Not even if she’s a friend. Not even if she’s hugged you before.

My son is a natural born sweetheart. He writes you notes of encouragement when you’ve had a bad day. He hugs you, and sings to you, and always tries to make you smile. He has no intention of ever hurting anyone. But if not taught important lessons, intentions may not always match actions.

When he was in kindergarten we went to a story and pizza night that his school was putting on. He saw a friend as we were entering and ran up to give her a hug. She said no, she didn’t want a hug. He started to hug her anyway and she gently pushed away, so he stopped and began to chat with her. I gently pulled him aside and spoke with him in private.

“When someone says no to a hug you don’t hug them. I know you love hugs and do them to be friendly and caring, but not everyone likes them. Or sometimes they do like them but don’t want one at that time. You need to listen when they say no. So even if she’s a friend, even if you’ve hugged before, don’t hug if she says she doesn’t want one. And the same is true the other way. If you don’t want a hug, or a pat on the back, or other touches or words that don’t feel good at that time, you say no. They are expected to respect that, and if they don’t you tell me, ok? Does that make sense?” He smiled and said “yeah mama, don’t hug when they say no. I’ll remember.”

To a casual onlooker it may have looked cute. A kid giving his friend a hug. And oh, she’s cranky and doesn’t want a hug. But I did not see it as cute, I saw it as a learning opportunity. I taught my son something that day, a lesson he isn’t even aware he got. When you’re touching someone and they say no, you listen. Regardless of reason or situation, you honor their request. My son will not be a predator. I also taught him that he has a right to say no, and if someone doesn’t respect that it is their fault, not his. And I will listen if he comes to me with a problem. Even if he’s not sure anyone else will.

We have to teach our children young. We have to show them what it means to respect boundaries. Don’t wait until they’re old enough to talk sex, because that is not the only form of abuse. Don’t gender specify, because boys can be victims too. I beg you to teach your children now so that situations like what Christine Blasey Ford had to go through do not continue to repeat with this next generation. It is up to us to teach our children, and not assume that they will magically know boundaries.

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