SINGAPORE, Jan 13 — Last December, actress Hilary Duff suffered a major backlash after posting a photo on Instagram of her kissing her four-year-old son, Luca. Her “crime” was kissing her child on the lips. Many netizens deemed this behaviour highly improper, calling it “confusing” and “not healthy”.
It was not the first time a female celebrity drew negative press for doing this. Earlier in July, Victoria Beckham also received flak when she posted a photo of her doing the same to her five-year-old daughter, Harper.
But is this method of showing parental affection really as inappropriate as some think?
“Kissing your child is a natural way of showing love and affection. Although a parent would usually kiss their child on the cheek, a kiss on the lips once in a while is okay,” said Dr Ashwin Chee, consultant, Department of Psychiatry, Sengkang Health.
Of course, as with every other practice in life, whether you do it or not is a personal choice. Dr Lim Boon Leng, psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital, explained that it also depends on one’s culture. “In most Asian cultures, where we don’t tend to have a culture of kissing as a form of greeting or to show non-sexual affection in general, it is, in most contexts, inappropriate.
“There are no real rules, and one should conform to cultural norms. If the child is uncomfortable with the kissing, adults should respect that and not do so, no matter the age,” Dr Lim continued.
Evelyn Khong, principal consultant at Family Central, a service by Fei Yue Community Services, agreed that the decision depends on various factors. “(Our) cultural differences, upbringing, values and beliefs impact us and how we view and do things,” she said. “To some, kissing the child on the lips is taboo while to others, it is a delight. For some adults, it is a form of affection but for some kids, they find it disgusting.”
Consent is important
If parents do decide to engage in this form of affection, one factor that should be taken into consideration is the child’s age.
“The child’s age does play a part. There really is the innocence of youth. A young boy or girl may not read much into a kiss on the lips, especially if it’s from their parent. For them, it’s the same as a kiss on the cheek. But it should probably stop when the child is in their early teens,” said Dr Chee, referring to when the child is at the age of around 10 to 12 years. “Also, after a certain age, the child themselves will feel self-conscious about kissing their parents, more so on the lips.”
Agreeing, Dr Lim said, “I would think the best would be to check with the child. It is the same with holding a child’s hand. There will be an age where the child will feel uncomfortable and will no longer want to, and the parents should respect that.”
He cautioned that the child may assume that kissing on the lips is the norm, and may also do the same when displaying affection to others. However, it should not affect the child in any other way as long as the kiss is not meant to elicit or to satisfy one’s sexual gratification.
Dr Chee added: “As long as it’s consensual and non-sexual, there’s no problem. For many parents or caregivers and their children, lip-kissing is simply a gesture of love, care and closeness.”
Yay or nay?
Most parents we spoke to were in favour of this form of affection. “I wasn’t sure about it but his dad was so excited about his first son so he does that, and it has become very natural for us. My son is six now and still does that with us,” said Kim Wee, 38, a PR account manager.
“I did it with all three of my boys and still do with my younger two,” said teacher Vivian Rodrigues, 41. “My oldest stopped on his own when he was about eight, when he became more self-conscious, which was fine by me.”
Joanne Lim, 38, a marketing manager and mother of three boys, added, “We do it, and it’s restricted to just me and my husband. I think it’s okay to kiss them on the lips when they are still young, like in Primary Six and below. Anyway, it usually tapers off when they reach primary school because the boys will be shy to be seen kissing their parents.”
Trainer Esta Lo, 38, agreed that it is okay to do it when children are younger. She cites 10 as the cut-off age, after which she kisses them on their forehead or cheeks.
Other parents are a bit more hesitant.
Kevin Lim, 37, a product manager, and father of two girls, said, “I think it’s okay, but I don’t offer them my lips or initiate lip kissing because I don’t want them to feel pressured into kissing anyone on their lips. But when they do spontaneously kiss me on the lips, I won’t stop them.”
Sales manager Julie Khoo, 34, does not do it with her two children as she is conscious about the hygiene factor. “Kids are susceptible to viruses more than adults, and I don’t want them to be at greater risk by inadvertently transferring my germs to them.” — TODAY