SmackDown: Would You Make Your Kid Drink Hot Sauce as Punishment?
Filed under: Opinions
Hot Sauce Doesn't Constitute Child Abuse
by Tom Henderson
Ohmigod! Another child killed by hot sauce! When will this madness end?!
Oh, wait. A mother in Anchorage, Alaska, punished her son by forcing him to drink hot sauce, but he didn't actually die. Yet 36-year-old Jessica Beagley has been arrested for ... for ... what?
Felonious hot saucing?
Granted, forcing your 7-year-old son to take a cold shower and drink hot sauce comes right off a page from of Dr. Evil's Guide to Child Rearing. However, it's an old book.
My father got a mouth full of hot sauce during the '30s and '40s if he so much as thought about the F word. My mother was more enlightened and progressive. She made me take a swig of Woolite. This was after I psyched her out by saying Dial soap tasted good.
"Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child," Proverbs 22:15 tells us. "But the rod of correction shall drive it far from him."
Our forebears took that passage seriously. And hot sauce is a dandy substitute if the rod of correction isn't handy. Such, uh, creative brands of punishment are no longer in vogue, but that doesn't mean they are criminal. Our parents and grandparents somehow managed to survive to maturity.
Personally, I would never resort to such harsh punishments. Psychological torture is much more effective -- and fun. Yet I think we should tread lightly when applying our standards to others.
Beagley got in trouble after she sent a tape of what she did to her 7-year-old son Kristoff to -- of all people -- Dr. Phil McGraw. He showed it to the world on a segment called "Mommy Confessions." The studio audience turned into a veritable barnyard of clucking chickens.
"Dr. Phil, no one in this audience can stay in our seats," Areva Martin, a family attorney and child advocate, said during the show. "We're just appalled at this. We're looking at this little boy who seems so sweet and innocent, and we're looking at this behavior as moms. We're just shocked."
Audience members were not alone. Viewers across the country flooded the Anchorage Police Department with calls for Beagley's arrest. Police obliged the angry mob, charging Beagley with child abuse.
"Nothing Jessica has done is criminal, Bill Ingaldson, a lawyer for Beagley, tells ABC News. "If you give your child food that has hot sauce on it -- maybe they eat Mexican food -- does that mean its child abuse?"
Good point. There is a fine line between child abuse and strict punishment. Wherever it's drawn, it should be by competent legal authorities after a thorough investigation, not a bunch of a reactionary hens clucking about something they saw on "Dr. Phil."
A television audience is not a courtroom jury.
Few people even spank their kids nowadays. I have spanked my own son exactly twice. Both times he was in imminent danger, and there was no time to explain the situation to a crib dweller whose vocabulary didn't extend far beyond "goo goo." I have also grabbed him by his short collar a time or two, but that's been it in terms of physical punishment.
However, I know if I pulled half my son's shenanigans when I was a lad, I would have found myself on a one-way flight across the living room courtesy of Dad Airlines. And my dad is about the sweetest guy in the world. But standards change.
Yesterday's stern punishment is today's child abuse. We shouldn't jail someone just because she's behind the curve.
Not all change is good. We might be kinder, gentler parents than our forebears. However, we seem to have lost our grasp on what -- and is not -- any of our damn business. Reality TV and talk shows like "Dr. Phil" apparently make us think we have a license to judge.
Beagley clearly sent the tape to Dr. Phil not to brag, but to seek help. She mistakenly thought she would get it. Instead, she was scorned and ridiculed as the latest freak in our ongoing national sideshow.
Her biggest crime was not forcing Kristoff to drink hot sauce. My guess? He'll survive. He might have a few therapy bills later on, but who among us reaches adulthood without baggage?
No, Beagley's biggest crime was looking for help from a nation of reactionary and judgmental busybodies.
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.