no touch rule is a very poor rule and makes the authorities who try to justify it look stupid. I don't have any respect for an administration that makes rules just for their own convenience that only serve to randomly punish students. Isn't happiness the goal?

The rule needs to be changed or greater injustice will follow.

Posted by: Lil Husky | June 22, 2007 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Okay, this rule is insane, for several reasons:

1. It's unenforceable. People touch--they brush hands lending a pencil, they bump shoulders in the lunch line, their feet touch under a desk...

2. It doesn't stop the behavior it's meant to stop. Shoving someone is wrong--but if the teacher didn't see the shove, and the kid being shoved isn't going to tell, then the shover won't get in trouble under this rule, anyway. All the bullying and "gang signs" will just be forced further underground, where there will be a bigger incentive to make sure no one tells.

3. This isn't a "no hugging rule", this eliminate ALL touching--even a high five! I am reminded of the Bill Cosby routine about kids fighting, when the parent announces "NO ONE in this house will touch anyone, ever again!". It's the last resort of a frustrated person. Obviously the school is unable to manage their student population. Maybe parents need to send their kids elsewhere. Maybe the county needs to build another school. Maybe they need a new principal and some new teachers.

4. One of the big arguments against homeschooling is the "socialization" issue. I laugh, because this school is really "socializing" their students. Way to go!

5. I wonder how they teach sex-ed? "Oh, here are some condoms, and it's okay to have sex, but holding hands in school can get you expelled."

I also blame the parents, because other posters are right--parents refuse to hear anything wrong with their kids, and so principal's hands get tied. They try to explain why John got suspended for hugging a girl but Bill didn't, and parents don't want to hear that the girl John was hugging was 3 years younger and was terrified. Or that the guy John punched "in fun" has a broken nose. "It was nothing, just kids playing around." And so school officials just outlaw everything, because then it becomes the fault of the rule.

One big problem, though, is that this isn't the black-and-white issue they make it seem. The principal at the school says: "You have to have an absolute rule with students, and wiggle room and good judgment on behalf of the staff." How can an ABSOLUTE rule have wiggle room? Absolute is defined as: having no restriction, exception, or qualification (Merriam Webster) There is no room for good judgement in an absolute rule!

Maybe they need to worry about teaching vocabulary, instead of worrying about Joe giving his girlfriend a hug...

Posted by: Eve | June 22, 2007 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Okay, this rule is insane, for several reasons:

1. It's unenforceable. People touch--they brush hands lending a pencil, they bump shoulders in the lunch line, their feet touch under a desk...

2. It doesn't stop the behavior it's meant to stop. Shoving someone is wrong--but if the teacher didn't see the shove, and the kid being shoved isn't going to tell, then the shover won't get in trouble under this rule, anyway. All the bullying and "gang signs" will just be forced further underground, where there will be a bigger incentive to make sure no one tells.

3. This isn't a "no hugging rule", this eliminate ALL touching--even a high five! I am reminded of the Bill Cosby routine about kids fighting, when the parent announces "NO ONE in this house will touch anyone, ever again!". It's the last resort of a frustrated person. Obviously the school is unable to manage their student population. Maybe parents need to send their kids elsewhere. Maybe the county needs to build another school. Maybe they need a new principal and some new teachers.

4. One of the big arguments against homeschooling is the "socialization" issue. I laugh, because this school is really "socializing" their students. Way to go!

5. I wonder how they teach sex-ed? "Oh, here are some condoms, and it's okay to have sex, but holding hands in school can get you expelled."

I also blame the parents, because other posters are right--parents refuse to hear anything wrong with their kids, and so principal's hands get tied. They try to explain why John got suspended for hugging a girl but Bill didn't, and parents don't want to hear that the girl John was hugging was 3 years younger and was terrified. Or that the guy John punched "in fun" has a broken nose. "It was nothing, just kids playing around." And so school officials just outlaw everything, because then it becomes the fault of the rule.

