First, Coco Austin shared a photo on Instagram of her kissing daughter Chanel. Then came the mommy-shamers.
“All that kissing on the lips so much is grossing me out,” one user wrote, while others said that the mother-daughter moment felt “overly sexualized” and “creepy.”
Austin, who shares 4-year-old Chanel with actor Ice-T, is hardly the first celebrity parent to face criticism for giving their kid a kiss on the lips. Tom Brady was relentlessly mocked online after he gave his son Jack a peck during an episode of his Facebook documentary Tom vs. Time. Olivia Wilde, Angelina Jolie and David Beckham have all also been subjected to the same internet commentary.
This condemnatory line of thinking actually has a long and deep history, as behaviorist John Watson discouraged parents from showing physical affection of any kind to their kids in his 1928 childcare manual Psychological Care of the Infant and the Child, telling caregivers to be “sensible” with their interactions.
“Never hug and kiss them or let them sit on your lap,” Watson wrote. “Shake hands with them in the morning. Give them a pat on the head if they have made an extraordinary good job of a difficult task. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say goodnight.”
Obviously, this approach feels not only over-the-top but out of touch now. However, the general sentiment has remained the same, as evidenced by the comments aimed at Austin. But is this shaming actually warranted? Beyond “grossing people out,” is there anything that is legitimately wrong with a parent smooching their kid on the lips?
To put it simply, probably not. There is nothing inherently inappropriate about a mom or dad choosing to show affection in this way. The idea that a kiss on the lips is automatically sexual or erotic is, in a word, wrong. Furthermore, parents should not be discouraged from showing affection towards their child, as research shows that kids experience positive benefits due to physical affection from their parents, including improved mental health and increased compassion.
But while physical affection between parents and their children is a perfectly healthy way to express love, child psychology experts don’t have a clear answer on whether or not there are any possible negative ramifications.
Dr. Charlotte Reznick, the author of The Power Of Your Child’s Imagination: How To Transform Stress And Anxiety Into Joy and Success, says that while there is nothing wrong with the kiss itself, the experience can be “too confusing” for kids and is not worth it, as young kids may find it “stimulating.”
But other experts strongly disagree with Reznick, saying that dismissing kissing because it could cause confusion would be similar to saying mothers should not breastfeed for the same reason. Ultimately, most would argue it comes down to context, intent and communication more than whether a kiss is right or wrong.
“This is a sensitive question,” Dr. Barbara Greenberg explains to Yahoo Life. “Yes, some families are in favor of kissing on the lips. This is tricky because kids may then engage in this behavior with others assuming it is generally acceptable when, in fact, kissing on the lips can be quite intimate. We need to teach our kids about body and physical boundaries.”
One thing that is abundantly clear is that shaming parents for showing their kids consensual affection in a way they see healthy is absolutely wrong. Unfortunately, as long as the internet exists, people will continue to share their opinions as loudly and aggressively as possible. But on a positive note, Coco seems too busy spending quality time with her daughter to notice the hate.
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