A School Devises A Drastic Solution

We’ve already heard about teachers no longer being able to comfort their students for fear of being accused of child molesting. Even pre-school teachers are not immune: A hug is a grope until proven otherwise. But here is a new level of hyper-worry: After a child got injured, a school in Connecticut has banned ALL touching between ALL students.

http://wcbstv.com/local/school.bans.hugs.2.969949.html

No more backslaps. No more high fives. Fist bumps, be gone.

You can understand the administration’s frustration. A kid was seriously hurt by a kick to the groin – that’s just awful. But why is the response to criminalize all physical contact? Why not criminalize, say, kicks to the groin?

What happened here seems to be the knee-jerk response to any problem these days: Overkill, just like when schools ban tag because a kid could trip, or cupcakes, because a kid could get fat. (And let’s not talk about the fact that my own son’s own grammar school has banned the word “dice,” lest simply hearing that word encourage kids to take up a life of gambling. The term they have to use now is “number cube.” Ugh! But that’s another story. I think. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s all part of this weird, “Protect children from everything, at any cost, no matter how small the threat and no matter how ridiculous the imposition” society we’re in.)

Anyway, if your children are not at this particular Connecticut school, they can probably still do what kids do best, which seems to be bumping into each other and cracking up.

But who knows for how long?

— Lenore

62 Responses

  1. It seems to me that schools seem to forget that they teach their students – what exactly are they teaching them by doing this?

    I’m not about to say that stupidity of this ilk doesn’t occur elsewhere in the world, it just seems that the legal environment in America rewards this kind of moronic behaviour. Being able to sue anyone for anything, no matter how specious or ridiculous, win the case and collect insanely enormous damages merely adds fuel to a bad parent’s lack of responsibility for themselves and their children. The response shouldn’t be “No touching” from the school, the response should be that the presiding judge in the next frivolous lawsuit arising from circumstances like this should be dismissal with prejudice.

    I think that many of the attitudes to parenting which this blog objects to would be drastic curtailed if there was no legal support for them.

  2. I bet this is going to go Really Well for them.

  3. They were using “number cube” to discourage gambling in Texas nearly 20 years ago. It was stupid then, too.

  4. Well, my son has very long hair, and he has kids petting him all day long apparently. His male friends, too. His teacher mentioned it, and I said ‘well, girls fiddle with each other’s hair” and she said “oh no! I was being sexist!” Lots of (appropriate) touching in the school.

  5. This thing reared its ugly head in VA a few years back, too. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19293872/

    Never heard how it went for them there. But I swear, if a school my son goes to ever pulls something this ridiculous, I’ll pull him out and home school. And I’m a public school teacher.

  6. I’m a seventh grade teacher, and we have been annoyed all year by this particular group of students’ inability to keep their hands to themselves. They really do seem a lot “touchier” than our group last year, and it leads to exciting times at lunch and recess (yes, my school still gives our students 20 minutes to run around!). I have had numerous conversations with my kids about personal space, mostly because seventh graders have a hard time differentiating between a friendly shove and a challenge.

    But we don’t outlaw touch–we know that’s a hopeless case. Besides, they have to learn how to touch and not be completely irritating. I haven’t noticed any improvement in their behavior this year, but I’m willing to bet that it won’t be a problem after the next year or two. Through trial and (mostly) error, they will learn when and how it’s okay to touch.

  7. Mmmmh… Next thing we´ll hear is a law determining how many times we can wipe our kid´s genitals when changing their diapers. You know, five times is okay, but six is just sexual assault.
    Oh, and count how many times a father can kiss his baby girl, too.

    Don´t worry, though. In a few years time, those same experts will say that touching other human beings at early stages of development will enhance empathy, and thus prevent our children from becoming serial killers.

  8. One more reason to homeschool… and I’m cracking up about the ‘number cube’!

  9. Also, do you think they gave any thought to how, when something is contraband, suddenly it’s cool to break the rules and do it? Banned books come to mind, and Prohibition – I think it is human nature to buck the system. So maybe there will be ‘hug-ins’ or ‘slap-five sessions’ or something in protest!

  10. So will they then ban all sports?

    Only golf, any other sport, even flag football can result in “physical contact.’ Heaven forbid kids wrestle!