One big problem, though, is that this isn't the black-and-white issue they make it seem. The principal at the school says: "You have to have an absolute rule with students, and wiggle room and good judgment on behalf of the staff." How can an ABSOLUTE rule have wiggle room? Absolute is defined as: having no restriction, exception, or qualification (Merriam Webster) There is no room for good judgement in an absolute rule!

Maybe they need to worry about teaching vocabulary, instead of worrying about Joe giving his girlfriend a hug...

Posted by: Eve | June 22, 2007 3:41 PM | Report abuse

"Plus, there's the very real issue that some kids don't feel comfortable hugging, particularly hugging people of the opposite sex, and won't feel comfortable saying "Don't hug me" either, because it makes them sound unsociable."
Posted by: Kate | June 22, 2007 02:33 PM

Kate, this is exactly what's wrong with this rule. By trying to "protect" girls from unwanted contact, this rule has the opposite effect. Sure, it "protects" them while at school, but it teaches them absolutely nothing. Girls need to learn to say "no" to unwanted touching and how to deal with that situation. School should be a safe avenue for them to deal with this situation, as there are readily available adults such as teachers to provide backup.

Posted by: Leigh | June 22, 2007 3:44 PM | Report abuse

I'm with Leigh. My school administrators didn't do anything when a guy kept hurting me, so my dad taught me to kick him where it counted. I'm sure this seems extensive to some of you, but I stood up for myself, and didn't need an administration that wasn't going to help either. It helped that may parents kept very meticulous records of complaints they'd taken to the administrators, so if the kid tried to get me in trouble, my parents could say "Well, look how many times you ignored her! What was she supposed to do, lie back an accept it?"

Posted by: Kat | June 24, 2007 8:18 PM | Report abuse

The rule is just ridiculous. In my high school, at the begining of every year when we'd have the back to school assembly our vice principal would state his mantra "holding hands is ok, holding anything else is not" By senior year, by the first word of the "touching" lecture we were all able to finish his sentence. People caught doing more than holding hands were asked -- what's the rule and repeated "holding hands is ok, holding anything else is not..."

Posted by: pkc | June 25, 2007 10:23 AM | Report abuse

At the Pentagon City mall around Christmas 2004 I saw this exchange:

Boy: [arms outstretched, blocking one girl's path] Hey [girl's name]
Girl: Back off!
Boy: [arms completely blocking her and her friends' paths) So, don't I get a hug now?
Girl: No, you don't. Move!
Boy: So you're racist now, you won't give me a hug because you're racist?
Girl and friends walk away
Boy: F***** racist B****es! B****! F*** Y** Racist B****! C***.

My wife and I saw the whole thing unfold in the food court to stunned eyes. If that is anything like what happens in high school then this "no hugging" rule is appropriate.

Posted by: DCer | June 25, 2007 5:07 PM | Report abuse

It is not a 'no hugging rule' it is a " no physical contact rule" BIG difference. Yes?

Posted by: Henri | June 26, 2007 5:23 AM | Report abuse

Totally agree with Leigh. Yes, Kate, those are very real problems. But we can't set up rules to enable girls so that they think the world will take care of them. We need to set up a world to make them CAPABLE of taking care of themselves.

Posted by: Liz D | June 26, 2007 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Well in school it is a little inappropriate to show any kind of affection. They are not their to love up on the boyfriends/girlfriends. They are there to learn. They can save all of that for after school

Posted by: W.Irby | June 27, 2007 1:11 AM | Report abuse

When I was in high school, one of my friends was shot to death walking to school. When word reached school that she was dead, I saw one of her close friends running through the hall, face red, weeping. Should someone, anyone, have been allowed to place a hand on her back (if nothing else) in sympathy?
Not all hugs are "lov[ing] up on the boyfriends/girlfriends."

Posted by: E.A. | July 2, 2007 9:39 AM | Report abuse

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