Life

COVID pandemic canceled hugs, handshakes. That may not be a bad thing.

To hug or not to hug? For the past year, we’ve been advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid physical contact with anyone not in our immediate household to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. For those living alone, that meant the absence of physical touch. Don’t shake hands, don’t hug anyone, and definitely don’t kiss anyone.

The lack of physical touch has been trying, but many have gotten used to newer, more creative ways of greeting each other, whether it’s a friendly wave from 6 feet away or an elbow bump. As more Americans get vaccinated and can abide by the new CDC guidelines, we may be able to go back to hugging, shaking hands, and cheek kisses soon. But should we?

Experts say that the pandemic has taken the pressure off forced interactions and allowed us time to reevaluate boundaries around physical touch. “It’s been helpful in the sense that people get to have a little more personal autonomy; you don’t have to follow that social contract that has been set up of how you are supposed to greet people,” says Ashley Peterson, a licensed psychotherapist.

Shafia Zaloom, a health educator at the Urban School in San Francisco, says this social contract has caused some people to minimize their discomfort in the past “and just accept physical greetings like handshakes and hugs because they are the perceived norm.”

“Many get the message that … it’s only a handshake, and it would be impolite to offer anything otherwise,” Zaloom says, adding this idea is ingrained in us from childhood.

Kids are often told to give people hugs.

It’s a familiar tale: An adult relative comes over, and a parent tells a child to greet that person with a hug or a kiss. But as physical touch vanished during the pandemic, the pressure put on kids to physically welcome people waned, and experts say it’s a practice we should stick with after the pandemic.

“We want our kids to trust their intuition, especially when it relates to body autonomy. We also want kids to have a sense of agency when it comes to their intuition and their bodies, which is an important part of their emerging sexuality,” Zaloom says.

Peterson agrees children should have personal autonomy, but she notes each household’s cultural background will play a role in whether the lack of emphasis on physical greetings sticks.

Physical greetings can vary significantly from culture to culture. In Sudan, it’s common to go in for a hug, two kisses on the cheek and end the greeting with a handshake (yes, all at once), while in Miami, it’s not unusual to see people air-kissing hello.

Peterson says now is a perfect time for parents to discuss with their kids and help guide them in making decisions about how they’d like to greet people. The idea is not to cancel hugs for relatives but rather to lessen the pressure put on kids; if the child wants to go for the hug, they should. But it should be up to them.

“Everyone doesn’t view children as being able to make their own decisions even though … they should definitely be able to say who they want to touch, hug and all those other things with their bodies.”

Gemma Broadhurst
Gemma Broadhurst is a 23-year-old computing student who enjoys extreme ironing, hockey and duck herding. She is kind and entertaining, but can also be very standoffish and a bit evil.She is an Australian Christian. She is currently at college. studying computing. She is allergic to milk. She has a severe phobia of chickens

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