Should Teachers be Allowed to Touch Students? asks Jessica Lahey. She teaches English and writing at an inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility. “Many of my adolescent students have endured sexual and physical abuse,” she writes.
Schools are adopting no-touching policies for their students. Teachers fear a pat on the shoulder could be seen as aggressive or sexual or . . . who knows?
Touch can built trust, says David J. Linden, a Johns Hopkins neuroscience professor, is the author of a new book, Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind. “More than anything else, what touch conveys is ‘I’m an ally, I’m not a threat.”
However, context determines how touch is perceived, Linden told Lahey.
An arm thrown over your shoulders by a domineering boss is perceived very differently than an arm thrown around your shoulders by a trusted friend, for example.
“Appropriate social touch in school is vitally important to children who do not experience it at home, or for children who are abused,”says Linden. “It’s important for kids to realize that there is a role for social touching that isn’t abuse, that’s simply a normal and healthy means of bonding with other human beings.”
When I started tutoring school kids, I had to pay to be fingerprinted and prove I’m not on the state’s data base of sex offenders. I decided not to touch a child on the arm or shoulder, not to hug.