  11. Number cube? Really? *dies*

  12. Re Heather:
    Golf involves swinging sticks around and sending small hard balls flying really fast. That’s far too dangerous! Replace the golf ball with a nerf one and the club with a padded bat. Might make the teenagers feel you’re treating them like 4-year-old but it’s for SAFETY!

  13. I’ve been accused more than once of sheltering my kids too much, of being an over-protective parent. I realize now that I probably should have let my kids be a little freer in their experiences in the world to date, and I’ll probably try to rectify the situation some now. (They are 11 and 13.)

    But even I think that this sort of clamping down on the kids coming in contact with one another or worries over whether the word dice will lead to gambling obsessions is madness!

    When will it end? At what point does the pendulum start to swing back from insanity to reality?

  14. I’m about ready to implement a “no touching” policy in my own house. My kids are driving me nuts with the constant “he touched me!”, “well, she hit me first”, “she’s sitting on me”, “he pushed me”, etc.

    I actually have to tell them to stay in their own squares of the couch and to keep their hands to themselves.

    But how do they plan to enforce that at school? Are they going to contain each child in a box so they are unable to reach another child? Ban sports and dances? Seriously, what do they expect the kids to do? And if they do touch someone what happens? Do they get a detention.

    Sometimes I think this word has gone insane.

  15. I used to be a middle school teacher, and…this is a lot harder than it looks.

    OK, so “don’t kick people in the groin” seems like a straightforward rule. But…

    1) You can’t enforce it. Kids are good at saving the worst bullying for when adults aren’t around.

    2) There was a fad of groin-kicking at my school (…ok, that was weird). I was at an all-boys’ school, and boys sometimes interact with one another in, well, combat-based ways. And it’s still absolutely inappropriate behavior for school, but it wasn’t necessarily associated with the kind of dislike you would expect. Between some kids it was bullying; between others, a weird form of male bonding. Different problems benefiting from different approaches.

    3) The thing is, “don’t kick people in the groin” isn’t the rule you want. You want something more like “no assault”. But (per #2) the line between assault and friendly rambunctiousness is surprisingly hard to draw, and can have more to do with the motivations and relationships than the actual actions. Some middle school boys can understand nuanced rules like that — and they don’t *need* them. Others can’t — and no rule you phrase is specific enough for them. And ideally you’d be able to treat the kids who acted maturely like they were, and the others like they weren’t, except you can’t have different rules for different people and have the whole place function, especially with people as hyper-conscious of fairness as elementary and middle school kids.

    “No touching” is clearly an absurd reaction to the situation — unenforceable and throwing the baby out with the bathwater — but I get how it’s a rule that is simple to state and covers all the cases that you can’t enumerate for the not-very-nuanced kids. A dumb approach to a hard problem, but I sympathize with the difficulty.

  16. My kids are homeschooled to protect them from stupid things like this. They get a more real world education staying home with me.

  17. We adults are supposed to be able to nuance the behavior of children. That is what we are supposed to do. And when it comes to fairness, that is a non-starter. We do not have a duty to our children to be fair. We have a duty to our children to raise them with understanding and justice and discipline and praise and grace and truth and so forth. We don’t even say that in the constitution – fairness is not fair.

    Teach you kids how to react correctly to situations that arise and you are doing so much more for them than trying to protect them from everything.

  18. They tried a no-hugging rule when my eldest was in middle school and many kids responded by randomly hugging more people and more often in protest. The administration gave up.

  19. Jesus, a number cube? I’m 11 and my school also has some pretty stupid rules. Like, no running on the playground… what? Isn’t that the f@#%ing point? Stupid schools…

  20. A total over the top response to the situation IMO.

    What about teaching ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ ?

    As per usual, one child does something out of order and all suffer the consequences.

  21. There is no way they are going to be able to enforce that, they would have to pour all of their attention into enforcing something as ridiculous as this instead of doing what they are supposed to be doing which is teaching. You can’t tell anyone, let alone someone as impressionable as a middle school student that they are not allowed to touch anyone. Yeah right, absolutely ridiculous to think that is going to happen.

    It is important to keep a close eye on our kids, but there is no point in sheltering them completely from everything otherwise they will never experience anything.

