When is the last time you hugged or kissed a loved one? An hour ago, yesterday or maybe you can’t remember the last time? Having someone show their love for you through affectionate and appropriate touch fills our most basic need as a human being and that is to know that you are loved and special to someone. As parents, we all want to do what is best for our children to make sure they are happy and healthy and grow up to be the same as adults. We feed them, we clothe them, and we send them to school. We give them toys, take them on vacations, yet often forget a simple hug and kiss as they head out the door to catch the bus. And it’s this show of affection that may be the best thing parents could do for their children’s physical, mental and emotional health. The study of affectionate touch and its absence or presence is a recent field of study in human development and psychology. Freud downplayed the importance of touch in positive human growth by assuming that mother-infant bonding was a primal instinct and not necessary in higher order humans. It was not until the 50’s and 60’s when Harry Harlow studied the effects of isolation and touch deprivation on primates that scientists discovered the long-term effects of behavioral, social, relationship, and health problems. Analysis of children raised in orphanages and neonatal hospital patients deprived of early mother-infant bonding also supported the conclusions that affectionate and physical touch was crucial to human life. Unfortunately, the U.S. has become one of the most non-touch societies in the world. Scientists estimate that only 25% of American households provide affectionate touch to their loved ones because our “Don’t touch” philosophy has spread like a virus to our loved ones, children and even ourselves. Schools have developed policies against touching, by teachers or even other students. My own daughter received detentions for hugging and walking hand in hand with her girlfriend. Their behavior was deemed inappropriate contact. Society views touching as evil, and it can be when done in an inappropriate fashion. But we should not ban affectionate touch from our lives completely. What Americans are afraid of most, their phobia of violent and inappropriate touch, may actually be the cure for the illness, and that is the increase of proper physical touch amongst people. Our desire for human touch and affection begins at home, when we are first born and held in our mother’s arms. It is her reaction to our presence that defines our world for us and lets us know if it is a world full of love or one where we feel neglected. Our skin makes up most of our external body, and it longs to be touched, as it was in the womb for 40 weeks. Babies naturally want hugs and kisses and reach out for physical contact. Hugs and kisses and eye contact let them know they are loved, secure and they can trust the people around them. Unfortunately, some parents don’t read a baby’s clues for wanting affection. A mother and father learn their ability to show affection from their parents, who learn it from their parents. There is often a negative cycle that must be broken before we can properly show affection to our loved ones. But knowing the benefits of reaching out with a simple hug just might make that first hug contagious, and not so difficult a New Year resolution. So why is affectionate touch good for us anyway? Believe it or not, touch may be the most preventive medicine our society could implement to deal with some of the social and physical ills that plague us. By not being affectionate, we risk the chance of raising children with serious psychological neuroses and disorders as well as physical ailments associated with the inability to deal with stress. Studies have shown that people and primates deprived of touch do not react normally, they are abusive and aggressive, and may even suffer from serious depression. In adulthood, these types of behaviors lead to addiction, violent behaviors and other disorders. Other data has demonstrated that the more anti-touch society norms are,
the more violent the society. Some believe that if there was more love and affection shown between people, the world would be less violent which is easily understood when one thinks of the violence in cultures that discourage open or any affection between opposite sexes (mother and son, daughter and father, brother and sister). In addition to emotional behaviors, the lack of physical touch also affects us physiologically. Touch generates hormone and antibody production and the lack of touch leaves one with less of both. Hormones are necessary for controlling our reactions to stress and antibodies help us fight infection. Without either of those, we are sick more frequently, suffer from high blood pressure and cholesterol, or develop immune deficiencies.
The art of touching is also crucial to the human development of those with sensory disabilities such as blindness or deafness. The simple act of touching for these individuals is a primary form of communication and requires the establishment of trust. Without the ability to touch, they are left numb and cut off from society. How can we prevent these societal issues from spreading like wildfire? By starting with your newborn baby, kissing and cuddling and massaging and caressing. See the joy in his or her eyes as they greet you with unconditional love and happiness. They will sleep better, cry less, and develop into loving and affectionate human beings. And isn’t that all a human being really wants, to know that they are loved? And it all starts at home with a simple hug for yourself that spreads to your family and loved ones. No matter what age you are, there is nothing more reassuring than the loving stroke of Mom or Dad on the forehead or a kiss on the cheek that says, “I love you”. Come on. Help heal the world, by starting with your family, one hug and kiss at a time.
http://www.tsbvi.edu/seehear/fall00/infantbonding.htm http://www.depauw.edu/learn/lab/publications/documents/touch/2009_Touch_out_of_touch.pdf http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=infant-touch http://www.sageofasheville.com/primary_prevention.html http://www.hkjpaed.org/johnson/TouchInLabourAndInfancy/02.htm
Dodi Kingsfield, Technical Services Supervisor, Freelance Writer and Author. Dodi is employed as a Technical Supervisor for a large food manufacturer in Dunkirk, writes childrens and young adult books and does freelance writing for the web and magazines. Married for more than 20 years and a full-time mother of five, Dodi enjoys yoga, organic gardening and telling tall tales. She can be reached through her e-mail address at email@example.com.