19 June 1998

For Want Of A Hug

Adolescent violence is on the rise in America - but don't blame TV, the Internet or even yobbish role models, say some researchers. According to multiple studies conducted at the Touch Research Institute at Nova Southeastern University and the University of Miami, the groundwork for adolescent antisocial behaviour is in fact laid in infancy. And what it boils down to is touchy-feelies.

"Touch deprived infants and toddlers become aggressive children," says Tiffany Field, dean of the Mailman Family and School Centre at Nova and head of the university's new Touch Research Institute and Wellness Centre. "As a culture, we are not gentle and physically demonstrative enough with our children."

Out of eighteen industrialized nations, the United States tops the list in adolescent male homicides. France - one of the huggy-kissiest countries around - is at the bottom. As shown by studies conducted in McDonald's restaurants and playgrounds in both countries, American moms are less physically affectionate with their kids than French mamas.

"Further studies conducted at the institutes shows that children of depressed mothers receive very little physical affection from their mothers and, by the time they reach pre-school, display high levels of aggressive, non-empathetic behaviour," says Field.