by Laura Benedict
The year before Pom was born, I began writing my first novel. I finished it eight years later and called it SKIN HUNGER. It was never published, but I still love the title. Now there’s a YA novel of the same name that’s all about wizards and such, so it may be a while before I use it myself.
I picked up the title from a paragraph in a parenting book I’ve long forgotten. Skin hunger is such an evocative phrase, isn’t it? It’s exactly what it sounds like it might be: the elemental emotional and physiological need for human touch.
How we love to touch our babies. They seem to bloom at our touch—and they really do! When children are not touched, they suffer. If you know much at all about the history of WWII, you’ll remember the stories of the German children taken away by (or given to) the Nazis to be raised as Aryan exemplars: they were considered too precious to be sullied by the touch of other humans. Most of these children either died before adolescence or suffered severe emotional problems.
We need to be touched. We crave to be touched. We cannot live unless we are touched—frequently and lovingly.
The other night, Pom’s boyfriend, Ruger, was visiting. I think we were watching Pinky and the Brain or some other edifying cartoon on television. The two of them were sitting on the couch, and Ruger had his arm around her; she was completely relaxed with him, her head against the front of his shoulder, one of her feet up on the coffee table, and she was holding one of his hands. I had never seen her so physically close to a guy besides her father or grandfather ever before, and I was a little startled. (Bengal, my eight year-old son was scrunched companionably against Ruger’s other side, too.) But of course she’s going to eventually be physically close with people outside our family. It’s the healthy thing.
Pom is sixteen. We have very frank discussions about her father’s and my expectations for her dating behavior. Remember, this is the girl who called us last year when she got her first kiss. She told me just the other day that she laughs every time a doctor asks her if she’s sexually active, and says they always look at her like they don’t believe she isn’t. She takes her (Christian) faith commitment very seriously and it is essential to her attitude toward her sexuality.
Teenage sexual promiscuity is certainly nothing new. Our generation didn’t invent it. Our parents didn’t, and their parents didn’t. But I wonder how much teenage sexual activity isn’t simply a replacement for the touch these kids are craving, the touch they’re no longer getting from their families.
I touch my kids a lot. Pom still holds my hand sometimes when we’re at the mall, and now that Bengal is taller than he was even six months ago, I can rest my arm around his shoulders as we walk (I know this isn’t going to last long, so I’ll enjoy it while I can.). They still occasionally wander into our bedroom on a Saturday morning and pile onto our bed. I can’t pick them up anymore, but I can still be near them—for a while, anyway.
It’s appropriate for my kids to extend that touch outside our family. Pom is very physical with her girl friends, too. There are “no touching” rules for boys and girls at her school, but the girls are very cozy with one another. (Pom jokes that it would be a great school in which to be a lesbian, but, oh my, her little school is so not ready for that!) I’m glad that Pom is comfortable enough in her own skin to be appropriately close to other people.
I didn’t handle my own teenage skin hunger very well, which is what that first novel was all about. I’m very proud of the way Pom is handling hers. Bengal is more of a work in progress, and we’ll give him all the cuddling he needs for a long time to come—though given his comfortable attitude with Ruger, I’m not too worried.
Go hug your teenager. Go! Now!