No Touch

March 23, 1994|By JIM SOLLISCH

CLEVELAND — Cleveland. -- It isn't new, this fear that technology will rob us of our humanity -- our need to touch and interact with each other. Science fiction and pop culture have explored and exploited this fear for decades, from George Orwell's ''1984'' to Gene Rodenberry's ''Star Trek.''

And some of their fantasies and warnings have come to pass: Life can be invented in laboratories and prolonged by machines. Reality can be made virtual and experiences simulated rather than lived. We can even drive an information highway to work, steering and downshifting our computers and modems from the safety and isolation of our home-office-cubicles.

Touch, however, is still the currency of human life, and the fear that technology will rob us of it isn't new, just unfounded. The HTC truth is, while we were busy protecting ourselves from technology, another human invention -- a low-tech, centuries-old system -- made off with our humanity. The culprit is called litigation. And its latest victims are children.

A growing number of day-care centers, pre-schools and schools -- both public and private -- have began instituting ''no touch'' policies as a way to limit potential child-abuse or sexual-abuse lawsuits. Teachers, aides and other employees are not allowed to touch children in any way.

That means when your 2-year-old wakes from a nap at day care because of a terrible nightmare, he'll have to work it out without a reassuring hug. That means when your kindergartner falls on the playground and scrapes her knee, she'll have to calm herself without an adult to hold and comfort her.

That means when your child is thrilled because of something he just accomplished at school and reaches out to hug his teacher, that teacher must shrink away or turn a cold shoulder.

All because as a society we have begun to fear the consequences of our misinterpreted actions more than we fear the consequences of our plainly wrong actions.

Child psychologists (and any parent or reasonably intelligent adult who's spent any time with kids) will tell you that children need to be touched and held; it's an essential part of development. Like nutrition, children need touch to grow. Studies have documented the slowed intellectual growth and permanently damaged emotional development of kids raised since birth in institutions where touch and interaction were kept to a minimum. Children, especially small children, are tactile. Like reptiles, they feel their way through the world, gathering information, both intellectual and emotional.

Raising children isn't about damage control any more than love is about limiting liability. And yet, as a parent, I have learned to be fearful when my kid goes to school with a black eye or bruise, the result of trying to see if he could skateboard on one leg while kicking a football with the other. Fearful that he might be sent to a school nurse or social worker who will investigate potential child abuse. Thank God, there's no school over the summer, because my kids are studies in black and blue from June through September.

As a parent, I've disciplined my kids in line at the grocery store only to worry that I might have appeared abusive to someone. It's 1994 and Big Brother isn't watching, but everyone else seems to be. And it makes me nervous. I have a small daughter, and I wonder if I should have a witness present when I bathe her, like male doctors who need a female nurse present during exams for liability purposes.

Who knows, soon doctors might not even examine patients at all. They might just direct self-exams. ''That's right sir. Now move your finger up there a little further and describe what you feel. You're looking for a small growth about the size of a pea . . .'' So what if this might not be the most effective way to treat patients? If it's the most effective way to limit liability, it may be the way we're headed.

Every day, people drive by the scenes of accidents, reluctant to stop for fear of being sued. Even medical people with first-aid training hesitate to stop, so real is the fear of a malpractice suit. And so it goes, each of us reaching inward to cover ourselves rather than outward to cover the chasms that divide us. We have become automatons, programmed to limit liability at the cost of life and love. It's a scary world, this future we have created, where we are only willing to touch other people's lives if we don't have to touch other people.

Jim Sollisch is a free-lance writer.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.