  22. It’s pretty disgusting if you ask me that our first reaction is to outlaw things. Stuart made the best point – here in America, Tort law is out of control. I was watching a Dirty Jobs episode where the Sawyer was running a saw that had been in place since 1908. There weren’t safety devices all over it… it was a spinning blade which would chop off your hand if you were stupid or drunk. I have to say, I was so happy to see it because somewhere people still believed that other people had common sense!

    This type of “rule-making” is just flat out stupid. It teaches the kids nothing at all, makes it harder on people at the school itself, and only serves to make Americans look even stupider than we already do when we do shit like this.

    There’s a lot of common sense missing from this country and it’s really going to go wrong in the end when we see the insecure, uncertain, depressed, and violent kids we’ll end up with. Maybe they’ll be the very ones to grow up and make the laws that after 65 you aren’t allowed to drive a car anymore, and that since bad things happen at night, no one is allowed outside when the sun goes down unless they have the appropriate permits. And hell, to go along with one of the great comments I saw on here – only certified diaper changers who have been through three years of training and have had background checks and drug screenings are allowed to change a diaper… anyone else is probably just a sex offender. Ridiculous.

  23. I’m guite sure that if ALL touching had been outlawed, my friends and I would have been touching each other ALL THE TIME!
    poke,
    poke,
    poke,
    poke!

  24. I agree with widdleshamrock. Schools need to teach about good touch and bad touch. Also I think it would be a good idea to be strict about keeping girls and boys from touching each other.
    asad123.wordpress.com

  25. My boys are out back right now burning leaves with magnifying glasses. How well would that go over at public school???

  26. It is so bizarre, and absurd, how far we go to protect ourselves from ourselves. This nervous, weird, litigious society – when applied to children – presents the very real risk of self-control and common-sense-deprived children, with no real idea how to behave in public.

    How can good come of that? (And what good has come of it thus far?)

  27. Does anyone remember prohibition?

  28. @Andromeda

    What happens when the kids who don’t get the nuanced rules run into them in real life? What happens when the rules won’t be adjusted or changed to suit them? This sort of policy by lowest denominator is damaging to everyone, the kids are being mistakenly taught that the world is going to bend over backwards to accommodate them.

    Treating a child like they are incapable of behaving in a responsible manner will result in exactly that in the child.

    It does not seem to be too much to ask to have rules and expectations regarding conduct, nor is it too much to ask for those rules to be followed. If a child breaks those rules – then he or she should be the one punished for it. Not everyone else.

    Actions have consequences, and the child needs to learn that. How they learn that is by getting it wrong and having to deal with the consequences. Conduct rules in children’s schooling aren’t primarily there to prevent the prohibited act from occurring (as has been pointed out, prohibition doesn’t work) it exists to show the children who transgress (and more importantly, the children who haven’t or don’t) what happens when you break the rules.

    If you want to have near 100% compliance of a rule it is easy to do – simply make the punishment one that brings social censure. You can send people to jail and they don’t care, but put them on the street for an afternoon with a sandwich board saying: “I did , and I’m an idiot” and you’ll find that the rules virtually never get broken. People would rather walk over burning coals than be the object of everyone’s contempt.

    That is what we are really talking about here, managing what is socially acceptable behaviour. How do we do that in the real world? As I’ve said, by scorn and stigma. The thing that stops people from committing many crimes isn’t the law (the law isn’t a preventative – it deals with the aftermath) it’s social censure. If you know that you will be pilloried and humiliated for doing something, then you won’t do it. That is how society manages compliance of rules.

  29. A girl is suing her school for strip-searching her. It has already been established that students have no first-amendment rights. I wonder if there will ever be any sort of line that the law puts down and says “Beyond this point, a school is not allowed to restrict the people who are attending it?”

  30. @ Alana M – my son’s 2nd grade (public school) teacher taught the whole class how to burn stuff with magnifying glasses. She rocks.

    Number cube. I’m speechless.

  31. “Fluffycatfan, on March 30th, 2009 at 5:35 am Said:

    Jesus, a number cube? I’m 11 and my school also has some pretty stupid rules. Like, no running on the playground… what? Isn’t that the f@#%ing point? Stupid schools…”

    Does anyone besides me just love this comment?

