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A parenting columnist says adults shouldn’t high-five kids. Yes, really

“I will not slap the upraised palm of a person who is not my peer."
Little kid and adults hand gesture, shows high five. Isolated on white background and a red X over the hands
Hey, don't leave me hanging! A parenting columnist says high-fiving children degrades parental authority. People have many thoughts.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

An op-ed arguing adults shouldn't high-five children has gone viral, leaving many parents and mental health experts to raise their eyebrows (and maybe a high-five) in protest.

John Rosemond, a parenting columnist and author, argued in a recent opinion article for the Omaha World-Herald that adults shouldn't high-five children because a child is not an adult's equal.

"I will not slap the upraised palm of a person who is not my peer, and a peer is someone over age 21, emancipated, employed and paying their own way," the 74-year-old columnist wrote. "The high-five is NOT appropriate between doctor and patient, judge and defendant, POTUS and a person not old enough to vote (POTUS and anyone, for that matter), employer and employee, parent and child, grandparent and grandchild."

Rosemond went on to argue that respecting adults is "important to a child’s character development," and a high-five "is not compatible with respect."

"The child who is allowed to high-five an adult has tacit permission to talk to said adult as if they are peers," Rosemond wrote. "Do not wonder why, if you high-five your child, he often talks to you as if you are his equal."

Arguing against adults high-fiving children is not Rosemond's first controversial opinion. The family psychologist also says that ADHD isn't real, believes that parents should return to authoritative parenting and, as Jennifer Huget wrote for the Washington Post in 2004, "has deliberately positioned himself as a conservative provocateur."

Christen van Haastert, 40, a mom of two living in Oregon, said her initial reaction to the article was sadness for the author's grandson, who Rosemond noted he declined to high-five. She said she also felt "frustration that his perspective of children leaves them with little agency and voice within their own families."

There is something about touch: It can solidify a feeling you hope to convey.

Christen van Haastert, mom of two

"I high-five my kids! I see their eyes light up because it shows my pride in them, or it can encourage them to try something difficult or something they are anxious about," van Haastert told TODAY Parents. "There is something about touch: It can solidify a feeling you hope to convey."

Dr. Lisa Lindquist, a mom and psychiatrist living in Alaska, says that praise is a "complex social communication" that's best when it encourages a child's effort.

Related: Pre-K social and emotional development: Here’s how to help your child

"This provides a child with a sense of competent achievement and allows them to understand where to direct their efforts during future tasks," Lindquist, 35, told TODAY. "So please, utilize the occasional congratulatory high-five as you tell your first grader they worked hard to solve the math problems in their workbook this evening."

Nicole Kern, 41, a mom and school psychologist living in Washington state, believes the columnist "may be lacking knowledge in how children function."

If my daughter wants a high-five, I am giving her a high-five.

Nicole kern, mom and school psychologist

"One thing that helps is not denying them access to contact with adults, be that physical or emotional, when the child seeks such a connection. I would never deny a child something as basic as a high-five," Kern, who has a doctorate in psychology, told TODAY Parents.

“If a student is in the hallway and extends their hand to me at any time, I am going to give them that high-five or fist-bump they are seeking,” she explained. “If my daughter wants a high-five, I am giving her a high-five."

Rosemond has a masters in psychology. He left his private practice in North Carolina to tour the country as a parenting expert.

Related: See 19 inspirational parenting quotes to brighten your day

One 2015 study by researchers at Notre Dame found that parental soothing, constant physical presence with plenty of affectionate touch and playful interactions with caregivers are vital to a child's wellbeing as an adult. Without parent touch, play and support, the research says children have "poorer mental health, more distress in social situations and are less able to take another’s point of view."

Lindquist says she agrees with parts of Rosemond's column — such as teaching children the concept of respect — but disagrees with his overall opinion.

"I disagree that gestures of respect are reserved exclusively for those one perceives as an equal, and the sentiment that respect from another is earned by demonstrating one’s superiority," Lindquist said. "Instead of modeling respect, the actions described by Mr. Rosemond teach, at best obedience, and at worst contempt."

Rosemond responded to TODAY Parents’ request for comment, saying, “As I understand things from talking with my social media manager, it went ‘viral’ (is that the word?) on Facebook.”

“The reaction was also HUGELY negative,” the columnist noted, adding that he stands by his anti-high-five position.

“The majority of respondents failed miserably at countering my opinion with intelligent opinion of their own; rather, they engaged in ad hominem, which is the refuge of the inarticulate. I’m perfectly willing to engage in intelligent discourse on the subject. Unfortunately, I have yet to find any,” Rosemond wrote in an e-mail.

“The breakdown of the traditional boundary between adults and children is not a good thing,” Rosemond said. “An adult wants to congratulate a child on exemplary performance? How about, ‘Nice job, kid,’ accompanied by a pat on the back, a gentle squeeze of the shoulder, and the like?”

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