• Mon, Dec 16 - 1:00 pm ET

Teenager Suspended Because We Don’t Know How To Talk About Boundaries


Sam McNair, a student at Duluth High School in Georgia has been suspended for a year after hugging his female teacher. Sam and his mom say he comes from a “family of huggers” and that his hug was totally innocent. He told CBS Atlanta:

“Something so innocent can be perceived as something totally opposite.”

Still, a school hearing officer said he violated the Gwinnett County Schools policy on sexual harassment. The teacher herself said that Sam also kissed her on the neck, something he denies. There is surveillance footage of the incident, which shows Sam coming up behind the teacher and embracing her from the back.

I have mixed feelings on this. On one hand, suspending him for a year for something he says he didn’t realize was against the rules seems pretty harsh. But on the other hand, hugging a teacher and (possibly) kissing her on the neck is also kind of disturbing, even if he didn’t mean any harm. If the teacher felt somehow violated, that matters, no matter what his intention.

Whether or not Sam McNair’s suspension was warranted or not, this is the second such incident in the space of a week. Remember the little boy who was suspended for kissing his first grade girlfriend on the hand? Now, there’s a big difference between a six-year-old kissing a classmate and a teenager hugging a teacher, but both things happened within the framework of the school building. I feel like we need to be having some serious cultural conversations about what constitutes appropriate touching, both within and outside of school. I don’t know if the onus for this is on families and parents or schools, but I think it can stand to be addressed in both realms, even if schools already have programming about sexual harassment and touching in place and even if parents have already had this conversation with their children.

I understand that neither of these boys, one an elementary schooler and one a high schooler, had any ill intentions towards the females they touched. But that doesn’t mean that they can just go around touching whomever they want, whenever they want, just to show their affection.

Photo: Hal Bergman Photography via Getty Images

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  • SA

    Coming up from behind and hugging (and possibly kissing)? That is pretty inappropriate and a pretty intimate way to hug. I honestly can’t think of why a teenager would even think it WAS appropriate? A year suspension is kind of harsh, but if I were the teacher I would have been completely freaked out! I don’t think you can really compare this to the 1st grader incident.

  • Janok Place

    Okay… it’s not cool that he did that. I totally get it. But they suspended him… for a YEAR? Would a week’s detention not have sufficed? Volunteer hours? Maybe suspend him for a week? They are knocking him behind in life a full year because of an isolated incident. That’s kind of crazy. Now if it happened again, that would be a different story.

    • cesp

      It sounds like he had been suspended for other offenses and the teacher claims that she had told him not to hug her prior to this incident. A year suspension is harsh but it sounds like the school tried other options that clearly did not work.

    • Janok Place

      Ah see, this would make it sexual harassment. Ongoing, undesired physical contact is no good. I just find a years suspension… odd… May as well call it expulsion at that point. Heck, charge the kid with sexual harassment or warn him he’s on his last strike and that will happen if it reoccurs.

  • Mel

    There’s a huge difference between a six year old kissing his friend on the hand and a high school senior hugging his female teacher from behind! Most 17 year old males are already taller and probably stronger that me…I wouldn’t let this slide either. And if he also kissed her…no way he didn’t know better

    • Mel

      This is the “Other” Mel, and I disagree that this is really that different from the kissing kid. Both, apparently, have been warned to stop it in the past. Obviously the teenager should be held to a higher expectation, and I think suspension is harsh for both, but both deserve consequences of some sort. Even with the little one, the victim/focus of the unwanted kissing, can absolutely be made to feel uncomfortable and has a right not to be touched!

    • brebay

      The six year-old (or his idiot parents) were not as innocent as the media portrayed them. There was a local TV news story in Colo. in which the girl’s mom was interviewed. This was his second suspension for doing this the EIGHTH time to the same girl. The first time he grabbed her and licked her face ha got a talk about boundaries, second, his parents were called. After the fifth time, he was suspended. This was the second suspension. Everyone from the teacher to the principal to the school psychologist has talked to this kid about not putting your mouth on someone without her permission. He has kissed her face and mouth. He claims it was a hand this time, girl’s mom says it was her face. It hasn’t stopped because his parents think it’s hilarious. Dad high-fived him first time he got suspended, they call him “ladies’ man” at home. so he keeps it up. How would you feel if it was your daughter who came home time after time upset that this kid just WILL NOT KEEP HIS MOUTH OFF HER!

