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Should teachers hug their students?

Several years ago, I was asked to support a proposed school regulation that would prevent any physical contact, particularly hugging, between teachers and students. The parent group advocating for this policy was concerned about the sexual abuse of children by some teachers. Since hugging is a way that some sexual predators groom kids for later sexual abuse, this policy was intended to help protect our kids.

While I appreciated the concerns of these parents, I told them I couldn’t support such an approach since it violated a key principle of Psychology, the Law of Moderation. Several days later I was again contacted by this group, who indicated they had reached out to several notable university professors, none of which had ever heard of such a psychological principle.

These parents were right. I didn’t learn the Law of Moderation from my many years of graduate studies, but rather from working with parents for over 35 years.

I’ve learned a lot from listening carefully to successful parents. Styles and values vary greatly among great parents.  Taking good care of kids is all about being flexible to adjust your approach to your child’s needs and personality. However, what most successful parents generally do is follow the Law of Moderation.

This means that whenever you are confronted with any problem with your child, start by adopting a balanced or moderate approach. Avoid the temptation to take an extreme approach in response to any situation.

If your child violates a rule about cell phone usage, you take the phone away for a week, not two months. If you are concerned about the welfare of your child during sleepovers, you educate your child about sexual safety rather than prohibiting all sleepovers. If you are opposed to kids playing video games, you limit their access to a few hours a week rather than prohibit games completely.

The Law of Moderation means you never respond in righteous anger but rather with thoughtful reflection. You don’t do what feels good in the moment, but what is right in the long run.

Extreme approaches generally have unintended consequences. The youngster who is not allowed to play video games never learns the self-control he’ll need for the rest of his life when confronted with enticing distractions.

Extreme approaches also leave you with little opportunity to escalate the consequences to fit the behavior. I worked with one parent who wanted to take away two months of TV privileges whenever her child failed to complete a homework assignment.  Do the math. After a few missed assignments, this child would have no incentive to improve.

I understand that moderation is not particularly fashionable these days.  From political discourse to reality television, extreme positions and language scream for our attention.  What may be good politics or entertainment generally doesn’t work with kids.

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We have created this blog as a way to communicate key childrens' health and safety issues to parents and other child advocates. It is managed by Dayton Children's department of marketing communications. Comments can be sent to rodneyg@childrensdayton.org.

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