  32. No touching. How sad. If they trust these kids so little, why even bother teaching them? Won’t they just go on a groin-kicking rampage the minute they’re out of the school’s oversight?

    I recall a big fuss a year or so ago in New York state when a school decided that purses and backpacks were banned at the local high school–unless you were a girl on your period. That went Really Well, too.

    My homeschooled ten-year old made a spear last week out of a bamboo stake and a shiv that he cut from a tin can. Try to “show and tell” that at the local p.s.!

  33. No touching. How sad. If they trust these kids so little, why even bother teaching them? Won’t they just go on a groin-kicking rampage the minute they’re out of the school’s oversight?

    I recall a big fuss a year or so ago in New York state when a school decided that purses and backpacks were banned at the local high school–unless you were a girl on your period. That went Really Well, too. (I think the link should work now!)

    My homeschooled ten-year old made a spear last week out of a bamboo stake and a shiv that he cut from a tin can. Try to “show and tell” that at the local p.s.!

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  35. How about a “no going to public school rule” to teach kids how to live in the real world. It certainly seems like that’s what it is going to take for kids to get educated these days.

  36. What are those things you can put on the wheel rims of your car to prevent you from hitting the curb? Curb feelers?

    I’m inventing a line of clothing with “People Feelers” so everyone stays at least 8 inches away from everyone else.

    I’m gonna get RICH.

  37. What are they worried about dice for? My Nephews 1st grade teacher taught the class how to play Poker for math one day. Now that must have been highly educational.

  38. Our school has banned, among other things I can’t remember, mini-sticks hockey (huge up here in Canada, at least it was with my older son’s crowd), red butt ( a game that involves throwing tennis balls at the wall and catching them with your baseball cap), any running on the blacktop, flip flops (too dangerous), any kind of collecting toy such as Pokemon cards…. and the list goes on.

  39. 8th grader protests: http://www.connpost.com/ci_12010166

  40. We were allowed to high-five and hug in school, and I’m pretty sure most of us turned out okay… we did all reach high school still sane. We were not allowed to run on the pavement… will why did you replace the grass with pavement? And no balls at recess, might have hit each other with them… really? You wanted us to be active but you took it all away.

    School Boards are so lame now a days. I’m going to hate when I have kids.

    @Lola – Its like the Miley Cyrus thing, and how they said she was too close to her Dad… while then I guess its the same for my dad and I. Its like we can’t have relationships with our dads anymore that go beyond talking…

  41. Wait! I just remembered something… if this rule was enforced when I was in JK and my sister was in grade 2… our dad just moved out, and we would cry all the time at school that first few months when other kids talked about their great families, or for me, when I heard parents telling their kids not to be my friend bc I had a single mother… will if my teacher wasn’t there hug me and make me, a 5 year old, feel better, I may have turned against everyone, and who knows what would have happened…

    But I can also remember my grade 1 teaching pulling me by the ear… I doubt that was allowed then…

  42. Has anyone tried buying pipe cleaners recently? Did you have trouble? It’s because they aren’t “pipe cleaners” anymore, now they are “chenille stems” so as not to glorify smoking! Swear to heaven, the little old lady working at Michaels told me this. I was positively poleaxed.

  43. lol, number cube.

    Didn’t read all the comments, so forgive me if I repeat:

    The biggest problem with this sort of thing is it is COMPLETELY unenforcable. No touching? It requires teachers to be nigh omniscient and omnipresent.

    But that isn’t even the biggest problem. Once there are little unenforcable rules for everything, rules themselves become a joke, and kids know this. So kids start tuning out and dismissing rules as stupid: ALL rules. After all, if their teachers are so lacking in common sense as to make these weak rules, how much can the kids trust their judgement about rules that really matter? They know the threats are empty and the rules meaningless.

    As a parent, one of the best pieces of advice I would give to anyone is: pick your battles and do not make rules that are impossible to enforce. Every transparent rule you make, you chip away at your parental authority.

  44. It seems that abusive behavior should be taught at home. Maybe some of the parents really aren’t teaching their children some of the basics that allow them to get along with others.

  45. I hope the double post is allowed because obviously what I meant was that young people should be taught “not” to abuse others.

