No… not the hugs! Anything but the hugs!

I once again find myself torn on an issue of grave national importance: hugs.

The hugs were out of control at West Sylvan Middle School.

* * * *

It was, Couch said, a virus of hugs.

So the principal banned hugs on the school campus in late February.

The campus of nearly 600 seventh- and eighth-graders joined a growing list of schools nationwide that have halted hugs as well as other behaviors deemed detrimental to teaching and learning.

On the one hand, I understand that things can get a little out of control from time to time in junior high.  When the Super Ball factory closed in our city, thousands and thousands of the big rubber balls ended up on every campus in the city.  Walking the blacktop at recess was like trying to cross between trenches on the Western Front.  Eyes were blackened and lips split with frightening regularity.  In response to this very real, acute problem, the school did what it had to do: it banned Super Balls.  Banning Super Balls as a general rule is silly, but it made sense.  So I can understand why you might want to ban hugs if they’d really gotten out of control.

On the other hand, it’s hugs.  Maybe they need to be banned, but the ban should be relaxed after a few weeks, with an admonition to the kids not to let things get out of control again.  That’s what responsible educators do: they teach lessons about what’s appropriate and inappropriate.

Hugging is — at least almost always — appropriate.  The crazy-interferes-with-school-grand-hugging-virus might not be.  So kill the virus, then let life resume as normal.  If it gets out of control again, have another temporary ban.  But just as the Georgia legislature gives me hope (see the post below), so this Principal gives me hope:

Couch, who has been principal at West Sylvan for seven years and a school administer for two decades, can perhaps look forward to the day of hugging normalcy.

But in the meantime, she concluded her memo to school colleagues by saying she’d treated the hugging in schools like a computer with a virus.

“If any of you have any ideas about how to reboot so that we can come back to it appropriately, I would sure love to hear from you.”

Hope.  It’s a rare and delicate thing.


  1. Michael, you are naive. I see plenty of “innocent hugging” that is nothing but groping.

  2. Pinetree says:

    And there is also LOTS of hugging at the middle school level that is about establishing a pecking order and plain old attention-getting. Probably 95%.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    There are quite a few “innocent conversations” that are nothing but threats, put-downs, and bullying. So we should ban speaking on campus?

    People often fly airlines in order to smuggle cocaine. Should we forcibly close all the airports?

    There are a lot of lives that are nothing but exercises in meanness and spite, from beginning to end. Should we ban living?

    Obviously not. Human beings have the faculties to distinguish between all sorts of things, including hugging and foreplay. And if the powers that be wish to prevent foreplay on campus, then the powers that be should ban that behavior. It’s ludicrous to think that adults can’t distinguish between hugging and feeling someone up.

    Also — LS — I understand why you put scare quotes around “innocent hugging”. You were being sarcastic. But what I don’t understand is why you’d use that phrase by way of proving that I’m naive. *I* didn’t use that phrase.

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    And in response to Pinetree’s much more interesting (and less insulting) comment:

    I don’t think that there’s actually anything wrong with “establishing a pecking order” or “attention-getting” per se. Both are necessary stages of adolescent development that will occur, whether through the medium of hugging or through some other device such as lunch benches (which double nicely as stages, if I remember junior high correctly).

    Human society has a pecking order — indeed, most intraspecies social organizations that I can think of do — that’s sort of what makes them a social organization. Watching teenagers realize how this works, and watching their clumsy adaptation to it can often be frustrating and painful, but we do them no services by shielding them from it.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t manifestations of pecking-order establishment that we want to quash — certain forms of bullying are simply unacceptable. But the idea that there is something wrong with hugging simply because it is part of certain natural processes is silly.

    To be fair, Pinetree, you didn’t say that pecking orders or attention-getting were reasons to disapprove of hugging. But that’s how I am interpreting your comment in context. My apologies if I am misreading, and you simply meant to point out in an academic sense that hugging has these properties.

  5. Pinetree says:

    Michael — what you also need to realie (I get the impression that you don’t spend any time in middle schools) is the huge volume of hugging that goes on. Those of us who see a reason to put limits on hugging (and I do think the principal was wise to see this as a situation that might require only a temporary hugging ban) are responding to the fact that it becomes a fad. In a middle school near me, the kids got into huge group hugs. (Think mosh pit). Other students couldn’t get down the hall. Students were late for class, including those who simply couldn’t get by. So a simple social gesture becomes a tool of acting out and silliness. Adults who didn’t resond to this type of behavior would simply be passive enablers.

  6. Lightly Seasoned- There certainly are the those kids who use hugging as an excuse to rub up against one another, but in my experience that is not the case most of the time. Perhaps you attended a school with higher hormone levels than normal, however. At any rate, I think you need a hug.

    Pinetree- I would say that about 95% of ALL social actions at the middle school level are about finding one’s place in a pecking order. If it’s not hugging, it will be something else that is used to establish a pecking order.

    I student-taught at a middle school where the no-hugging policy was implemented. The entire staff and student body saw it as a bit ridiculous because nobody but the principal thought it was out of control. I could see how it COULD get to be that way, however. It’s likely that the principal in this case made a good decision about what was best for her students.

  7. I don’t like all the hugging.

    It’s an annoying fad that spreads germs.

    But banning it would be worse.

  8. As I said, all this hugging annoys me.

    But I’m 59 years old and a lot of things annoy me.

    The civil thing for me to do is to try to keep my mouth shut.

    Anyways, as fads go, this is one of the better ones.

    Anybody remember pencil fighting?

  9. Michael E. Lopez says:


    I don’t spend a lot of time in middle schools, no. But I do keep on top of things, and the “cuddle puddle” is nothing new. I blogged about it back in 2006 when it was at some exclusive school in NY. (I don’t remember which school it was.)

    If the hugging gets disruptive, then a temporary ban is perfectly appropriate (as I think I said). Bring it to the students’ attention that they are acting out of line… slap them down for a little so that it registers… and then see if they’ve learned their lesson.

    Rinse and repeat as necessary.

    And RW… I *LOVED* me my pencil fights.

  10. It’d be interesting to note what you’d think if it were your 14-year-old daughter getting groped and going along with it because it was a fad.

  11. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Lightly Seasoned…

    If I may suggest, it sounds like your problem isn’t really with the hugging.

  12. In what sense?

  13. Nick: good Lord. That’s a rhetorical move right out of the 70’s playbook. Kudos.

  14. Lightly Seasoned, I’m afraid I’ve witnessed over 1000 campus hugs in the last few months. From what I’ve observed, there doesn’t appear to be anything sexual about it. Nobody is getting hugged without consent.

    Michael, you write, “If the hugging gets disruptive, then a temporary ban is perfectly appropriate.” Unfortunately, I’ve seen administrators act as though all nonconforming behavior was disruptive. A girl at my school dyed her hair green and was suspended until she changed her hair color back to something that wouldn’t “disrupt the educational process.” She was out for three weeks and that was a damn crime.

    The constant hugging nauseates me and so I guess in that way it disrupts the educational process.

    But I deal with it by calling them “losers” in the hopes I’ll become a news item.