It is either a new phenomenon or I’ve just never had an 11-year-old daughter before. But hugging is the new “hello.” Girls hug and hug some more. They hug in pairs. Trios. Quartets. Or in hugs of football roster proportions. It is genuine affection. It is a declaration of belonging (or, if left unhugged, the dagger of not belonging).

And if you read this newspaper, or apparently this week any other newspaper or TV news outlet, hugging is clogging the hallways of Percy Julian Middle School. Last week, the Journal had a front-page story headlined, “No hugging in the hallways.” I’ll admit I pushed the story forward when I first heard the school had a hugging issue because I’ve been observing the hugging explosion at close range in recent months (see reference to daughter, above). It is one of those stories that comes along infrequently that you just know will resonate with readers.

It has-though more so with readers far and wide than close to home. There is nary a letter to the editor on the subject this week and the school district reports little local reaction from parents to either the Journal article or to Principal Victoria Sharts’ directive to staff to actively discourage hugging and to move kids through the hallways.

The word that pulses through the coverage in other media outlets-Channel 2 on Friday, Channel 5, the Trib, AP, New York Times website, CNN and others on Tuesday-is “banned.” “Hugging is banned” is the news hook that titillates news editors and frustrates the district which made the effort Monday to e-mail all its school listservs with the news that “there is no hugging ban in our district or at Julian.”

Soon, probably by the time this newspaper hits your doorstep on Wednesday, the national media kerfluffle over hugging in Oak Park, Illinois will have passed. We will be left to our own devices, and here is my advice to District 97:

Get over the semantic debate over whether hugging is “banned.” Maybe it isn’t banned in the sense that the school district appointed a committee, drafted a policy and adopted it in public session. But for practical purposes at Percy Julian, hugging is now verboten. If an adult can give a kid what amounts to a mild punishment or warning for hugging, then it is school policy to not hug.

And that’s OK.

The adults observed an issue that caused concern on several levels. Logistically, the incessant group hugs between every class were creating gridlock during short changing periods. The who’s in, who’s not in-the hug has made visible the cliquishness that is perhaps the most painful part of middle school life and needs to be actively discouraged. The boy-girl hugs going on are indicative of the disastrously sexed-up culture that permeates pre-teen life.

Three good reasons for the principal to say, “Enough with the hugging.” And what parent among us is going to object?

The school did good. The adults acted like adults. So don’t go and obsess over whether CNN called it a ban and the anchor creatures gave it that smarmy, knowing laugh that follows all such stories.

Hugging is inappropriate at school. Don’t weasel and apologize for being the grown-ups.

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...