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Kids Gone Wild!

If you teach middle school, this will not be news. If you don't, you may have heard about this late breaking story: While we may have dodged the disaster of the swine flu, we should not let our guard down. We now face a new threat of spring fever, as evidenced by the recent outbreak of middle school hugging in Oregon.

Despite efforts to contain the spread of hugging among young adolescents the syndrome apparently reoccurs annually. In 2007 hugging was reported to have broken out in the Midwest states of Illinois and Iowa. Hugging also infected middle school hallways in the southern states of Texas and Alabama during the same time period. Not confined to North America, hugging was observed among middle school aged students in England.

In 2008, an effort was made to control the spread of hugging by limiting hug contact time to 2 seconds. However, a regulation resistant hug protest in Arizona may have incubated a resistant strain of embrace because in 2009 hugging had migrated to Australia and resurfaced inConnecticut.

Why are all the kids hugging in the hall? Well, first of all, if you've spent 22 years in middle school you know that hugging in the hall is nothing new. What is new is the level of angst by adults that hugging might be physically dangerous, emotionally damaging or, worst of all, legally hazardous. One thing is certain--the more attention adults pay to hugging, the more flamboyant the hugging will become.

While the discussion may rage about kids hugging each other in the hallway, no one is even going near the topic of teachers hugging kids in the classroom. Every student teacher is cautioned in no uncertain terms that teacher should never ever touch students because it's unprofessional and probably grounds for a lawsuit. At the same time, every honored teacher is photographed hugging kids. Call me a lawsuit waiting to happen, but I hugged a kid today. The truth is, I don't know many teachers who have not committed the offense of kid hugging.

Teachers hug their students because kids are frightened or hurt or worried and there isn't a parent there to hug them and tell them it will be okay. Teachers hug their students because they are partners who celebrate accomplishment that comes through hard work. Teachers hug kids because kids hug their teachers; and what kind of a teacher would reject a kid who shows appreciation or seeks affirmation with an embrace?

So...To hug or not to hug, that is the question. Psychologist Virginia Satir says that "We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth." I missed National Hug Day on January 21, but there seem to be some basic guidelines for hugging etiquette that I can practice up on before National Hug Your Kid Day on July 19. I'm going to practice upon the one armed side hug technique to minimize body contact that is recommended by some teacher web resources.

But I really think hugging is a question of judgment and learning to make informed judgments is a critical skill for a teacher and an important part aspect of student learning. In Japan they have a saying "You have to read the air." Somewhere between our animal instincts for bonding with our tribe and our cultural mores of respecting personal space we ought be able to squeeze in a little breathing room for some Free Hugs.

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