April 10, 2013

Schools ban hugging

Here is a 2007 article from Time on the trend of middle schools to give detention or suspension to students who hug on school property. When did it begin? Sounds like the early '90s:

Experts say anti-PDA policies have existed for nearly two decades, although it's not known how many schools and school districts have imposed such rules.

Have things lightened up since 2007? Not as far as I can tell. I googled "detention" "display" "affection" and immediately found many examples of current school handbooks that spell out the consequences for hugging, holding hands, kissing, etc. It ranges from a warning up through suspension, depending on how many times you've offended. One school even allows for expulsion upon the sixth offense. (Here, here, here, here, here, here, ... you get the idea.)

Enforcement must have been lax or only just getting started in the early '90s. I remember girls hugging each other, and guy friends hugging their chick friends. My first French kiss was in 6th grade, spring of '93, inside the cafeteria after school. Groups of us used to hang out in the cafeteria, outside, wherever, without belonging to a club or other activity. And I don't remember getting harassed about it. If they had been dead set on preventing the slightest hint of inappropriate behavior, we definitely would not have been allowed to hang out like that.

Then there was the time when we were coming back from a field trip on a chartered bus, and as usual me and my friends are sitting way in the back. Across the aisle is a couple, and out of the corner of our eye we see her slip her hand into his pants. Word must have somehow reached the front, because after a couple minutes a teacher marched back and asked the guy to move up to the front and leave his gf where she was. He didn't get detention or anything either. That was 7th grade, spring of '94.

I also remember the chaperons trying to impose a certain distance between us when a boy and girl partnered up at the school dances. But we went right back to wherever we felt comfortable once the chaperon had moved on. They don't have to worry about that now because young people have no interest in dancing with each other -- indeed, would feel creeped out by letting another person into their personal space like that, especially with their hands touching your hands or maybe even your body. Ewww, like omigosh -- creepy!

That's only what I remember from direct experience. I'm sure the other kids who went to middle school with me have similar memories. Our group was more rebellious (by middle school standards, mind you), but that couple who got caught on the bus were part of the preppie crowd. I think the only ones who wouldn't have memories like that were the nerdy/dorky groups.

BTW, have you noticed that it's always the dorkies, uglies, and fatties who commit PDA after high school? Not like normal stuff, but exhibitionistically trying to rub everyone else's face in it. Like, "You thought we'd never find anybody else -- BUT WE DID." You know? Like, "Take that, society." Yeah well you're still losers, so go away before you make us barf.

Anyway, my hunch is that the ban on touchy-feely behavior really ramped up once the Millennials hit middle school in the late '90s. Gen Y didn't have helicopter parents -- not only during the '80s when the breed didn't exist, but right through high school and college, when they did. It's like your parenting style congeals forever in the immediate lead-up to the kid's birth and just after, although it may therefore vary from one of your kids to the next.

So our parents weren't too paranoid about us huggin' and a-kissin' in middle school, even though the helicopter parent phenomenon had already taken off among parents of younger children. Once the helicopter parents were parents of middle schoolers, though, it was game over. It seems like the same with high school -- it was definitely lamer in the late '90s compared to the '80s, but not because of meddling parents so much. The whole culture, including young people, was dulling down. Once the Millennials got into high school, though, in the 2000s -- fuhgeddaboutit. Then the helicopter parents could trash high schools as well. Ditto with colleges starting in the mid-2000s.

The Time article does say that there was a surge in writing up anti-contact codes in 1999 and afterward, though they attribute it to a then-recent Supreme Court decision that said schools were responsible for maintaining a harassment-free environment.

Sure, schools must have felt like they were liable and needed a CYA policy, but that didn't need to wait until 1999. That whole anti-harassment witch hunt had been brewing since the early '90s at least. But parents in the early or perhaps even mid-'90s weren't the type to sue over Bobby and Susie hugging each other. Only when the school board met the helicopter parent army did they piss their pants about students hugging on school grounds.

It really is striking and sickening how far the parents of Millennials have been willing to go in order to prevent all outside influences from corrupting the code that they've spent their life programming into their robotic child. You can lock them indoors until they're 25, and keep them from going out on dates -- but what about if they wanted to "date" somebody at school, and get close to each other there, away from your watchful eye? Send in the principals, and crack down. If you've ever wondered why you never see young people falling in love with each other anymore, here's part of the reason.