  46. […] A School Devises A Drastic Solution We’ve already heard about teachers no longer being able to comfort their students for fear of being accused of child […] […]

  47. To be fair on the “pipe cleaners,” I don’t think it’s just to avoid “glorifying smoking.” Real pipe cleaners are shorter, stiffer, and less fuzzy than the chenille stems. You wouldn’t want to try to clean a pipe with a chenille stem from the craft department, and a craft made with pipe cleaners wouldn’t look very interesting. I think they’re probably even made out of different stuff. You can still buy pipe cleaners over in the cigars and tobacco department, or at least you could last time I looked, just a very few years ago. But I’ll bet you have to show ID, like you do for most kinds of glue (other than Elmer’s) and spray paint.

  48. “But that isn’t even the biggest problem. Once there are little unenforcable rules for everything, rules themselves become a joke, and kids know this. So kids start tuning out and dismissing rules as stupid: ALL rules. After all, if their teachers are so lacking in common sense as to make these weak rules, how much can the kids trust their judgement about rules that really matter? They know the threats are empty and the rules meaningless.”

    Jennifer, you are absolutely correct.

    My older niece is remarkable. Very physical. Tagged along to her daddy’s parkour class and did something so cool the *grown-ups* were trying to learn from *her* – and she’s five!

    Part of the reason she’s so good at this stuff is because I (as her most-of-the-time caregiver) have a policy of never telling her something is dangerous unless it actually *is* dangerous. I didn’t used to have this policy, and she really would ignore me, do what I’d just told her not to, and then go “SEE? I didn’t hurt myself!”

    So now, if she might send herself to the hospital with a minor injury I tell her so and let her make her own choice, and if she might die I tell her so and make her stop – and she listens, because I don’t overuse the warning.

    The *other* reason she and her sister are so athletic is related, but not the same: I don’t hold them when they go up playground equipment, and never have. I see this all the time at playgrounds – the kid is doing something that the parent thinks is difficult, so the parent holds them to “help”.

    But it doesn’t help. All it does is encourage the child to lean back into their parents’ hands, thus making them *less safe* in the long run, as they’ve never learned to balance themselves! My nieces, I spot them if they’re going very high, but I don’t touch them when I do so. And if they need help climbing a ladder or something I tell them where to put their hands and feet, but I don’t do it for them. (I tell them “If you can’t do it yourself, you have no business being up there in the first place”. This doesn’t *actually* mean “If you can get up there, you can be up there”, but they think it does.)

    Similarly, when we were in California, my younger niece was the only two year old we saw at the pool without a full-body flotation bathing suit. I was a little jealous of this, but not that much – those kids with full floaties thought they were totally safe plopping into the deep end of the pool because they floated. My niece learned FAST that if she flopped too fast into the pool she’d get water up her nose, and the fact that she needed to have grown-ups to catch her reiterated the message that pools are not, in fact, safe until and unless you know how to swim. (Or at least are taller than the water!) Which kept her *safer* – she doesn’t wander close to pools and other sources of water unless she’s with an adult. (Not that we’re letting her go unattended to pools and whatnot, but if it should happen.)

  49. @Uly: gah, my husband is the playground hoverer, it drives me positively mad. He will get behind William, hold his hands up, and follow him up onto the equipment (he’s 4! No stranger to jumping and climbing). Other parents do this, so he’s not alone. I’m constantly telling him to relax.

    I refuse to even touch a slide! I’m on the bench, like a good old-fashioned mom, sipping my iced tea, just watching. One of the greatest things about my mom taking me to the park was that she’d sit with the other adults and my brother and I could pretend we were in our own fantasy land with no grown-ups. Nothing like mom and dad’s constant “encouraging” chattering and smiling, strained faces to discourage independent play.

    What could happen? Skinned knees or elbows, or a bump? No big deal. A fall, resulting in crying? Hug and shake it off. A broken arm or head gash? Unfortunate, inconvenient, and probably the worst that could happen, but nothing life-shattering. Kids have been breaking their bones since time began, and skinning knees more so.

    In fact, I was always the odd kid out, because I had NEVER broken a bone (and still haven’t, knock on cyber-wood)🙂.

  50. Hold his hands going up! Oh my!

    Of course, you only have one kid, right? With two, you can’t do that, can you?

