It has only been in recent years that human touch has been treated as a negative aspect in the classroom. Concerns of child molestation and abuse have outlawed even a hug from being allowed to sooth an injury or bad grade. Fear has allowed human touch to become dangerous, and to scare teachers from even a friendly pat on the back…
By changing laws and educating parents and teachers about good and bad touch, it is possible to increase positive touch in the classroom, while still maintaining a strong stance on child molestation and abuse.
One of the primary concerns of educators is the potential for lawsuits when they touch students. While less than 1% of cases of child abuse stem from child care facilities, these centers are increasingly putting up barriers between teachers and children, in an attempt to limit lawsuits (Heller 1). Sharon Heller, an expert on infant touch, shares that many of these rules include such ideas as "caregivers are told to let hugs come from children, to not put children on their lap, and to not help children in the bathroom" (1). Children who spend the vast majority of their days in child care will receive increasingly less touch, to protect the teachers from lawsuits. This issue arises from the lack of understanding of parents, educators or children of the difference between positive and negative touch. Positive touch is any touch that indicates to a child that they are important, and that their feelings matter. This touch is always friendly in nature, and needs to be approved by both child and adult. Negative touch is any touch that is not desired by one of the two people involved, or involves touching of any genital areas, often called "the swimsuit region." Nan Stein, an expert and Ed.D, suggests "It's absurd to outlaw touch in the name of preventing sexual harassment" (Milo 5).
The importance of touch in human development has been known since H.P Harlow did his research on monkeys in 1958. He showed that baby monkeys would choose a cuddly fake monkey over a plain wire monkey who provided food (Milo 3). Historically, a lack of human touch has been linked to hyperactivity, superficial relationships, disorganization, and an inability to adapt to social norms (Blackwell 4). In cross-cultural studies, it has been proven that children in other countries receive significantly more touch than American children in schools, and have significantly lower rates of school violence (Milo 4). Touch has also been shown to play a significant role in decreasing the level of cortisol in the human body. Cortisol, while a necessary chemical, destroys brain cells when it is present in high amounts in the body. In children who are not regularly touched, the level of cortisol is significantly higher than in children who are regularly held and hugged by others. The effects of long term levels of high cortisol include poor performance in school, lack of ability to retain information, and overall lowered achievement. However, when children move into a nurturing environment, rapid improvement is seen, and cortisol levels quickly diminish (Blackwell 6). In looking at the research, it is clear that touch plays a significant role in human development, at both the emotional and physical level.
In addition to the research on the effects of touch and child development, there is strong concern that a lack of touch, especially with young children, may also be a form of neglect and abuse. According to Tony Del Prete, a school guidance counselor,
By modeling an aloof interpersonal style and becoming less humanistic with our youth, we may be sending the message that violent and aggressive touching (as seen on TV, movies, and ...
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