Note: This commentary was delivered by PFM President Mark Earley.
When a Connecticut schoolboy gave another student a below-the-belt kick a few weeks ago, the victim was rushed to the emergency room.
Meanwhile in response, the principal sent a note home to parents reinforcing the school’s “No-Touch” policy. The policy prohibits any touching at all on school grounds—including “hugging” and “horseplay.” Violators could face “parent conferences, detention, suspension and/or a request for expulsion from school.”
According to the Washington Post, some students report that even high-fiving and pats on the back have been outlawed.
Have we come to the point in our schools where a pat on the back is the moral equivalent of a kick below the belt?
Now, this Connecticut school isn’t alone in banning touch. School districts all over America have issued similar policies in recent years. In fact, one school reportedly disciplined a 5-year-old for giving another child a hug after her grandmother died.
Clearly, some kinds of touching are always inappropriate—at school or anyplace. But outlawing touching of any kind could have “a higher cost” than anyone imagines. That’s what researcher Matthew Hertenstein, an associate professor of psychology at DePauw University believes.
In the Providence Journal, Hertenstein cites several studies that point to the basic human need for contact. He writes, “Touch reduces both physiological and perceived stress” and can promote “social bonding and wellness” as well as feelings of security. And in a recent study on neo-natal intensive care units, babies who received touch reported 47 percent higher weight gain and came home six days sooner than infants who did not receive contact.
But it’s not just science that points us to the human need for touch. After all, the Lord Jesus Christ took on human flesh. And though His words alone were able to raise the dead and still storms, time and time again He combined His words with human touch. Jesus touched the leper and the blind man. He touched the disciples when they were cowering with fear after his transfiguration. He blessed children by laying hands on them. He even washed dirty feet to show us what true servanthood looks like.
Sadly, in schools where educators are no longer permitted to teach morality—that’s, right from wrong—a blanket rule of “Do not touch,” will have to do.
Making such blanket rules is no doubt a temptation for churches as well, where sexual abuse scandals have sullied reputations and trust. But rather than draw arbitrary lines in the sand, churches and parents need to model right behavior. It isn’t touch that’s wrong. It’s the wrong kind of touch that is wrong.
Even as we remember to kiss our spouse and hug our children each day, we might recall that there are people in our own midst who are literally starved for touch.
Use discernment, but where appropriate, squeeze the hand of the elderly widow, give a child who has done her best a pat on the back, join hands in prayer with those in the hospital.
God created us in His image, and though our touch may not heal the blind or raise the dead, it still has enormous power.