    • Jess

      When I was 6 there was a boy who used to do the exact same thing to me.
      And I hated it. I used to go home and cry and his mother said “he thinks you’re his girlfriend” LIKE IT WAS MY FAULT.
      So after a while I stopped telling people – I just hid in the library a lot.
      The final straw came when he dry humped me when we were having nap time and I pretty much had a break down and refused to go back to that school.
      And my parents went nuts- because there was repeated behaviour- but everyone brushed it off as “he has a crush”

  • Alexandra

    That sounds VERY sexual to me. And a teenager should know better or be taught better by his parents. Sounds like the way my husband greets me, not like a “hug” as his parents claim. I’d be very surprised if he hugged his mother in that intimate way. Also, I agree, this must have been either very overtly sexual and inappropriate or else he’s done it before to warrant that level of a suspension.

    • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

      I had a student do this once to me (much younger) and it was very creepy. I was like, “WE DON’T DO THAT!!!!!”

  • Alexandra

    Sorry to re-post – also kissing someone like that – seems like a sexual assault to me, “unwanted sexual touching of another without permission”, which means he’s lucky he only got a suspension and not criminal charges.

  • CMJ

    Hugging a teacher from behind? Nope.

  • Roberta

    I am sorry, coming from a hugging family is not a good enough reason. In my family, we are huggers. But I would never hug a teacher, coworker, or student from behind. He has had warnings from this teacher that she is not okay with it, and he did not respect her boundaries.

    That being said, a year may be too harsh. Clearly he needed a stricter lesson to get the point across. And don’t forget that the teacher no longer feels safe. But a maybe a month instead?

  • ted3553

    It’s super important to talk about boundaries and the idea that just because it’s acceptable in our family, doesn’t mean everyone thinks the same way. Hugging the teacher was not appropriate especially if he came up from behind her. If that’s all that happened, the suspension seems over the top when this would have been an opportunity to discuss the situation with the student and parents.

  • Beth

    I was all prepared to call BS on this suspension until I read the details–coming up from behind after being told not to hug? Nope. Unwelcome and warnings were given. This is def harassment. I don’t know if suspension is the way to go (I don’t think suspension really accomplishes much, usually), but definitely punishment is warranted.

  • jane

    Nope. “Student suspended because he refused to recognize he was being perceived as a threat.” I’m a HS teacher and that would freak me the fuck out. It would weird me out that a male student would WANT to have that kind of physical relationship with me. I would also be terrified that it would somehow be perceived as a mutual feeling, which could very much put my job on the line.

    My male seniors are almost all larger than me; randomly having someone bigger than you come up and grab you (how can you tell it’s a hug from behind and not an attempt to hold you back?) could be terrifying. Here in MA a young teacher was recently raped and murdered by one of her male students. In CO the other day a kid brought a gun to school targeting a librarian. I don’t care if this kid grew up with the friggin’ CareBears, he doesn’t get to sneak up behind a teacher and put his hands on her body.

    Would I want the kid suspended for a year? I don’t think so. But I would want some serious consequences and that kid switched out of my class post haste.

  • Fabel

    Yeah, a hug from behind? From a teenage high school student? I’m willing to say the kid knew what he was doing.

    I’m normally on the side of schools being over-zealous lately with the no-touching rules, but this seems like an actually inappropriate incident. I mean, students today—according to my teacher friends—ARE taught about boundaries, & they disregard them. I’ve heard stories of students blatantly hitting on their teachers. I wouldn’t doubt if this student repeatedly danced on the line, & this was some kind of final-straw thing?

  • CrazyLogic

    Coming from behind? No effing way. Approaching with arms spread from a good distance enough for the target to say no? That would be more appropriate.

  • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

    I would be totally heebie jeebied if a teenage boy did this to me. Hopefully this will be a lesson learned, you know, early in life. You gotta nip this stuff in the bud. He’s too old for this to be acceptable.

  • Vicki Lewis

    Totally inappropriate and I especially don’t like how his mother brushes it off by saying they are a “family of huggers” like that excuses anything. It’s your job as a parent to teach your kids that not everyone is the same as your family and if someone asks you not touch them you respect that. Always in these kinds of stories the parents are making excuses for their kids behaviour, it makes me crazy.