I Was Warned Over Shoulder Tap and Quit Working as Volunteer; Museum’s Strict No-Physical-Contact Policy Hard to Accept

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a man in my late 70s, and until a few months ago, I was volunteering as a docent at an art museum.

One day, I was leading a group of sixth graders on a field trip at the museum. The students and teachers listened to my explanations, and I had pleasant conversations with the children, telling them that they’ll be in junior high soon and gently tapped a boy’s shoulder.

Then, a staff member who was in charge of the exhibit gave me a warning and told me not to touch the children. After inquiring at the museum, I was told that physical contact is strictly prohibited.

I did not have any ill intent when I touched the student. The children were also excitedly asking questions.

I find it hard to accept that a touch meant as encouragement was equated to molestation. As a result, I quit being a volunteer at the museum.

I might have been overly friendly with the students, but I don’t think it was outlandish. Shaking hands is a form of physical contact.

I have since been asked to resume volunteering at the museum, but I don’t know how I feel about it.

— D, Fukuoka Prefecture

Dear Mr. D:

You probably worked hard to be a friendly guide for visitors, and I assume lightly tapping a student on the shoulder was natural for you. I understand why you were upset after receiving the warning.

By the way, did you do the same thing with adult visitors? Probably not. The tap was probably unconsciously done because they were a child.

However, some children might not like being suddenly touched by someone they don’t know. Some children might also find it scary. Even if the touch was meant to be friendly, it does not mean that your intentions would be understood.

Since it was your first time meeting these sixth graders, you don’t know their personalities. Just because they seemed happy does not make it OK. Therefore, it is generally a good idea to avoid physical contact regardless of the child’s gender.

Manners and acceptable behaviors change over time. Honestly, it’s difficult for older people to adapt, but it is necessary to adjust to the changing society.

Going forward, if you focus on giving interesting and engaging explanations, visitors will thoroughly enjoy it. If you use your speaking skills, I’m sure everyone will appreciate it.

I wish you the best of luck.

— Tomomi Fujiwara, writer