The Importance of Touch
When I taught ESL (English as a Second Language) I remember my students from Nepal. They were such beautiful people. One thing that always struck me was how much they touched each other. Same sex friends (men and women both) would walk together holding hands, leaning against each other, hugging. At first I was shocked at all the same sex couples! I quickly realized that they were just friends and this was a cultural difference.
Other cultures also touch much more than we do here in America. There is a well documented study from the 1960s, by psychologist Sidney Jourard, that studied the conversations of friends in different parts of the world as they sat in a café together. In England, the two friends touched each other zero times in one hour. In the United States, we touched each other 10 times. But in France, the number shot up to 110 times per hour. And in Puerto Rico, those friends touched each other 180 times!
There is such a stigma to touching here in America. It is really a shame because studies show that touch brings about feelings of trust, compassion, calms the nervous system, and releases oxytocin (the love hormone). There is also a lot of research on the importance of touch to infants. Those infants who are not touched often experience failure to thrive. They cry more, sleep less, and ultimately this disrupts their brain development. Research also shows a correlation between lack of touch and aggression in adolescents.
(Here are some interesting research articles on touch.)
It seems to me, as I look at our isolated, violent, American culture – perhaps we need to remove the stigma from touch. What would happen if teachers were not afraid to hug kids, friends were able to show love physically, little boys were encouraged to show affection to others?
Some people may respond in fear, thinking of all the weirdos out there. What about sexual abuse? Right? I see it differently. If children were used to positive touch, and got plenty of it, don’t you think that they would be more aware when something was inappropriate? Maybe more likely to speak up? Certainly they would be less confused about their feelings of longing for touch.
What about you? Do you get enough touch in your life? Try to step outside your comfort zone. Hug friends you normally greet with a smile. Put your arm around a family member and leave it there for a while. Hold your child’s hand next time you are walking together. Make these changes and watch your world fill with more love!