The Girl Scouts of America has warned parents they should not force their daughters to hug relatives over the holiday season.

Forcing young girls to hug gives them the wrong idea about consent and physical affection, advice on their website says.

In the post, entitled "Reminder: She Doesn't Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays", the organisation says girls who have been forced to hug may feel they have less autonomy over their body. They claim young women may then feel forced to offer suitors physical affection if they have done something nice for them, such as buying them a meal or gift.

"Think of it this way, telling your child that she owes someone a hug either just because she hasn't seen this person in a while or because they gave her a gift can set the stage for her questioning whether she "owes" another person any type of physical affection when they've bought her dinner or done something else seemingly nice for her later in life," the article says.

"The notion of consent may seem very grown-up and like something that doesn't pertain to children," says Girl Scouts' developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, "but the lessons girls learn when they're young about setting physical boundaries and expecting them to be respected last a lifetime, and can influence how she feels about herself and her body as she gets older. Plus, sadly, we know that some adults prey on children, and teaching your daughter about consent early on can help her understand her rights, know when lines are being crossed, and when to go to you for help."

The advice has been met with a mixed reception after it was posted to the Girl Scouts Facebook page. Some have written their support of the message:

"I have always practiced this with my 3 girls. Her body is hers & she doesn't have to hug/kiss anyone, not even me or her Dad."

"My daughter is 13 and hates hugs or physical contact. I don't force this on her at all. Even with me. She will hug me on her terms. I wish her dad could understand this", another said.

"To force a person--any person, of any age--into physical contact against their wishes is disrespectful and rude at best. To do this to an impressionable child is doing them a disservice," noted a third.

However others have rejected the advice and claim that hugging is effectively harmless.

"No girl is going to seriously think she has to get physical with a guy to be polite, just because she had to give Aunt Betty a hug at Christmas when she was little."

"How can you justify this post? You make it seem like a hug to a family member will force a girl to make bad decisions later if a boy buys her a steak."

"As a lifetime member of girl scouts I don't approve this post. It is misleading."