    The VERY DAY my older niece turned four, she was at the playground on a high (7 feet!!!!) playground structure. I was on the ground with her baby sister. I assumed she’d go down the slide, so I wasn’t paying too much attention – glance at Ana, look at the baby, glance back at Ana, look back at the baby, you know. Had to watch the baby closely – unlike her sister, SHE ate sand.

    Next thing I knew she was leaning out onto the firepole. From seven feet up. (My sister didn’t believe it, kept saying it must have been a smaller one, not the one she had to stand on tiptoes to reach!)

    I would’ve said something but I was terrified that if I startled her she’d let go and DROP right to the ground. So I didn’t, and she went down just fine. I did make a rule then and there, though, that THAT firepole requires a spotter. At the very least, I have to know you’re trying to kill yourself. Ye gods.

  51. I would encourage the students to announce to the media that they intend to hold a protest. Then (on school grounds and in view of a principle or administrator) have a group get together to shake hands with each other.

  52. If you want to read a reader’s feedback🙂 , I rate this article for 4/5. Decent info, but I just have to go to that damn msn to find the missed pieces. Thanks, anyway!

  53. “Number cube”? What happened to teaching kids proper vocabulary?

  54. Interesting Read! Very detailed blog.
    Thanks for sharing

  55. Actually the hospitals in the late 19th century also had a “No Touch” policy for the infants under their care. They did this to keep the hospital sterile. Babies were only touched to be fed.
    The results were staggering. 90-99% infants died within 1 year. The survivors grew up with various forms of physical retardation.
    Once they figured out and allowed the nurses to handle the babies the situation reversed itself .
    These institutions constantly fail to recognize what Free Range Moms know easily, if not by instinct, most touch is normal and good for a child’s growth.

  56. […] So maybe you believe we have advanced past that primitive stage of understanding the importance of touch. I have my doubts. Take for example our children. Teachers are no longer allowed to hug the children in some schools. So do you think this practice “protects” our children? Read what Lenore Iskenazy has to say on Free-Range-Kids in an article entitled “school devises drastic solution”. […]

  57. Andromeda,
    No, I think you certainly do want, “No Groin Kicking Allowed.” I mean, don’t water it down by blending it in. Since it’s a serious problem that hurts deeply, (subconsciously also) to all recipients and even those observing this, set it apart as out as a definite no. That’s not giving the boys any privileges. Add other rules in general terms. That very simple solution will and does work. People are so mixed up by the media that movie “heroines” (take Eva Mendez in “Switch”) just take a pot shot when they feel like it, skewing men’s perceptions of themselves and women’s perceptions that it’s no big deal. Later in the century something else may need to be remembered (as though we have to keep rebuilding society). But right now it’s a serious problem. There’s a lot of hatred out there so much so that every recitation of a female goes something like, “Yeah I did it and he was whimpering like a baby.” I actually think even with todays rude dudes a girl can easily make it to her 20’s not being required to “defend” herself/opinion with a sexual assault upon a boy. Well that my thoughts. Thanks for your teaching days, BTW!

  58. Well, I not sure I really understand your point. I never advocated for children to kick each other in the groin…Simply that the benefits of touch are many and outlawing touch would be another bad idea with many consequences to our health and our soceity.

  59. Hi Abe, your not talking to me are you? I haven’t all the posts. I just think keep it simple. Get one school back on track with one moral item that has wide implications. This will last several years or more. Next year emphasize another item perhaps.

  60. my school did the same thing, the ‘no physical contact rule’ . we were prohibited from hugging high fives and (get this) GREETING EACH OTHER AT LUNCH. this was middle school. oh also some of the older students kissed their people in the hallway.as in in passing. they were going *hi*kiss*talk to ya at lunch*. banned. they walkie talkied each other about*incidents* and it all started because some retard eight graders got in a fight at lunch. we made a petition(obviously😉 ) but it pretty much only ended after be just stopped listening and started mocking it. occasionally it would be enforced but for the most part it died rather silently alone in a corner.

  61. hello my friend
    the blog is good i like it very mcuh

  62. I remember the good old days in my inner-city parochial school—no card games (gambling!) or PDAs (Public Displays of Affection). Basically, no boy/girl contact. Fun times.

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