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School’s No-Touch Policy is Cold

by Maria Koropecky, Homespunspa owner

Yesterday, I heard that an elementary school in nearby Aldergrove, B.C. introduced a no-touch policy for its students and I’d like to add my two cents to this conversation.

According to my research, the kindergarten kids at Coghlan Fundamental Elementary School are no longer allowed to do things like play tag or hold hands because there has been some rough-housing lately and it’s getting “out of hand.” Parents of these children got a letter saying, “We have unfortunately had to ban all forms of hands-on play for the immediate future…we will have a zero-tolerance policy.” If the kids do break the rules and make some sort of physical contact with another student, they will be grounded during play time and/or sent to the office.

As an esthetician, therapeutic touch is my business and I feel this policy is downright awful on so many levels. Where do I start?

First of all, touch is a fundamental need. Touch at its best is healing, calming, nourishing, soothing, comforting. It creates bonds between people. It feels good.

If people don’t receive loving touch during their first few weeks, months and years of life and are not held as infants, they are not likely to survive. And if the children who are deprived of human contact happen to live, their emotional and physical growth is stunted and they don’t develop a sense of empathy or compassion for others. It’s really sad.

When I look back on my kindergarten days, I remember learning how to do a cartwheel which was really thrilling. During recess, I liked the swing sets, jumping rope, playing hopscotch, throwing a ball against the wall, digging in the sandbox and singing patty-cake songs, like “Say, say, my playmate, come on an play with me” while clapping my hands with a partner. Although I wasn’t fond of playing tag (because it involved running), I still played the game often enough with the neighbourhood kids and my school mates. It was part of the package deal of being a kid. I couldn’t imagine someone saying. “You can’t do that anymore.”

Of course, not all physical contact is good either. Sometimes touch can be uncomfortable, inappropriate, mean-spirited, violent and/or damaging. Kids should be able to tell the difference and that comes with context and experience. One size does not fit all and placing a ban on all forms of hands-on play, robs these kids of developing that knowledge.

The school administrators said they want to keep things “safe” for everybody. I read a bumper sticker awhile ago that said something like, “I’m not going to tip-toe through life just so I can get to death safely” and I wish I had taken a photo of it. In any case, staying safe all of the time is not living life. How else would I have learned how to do a cartwheel among many other successes? Occasionally, kids will prove the law of gravity and will fall off their bikes or the jungle gym and will skin their knees and chins but that shouldn’t keep them from riding their bikes or climbing at all.

With this kind of no-touch policy in place during their formative years, what are these kids supposed to think as they navigate through the rest of their lives? What conclusions are they supposed to draw? Will they be traumatized by this policy and carry a fear of touching others around with them in the back of their mind for life? Will they be able to stand up for themselves if they are being bullied? Will they lose their job because a co-worker has rubbed them the wrong way? Will they freak out on the bus because someone sat too close to them? Will they wake up one day and wonder why they can’t have more loving, healthy and intimate relationships with others? Depriving kids of human touch, especially during play with their peers, (in spite of good intentions), is not a trivial matter. It can have lasting effects that we can’t foresee at this stage.

This no-touch policy, which by the way is not unique to this school and has been implemented in a school in Connecticut and in Australia, is somewhat related to another troubling trend I see in our culture. Nowadays, people are all about their handheld devices. They keep checking their contraptions every chance they get. If a group of people is sitting around a table for some odd reason, chances are, most of them are texting someone who is elsewhere rather than chatting with the person next to them. Somehow, the person far away has become more important than the person close by. Some people fear everyone’s social skills are suffering as a result of our lack of real, face-to-face time and our dependence on computers. In my opinion, this no-touch policy just reinforces that trend.

Well, I’m not going to hide behind a prop every minute of every day and I’m not going to keep my hands to myself. As much as I like my iPhone and my laptop, I’m going to go out into the world and meet people face to face and keep on doing my esthetics and giving relaxing massages every chance I get.

I’m hoping this whole “no-touch” thing blows over before it gets too entrenched. Life is a contact sport. You can’t legislate touching — especially among 5-year-olds.

In my opinion, a no-touch policy is cold and impersonal and is not the solution. What happend to just having a “no fighting policy?”

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