  1. This is one of those issues I'm having a bit of a struggle recalling. in 1991 I was finishing up Kindergarten and starting 1st grade. I suppose hugging and hand-holding were highly discouraged by the time I was in middle school. I was kinda the "admirer from afar" at that point in time though. My first kiss didn't come until I was a Junior in late 2000. I do have older siblings though, and what you're saying jibes well with my faint memories of what they went through.

    The last sentence of your post really struck a chord with me though. I was actually thinking about this just a little bit ago on the drive to work and wanted to know your thoughts on this. I haven't felt those "butterfly feelings" about someone new in years now. I am wondering if it's a function of getting older, societal influences, or both. You're just 3 or so years older than me, so I also wonder how the changes in society have affected our respective experiences.

  2. Well part of that is surely an age effect. Nobody's going to feel as volatile in their late 20s as they did in their mid teens.

    But if that were the only thing going on, then you should see younger people today feeling just as head-over-heels as they used to. Yet they aren't.

    Girls generally feel bothered by boys, while occasionally gushing about who they think is cute. Their infrequent hook-ups rarely go all the way, and are meant more to scratch an itch rather than build a connection.

    And guys feel like it's not worth making a move on girls with an unresponsive/dead nature, i.e. the majority of their peers. Plus they're a lot more afraid of risking rejection in any context, and that's bound to prevent them from falling head-over-heels as well.

    I'd say the main change is the society-wide shift away from trusting others and away from feeling OK with taking risks in social situations. Guys and girls in their later 20s we expect to be more stable and distant than in their teens, but not this much. And teenagers have such low conductivity themselves these days.

  3. To fill out the historical picture, I should add that it was even more free-wheeling in the early-mid part of the '80s. We already have a pretty good idea of what that was like for adolescents judging from objective statistics like the rate of pregnancy or VD among teenagers, or from pop culture portrayals of their world.

    But it affected children too. One of my most vivid early memories is from 1984 or '85, when a girl at my pre-school / daycare center invited me under the table for "I'll show you mine if you show me yours." So there we were for the entire designated nap-time, maybe 10-15 minutes. Both about 4 years old.

    What's so unusual compared to now is that we played the game in the main room of the daycare center with other kids and adults around us, although there was a table-cloth that came down to the floor to give us privacy. You'd just never see adults these days trust children enough to let them learn about one another.

  4. Good point about age and volatility. I work a second, part-time job in retail and I'm around high schoolers all the time. It seems different from even 10 years ago when I was in their shoes. I never, ever hear them talking about boys, which I find odd. As an aside, I can pass for one of them as people assume I'm a young college student or thereabouts, looks-wise.

    Your line about an unresponsive/dead nature is very appropriate. I'm very much afraid of rejection myself. I wonder how different my social anxiety would be had I been born say, 10 years earlier like my siblings.

    I looked up the teen pregnancy rates since 1970, and it strikes me as simply amazing how all these metrics line up with your rising/falling crime theory. I have to say I envy your preschool experience. The thing that takes me back into that room is the smell of green beans. Ironically enough, I've been plowing my way through your archives (does that sound gay?) and ran across the post where you mention this incident just this morning.

  5. To the extent I believe Judith Harris on the importance of peer groups, I approve of parents striving to prevent riffraff from corrupting their children. At the same time, I agree with Lenore Skenazy that kids aren't in much danger. The lesson, from Bonfire of the Vanities, is to insulate by locating yourself in an area where no underclass kids will attend the same school, or possibly raise your kids as Mormons so that they sort into civilized peer groups.

  6. What riffraff? They're preventing their kids from interacting with *any* kids their age.

    It's not a concern over riffraff vs. clean-cut groups, it's a concern with the parents' influence vs. everyone else's influence. The parents have poured so much time, money, and effort into perfectly molding their little lumps of clay, that to let anyone else near them would only risk melting or warping the clay. All those hours wasted!

    Two of the three school districts mentioned in the Time article are in affluent areas -- Oak Park, IL and Vienna, VA. Only Ft. Worth, TX is middle-income and 40% NAM. Wealthy whites who live in racially insulated areas as the most OCD about helicopter parenting, so the riffraff explanation doesn't fly.

  7. I think the competition to move into good school districts, and the popularity of private schools in many urban (or southern) areas is motivated by separating kids from riffraff.

  8. ...but totally irrelevant to individual-level insulation, AKA helicopter parenting.

  9. "
    Girls generally feel bothered by boys"

    Because the boys have not been properly socialized, and often inappropriate in their interactions with girls.


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