Sometimes I worry that I'm coming up short as a mom. Does my son eat enough healthy food? Are his toys stimulating and age-appropriate? Should I really let him wile away the afternoon watching Dino Dan, or should I bundle him up and drag him outside to play in the howling wind?
Then I see videos like this one, and I feel much better about myself.
This video is all over parenting websites, leading people to debate furiously in comment sections. The majority, thankfully, sees this as a clear-cut instance of child abuse (and the state of Alaska agrees) but an alarming number of commenters are rushing to this horrible lady's defense. Apparently, a large subset of the population still practices "hot saucing" as a disciplinary technique. But why? Who are the defenders of this practice, and are they, in fact, torturing children?
What is hot saucing?
Hot saucing refers to placing a drop of hot sauce on a child's tongue as punishment, usually for offenses such as lying, talking back, and swearing. The idea is to have the child associate the pain with the misbehavior in order to deter the behavior in the future. This is more commonly practiced among Christians (though by no means do all of them do this), who believe that children need to learn respect and obedience for parents so they will learn to respect and obey God. They claim this will lead to a more "moral" society, one which is being threatened by permissive parenting and the disrespectful, entitled children it produces.
Who is encouraging people to do this?
Blair from The Facts of Life. No, seriously. Though she didn't invent the practice herself, former actress turned born-again Christian Lisa Whelchel heartily endorses hot saucing in her parenting book, Creative Correction. The book is published and endorsed by the hugely influential Focus on the Family, a evangelical organization that works to promote socially conservative social policy. While this book isn't exactly mainstream (it's ranked #55 in popularity among books focused on parental discipline), it does appeal to a significant portion of the population, and does influence the day-to-day discipline strategies of many, many parents.
It's just a drop of Tobasco. What's the worst that could happen?
For the record, the makers of Tobasco Sauce condemn the use of their product as a disciplinary tool. They are wise to distance themselves from hot saucers, whose children can suffer severe consequences such as burned esophagus, swollen tongue, and anaphalaxis. A third of the adult population has no tolerance for capsaicin and has a severe negative reaction to ingesting it. Children's palates are even more sensitive than that--for a capsaicin-intolerant child, a dab of hot sauce goes beyond mere pain, creating a sensation as agonizing as a lit cigarette being ground out on the tongue.
Is hot saucing always abusive?
In my opinion, yes. If we accept the notion that pain is a necessary part of punishment, then why not just squirt children in the face with pepper spray? What about tasers and shock collars? They work for subduing criminals and dogs, so why not kids? Should we bring back the hair shirt? If the ends (obedience) justify the means (pain), then where do we draw the line?
Hopefully, the controversy caused by this video will cause some hot saucing parents to renounce their ways, or at least consider alternative forms of discipline. Unfortunately, this pattern of abuse goes beyond mere hot sauce. As the above video shows, hot saucing is part of a larger disciplinary strategy, one by which the parent rules through fear and intimidation. Pain and humiliation are the desired outcomes of this form of discipline. Even if we outlaw hot saucing, abusive parents will still do it, or just find another form of torture to take its place.
How can we influence hot saucing parents to change their ways?
I don't know any parents who admit to doing it (and I kind of doubt any of them are readers of my blog), but I have a couple of arguments handy in case I find myself debating a hot saucer.
The first argument is one based on their own Christianity. I'm not a religious person myself, but I was raised as a member of the Seventh-Day Adventist church and I'm quite familiar with the Bible. I would ask the abusive parent why he or she chooses to model the behavior of the vengeful, cruel god of the Old Testament instead of after His representative here on earth, the benevolent and kind Jesus Christ. Did God intend for us to act just like Him, or was Jesus meant to provide an example of idealized human behavior? Personally, I think Jesus would have made a great dad, always ready to listen with an understanding heart, reacting to his children's misbehavior with love and gentle guidance. I have a hard time imagining the Prince of Peace shouting in a child's face, taking pleasure from inflicting misery onto one of God's most helpless and sensitive creations.
If that argument didn't get through, I would try a more practical approach. The world is an uncertain place and we're all getting older, fast. Chances are, the economy will not have significantly improved by the time our generation gets too old to work. We can't count on Social Security to still be in place, and most jobs nowadays offer no hope of pension or comfortable retirement. Who will take care of us when we are, ourselves, helpless and frail? Who will ensure that our deaths are tender and meaningful, that our memories endure after our bodies are long gone? How we treat our kids is an investment, not just in their future, but in ours as well. We have the right to expect them to be as respectful and loving as we once were. And something tells me that the poodle-haired lady from the video will die bitter and alone.