You don’t have to ask very many women at holiday gatherings before one of them recalls how uncomfortable it was to be required to hug or kiss a distant relative or someone who was a virtual stranger. The hugs were never spontaneous and always prompted.

“Give Uncle Bryan a hug. He’s your great-uncle on your father’s side, and we haven’t seen him for ages. Wasn’t it nice of him to give you that gift? Give him a kiss to say thanks.”

Unless affection is voluntary, forcing it sends girls the wrong message about consent and physical affection, Girl Scout leaders say as the world’s largest leadership organization for girls gets in step with the #MeToo movement.

There’s no such thing as “owing” a hug or some other form of affection in exchange for a nice deed or kind word, says Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, a developmental psychologist for the Girl Scouts of the USA. That could make girls question when they get older if they “owe” physical affection when someone buys dinner or does something nice.

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“The notion of consent may seem very grown-up and like something that doesn’t pertain to children,” Bastiani Archibald said in a news release, “but the lessons girls learn when they’re young about setting physical boundaries and expecting them to be respected last a lifetime, and can influence how she feels about herself and her body as she gets older.

“Plus, sadly, we know that some adults prey on children, and teaching your daughter about consent early on can help her understand her rights, know when lines are being crossed, and when to go to you for help.”

The important thing, the Girl Scouts say, is to give a girl the space to decide if, when and how she wants to show affection. Some are naturally inclined to hug and kiss relatives, friends and neighbors, and that’s OK. What isn’t OK is denying a girl the choice if she’s reticent.

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