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Hugs and gentle touch can be helpful with connecting with young children.
Appropriateness is important -- older teens sucking face and public displays of affection are inappropriate.
I will not play at tug o' war
I'd rather play at hug o' war,
Where everyone hugs
Instead of tugs....
No wonder so many kids are so messed up. They don't get hugs at home and now teachers are supposed to regulate hugging??? Dr. Leo Buscaglia used say that "Everyone needs a hug, it changes your metabolism." Our kids don't need regimented curriculum, rigorous testing, and rigid rules, they need to learn how to cope with each other and know that they are unconditionally accepted, appreciated and worth something.
If we are preparing them to be appropriate citizens in potential work environments, do we model similar restrictions in our schools?
Hugs are usually spontaneous platonic displays of affection and empathy that are essential for healthy friendships. Students really need those friendships - especially during adolescence. Just imagine a world in which you couldn't hug a friend who was grieving and you realize how important touch can be when words fail us. Kids also need to learn that each person has their own personal distance comfort zone (that may differ with culture, gender, religion, and neurological condition). They can also learn that hugs are OK as long as they are welcome. They can learn to read body language and to avoid hugging when they feel that someone is uncomfortable with that manner of touch from them. This is a wonderful teachable moment in non-verbal communication skills. We should take advantage of the opportunity to teach healthy, respectful physical affection skills for life.
I believe that putting restrictions on innocent actions and caring behavior raises the natural question of "why?" in most young kids minds... thereby begging the discussion of precisely the sort of topic such a ban is intended to avoid. "Don't" is always followed by "don't what? why not?" in all but the most dull-witted people. Humans need touch, and kids communicate with their hands much more readily and easily than words sometimes. As for the extended "PDA" issues in older grades, a much broader and simpler expectation to "keep traffic moving in the halls" and "be responsible to get where you're supposed to be" allows for a positive and appropriate response to the issue without demeaning a human response.
I agree with the majority of comments already posted; perhaps the question needed to identify the 'age' appropriateness of hugging (pre-school and primary children expect if not reach out for hugs!)and who is 'hugging whom'. Some comments are mentioning those variables. That said, it would be a shame not to be able to hug a student or one another, I think teaching 'boundaries' and 'appropriate' responses is one of the very reasons that brick & mortar schools remain critical to learning environments.
It's hard not to receive spontaneous hugs when working with preschoolers... a hug gives them a way to express their feelings that they may not be able to verbally express and as a teacher I would feel like I was being cold towards my students if I did not return their hugs.
It's too bad we only have one word to describe two very different motivations for the same activity.
Friendship hugs - no problem.
Making out in the hallway - problem.
Teaching appropriate time and place for each activity is what's needed and that begins at home and is either reinforced or remediated at school, depending on what students come to school believing is right.
A word of advice about hugs, especially if you are teaching in NYC; DON"T, especially for students in the upper grades. Although it is quite natural in some instances, hugging can be construed by school officials as untoward affectional advances. Therefore, a word of caution to those who "indulge" in this display-be careful for you might be brought up on charges of inappropriate conduct. One more bit of advice-when meeting privately with a student, KEEP THE DOOR OPEN!