Learnin’ The Facts Of Life (Child Abuse Episode)

Ken AshfordGodstuff, Sex/Morality/Family Values3 Comments

I note with growing alarm at the Christian Right’s embrace of what appears to be, arguably, child abuse.  Stuff like this:

Bonney Lake police said Rachel Lambert claimed the children’s behavior had gotten progressively worse over the past month and that she disciplined the children by feeding them jalapeno peppers, the documents indicated.

The 10-year-old boy said "he had a hot pepper placed in his mouth and then had his mouth taped shut," the documents indicated. He told police "he swallowed the pepper so it would not be in his mouth anymore."

Police said another form of punishment Lambert used was to have the two children "stand in a tub of cold water and write out sentences."

Hot peppers in the mouth? 

What would possess a parenat to even think of doing such a thing?

Well, it all starts from charletons like James Dobson, who writes things like:

"Corporal punishment in the hands of a loving parent is a teaching tool by which harmful behavior is inhibited."

"Most (children) need to be spanked now and then."

"Two or three stinging strokes on the legs or buttocks with a switch are usually sufficient to emphasize the point, ‘You must obey me.’"

"When a youngster tries this kind of stiff-necked rebellion, you had better take it out of him, and pain is a marvelous purifier."

"Minor pain can…provide excellent motivation for the child… There is a muscle, lying snugly against the base of the neck… When firmly squeezed, it sends little messengers to the brain saying, ‘This hurts; avoid recurrence at all costs’."

"When a youngster tries this kind of stiff-necked rebellion, you had better take it out of him, and pain is a marvelous purifier."

"Real crying usually lasts two minutes or less, but may continue for five. After that point, the child is merely complaining… I would require him to stop the protest crying, usually by offering him a little more of whatever caused the original tears."

These quotes are from Dobson’s two best known books, Dare to Discipline and The Strong Willed Child.

Fortunately, not everyone is a convert to Dobson’s methods.  Amazon customers have described their experiences with Dobsonian discipline this way, in their comments to the original edition of Dare to Discipline:

"My father used Dobson’s methodology as a license to strike. If you wish to die alone in a nursing home, I suggest you listen to those who worship hate and violence."

"Book should be entitled "Dare to Hit Your Child with Whatever is Handy". Dobsen extols (sic) virtues of his wife snapping their not yet two-year-old with a switch across the shins, can you imagine? He also attests that he received great benefit, as a child, by being spontaneously walloped by his mom’s girdle, complete with buckles and straps."

For the new edition of Dare to Discipline:

"It seems to this reader that, at the core, Dr. Dobson has no trust in the abilities of children to learn, to reason, to develop as moral creatures from the example and gentle teaching of their parents. And, through the course of the discipline methods he advocates, he has no compunction about destroying a child’s trust in his or her parents."

For the new edition of The Strong Willed Child:

"His methods are mainly those of the schoolyard bully and seem to be contrived to raise kids who are afraid of you. Is that really the result you want?"

Still, those who rever Dobson typically see his child-whacking recommendations as sound.  After all, he is the "Focus on the Family" guy, so how could he be wrong? 

And so, armed with a license-to-hurt granted by an authority figure, it comes no surprise that many "Christians" have taken corporal punishment to the next step.

Enter the "Creative Correction" movement.  The name itself sounds like the whole point is to prevent the parents from getting bored with the same old blows, but that’s not it at all. The theory is that the punishment should fit the crime in a Biblically based way.

The guru of the movement is Lisa Whelchel, who is in a position to know how to raise children by virtue of the fact that she played Blair on "The Facts of Life".  Here’s what the Washington Post said on the issue, refereLisancing Whelchel’s popular book on the subject.

Hot sauce adds a kick to salsa, barbeque, falafel and hundreds of other foods. But some parents use it in a different recipe, one they think will yield better-behaved children: They put a drop of the fiery liquid on a child’s tongue as punishment for lying, biting, hitting or other offenses.

"Hot saucing," or "hot tongue," has roots in Southern culture, according to some advocates of the controversial disciplinary method, but it has spread throughout the country. Nobody keeps track of how many parents do it, but most experts contacted for this story, including pediatricians, psychologists and child welfare professionals, were familiar with it.


The hot pepper technique’s current popularity is due in part to Whelchel, a former Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeer and actress who played the character Blair on the television series "The Facts of Life" in the 1980s.

In "Creative Correction," now in its fifth printing, the mother of three provides parents with a variety of tips.

For example, she suggests hiding something a child has failed to put away, to teach the lesson that things left out may disappear. She suggests telling a child who refuses to hold your hand while crossing a street, "I can either hold your hand or hold your hair."

In addition, Whelchel offers the following: "For lying or other offenses of the tongue, I ‘spank’ my kids’ tongues. I put a tiny drop of hot sauce on the end of my finger and dab it onto my child’s tongue. It stings for a while, but it abates. (It’s the memory that lingers!)"

Hot sauce on a child’s tongue, Blair?  I missed the episode where Mrs. Garrett made you taste Texas Pete as a disciplinary measure.

But now I see what may possess some parents to stuff peppers down their child’s throat.

Thankfully, McIlhenny Co., the maker of Tabasco Sauce, does not endorse "hot tongue" and calls the practice "strange and scary" and "abusive." They are right.  It’s also dangerous:

Kendrick [a Tabasco Sauce spokeman] says parents who use the technique are "at the very least… ill-informed." He pointed out that many parents are not aware that hot sauce can burn a child’s esophagus and cause the tongue to swell — a potential choking hazard.

"There are many different kinds of hot sauce on the market, and parents who say they know the dilution to use so it won’t sting, or say they only use one drop, are wrong," Kendrick said. "It’s done because it hurts. It stings. It burns. It makes you nauseous."

Capsaicin, the substance that makes peppers hot, inflames membranes in the eyes, nose and mouth. While many adults find this feeling pleasurable, capsaicin can cause negative reactions even in the third of the adult population that has no tolerance for ingesting it, according to Joel Gregory, publisher of Chile Pepper magazine.

There are additional risks for children. Giorgio Kulp, a pediatrician in Montgomery County, said that the risk of swelling as well as the possibility of unknown allergies make the use of hot sauce on children dangerous.

If a few drops of Tabasco can be a choking hazard in child’s mouth, how dangerous is swallowing a whole pepper with your mouth taped shut, after the adults have gone, and left you tied to the water heater?   And more importantly, is that what Jesus would do?   Just wondering…