Spare the Hot Sauce and Spoil the Child ?

Violent Parenting isn't Biblical--it's UnChristlike



On August 24, 2004, Good Morning America ran a story about “hot saucing”, a bizarre and cruel form of punishment that some misguided parents are inflicting on their toddlers and children. ABC News made a serious error in airing this story without warning viewers that forcing hot sauces (Tabasco and other liquids that can burn the esophagus and stomach lining) into children’s mouths is hazardous to their health, not to mention their mental health. Imagine how forcing burning liquids—which are not intended for use without food—into a child’s mouth will damage his or her trust in the parent.

Will all parents who watched that segment on “hot saucing”, then use this technique when extremely frustrated or angry, carefully restrict themselves to only “a drop” of Tabasco or other acidic liquids on their child’s tongue? This is highly unlikely, which is why we are asking the network to air another Good Morning America segment urging parents not to try this at home (please join us by visiting the Take Action! Child Hazard Recall link).

“Hot saucing” is cruel and unusual punishment that would be illegal if inflicted on any adult, even on convicted murderers serving life terms in prison. In fact, our society views children as less deserving of protection from harm than household pets (just imagine the public outcry if Good Morning America had aired a story showing how to “discipline” a puppy by forcing burning hot sauce on its tongue!).

Violent Parenting On the Rise

What's happening in our nation? Why are violent parenting methods such as hot-saucing being promoted--despite research evidence that violent discipline is associated with depression, aggression, and other problems--in parenting and religious books? (Creative Correction, the book advocating hot-saucing, is published by Focus on the Family/Tyndale, a conservative Christian publisher.) Why are these crazy methods being publicized on mass-audience radio and TV outlets, as well?

The growing fundamentalism in American government and our increasingly compliant media play major roles in the rise of violent parenting in our country. Increasingly, the solution to every problem--in the family, in the community, and internationally--is, we are told, violence and oppression. When a child needs guidance, or has developed a bad habit or begun to hang out with the wrong crowd, the answer is simple: Clamp down, hurt them, show them who's boss, get tough, etc. No longer do parents need to talk with their children, to teach as Jesus taught his young disciplies, or take the time to explain the why's and how's of good behavior.

Zapping, whipping with switches, spanking, beating with “rods”, paddling with pieces of wood, pinching neck muscles, “hot saucing”—what have American parents come to? What’s happened to our moral compass? In an age of bizarre sexually-tinged torture scandals, perpetuated by US military personnel during the most publicly “Christian” administration in America’s history, one can only wonder whatever happened to the “Christ” in Christian. Have we forgotten what Jesus said about “do to others as you would have them do to you”?

If It’s Not Good Enough for Your Pet, It’s Not Good Enough for Your Child

Ironically, animal training is far more in accord with the principles Jesus taught than are many supposedly “Christian” parenting methods. Monty Roberts, the “Horse Whisperer”, wrote in Horse Sense for People (2002) that he grew up seeing his father whip the horses whose spirits he “had to break”. Roberts saw the negative consequences such as bolting and aggression, and has since proven to the world that his training method is not only kinder and far faster, but is also more reliable in the long run.

Many parents today have been sold a bill of goods by the world's view of children as relatively mindless beings who require externally-imposed “discipline”, and cannot learn through any means but force. Thus children are viewed as beneath animals in their ability to learn without violent discipline methods how to control themselves and behave properly!

Violent "Biblical" Parenting is UnChristlike

Christian parents are being brainwashed with the idea that the only way to save the child's soul is to hurt the body and humiliate the spirit (sometimes called "shaping the will"). In the last year, ads for “zappers” and fiberglass “rods” have been advertised as suitable weapons to use on babies and children. These, along with belts and hands and thick pieces of wood, are now advertised on various internet sites (and even through a few church websites) as so-called “Biblical” discipline. In The Strong-Willed Child, James Dobson of Focus on the Family urges parents to whip toddlers with “switches” (tree or bush branches).

In Dare to Discipline, Dobson even goes so far as to suggest that parents pinch the vulnerable muscles in a child’s small neck! “You see, the parent should have some means of making the child want to cooperate, other than simply obeying because he was told to do so. For those who can think of no such device, I will suggest one: there is a muscle, lying snugly against the base of the neck. Anatomy books list it as the trapezius muscle, and when firmly squeezed, it sends little messengers to the brain saying, "This hurts; avoid recurrence at all costs...Let's return to the bedtime issue between Henry and his Mom...If he didn't move immediately, the shoulder muscle could have been squeezed" (p.137-13).

Most disturbing of all, Dr. Dobson (a psychologist, not a minister) offers this childish parenting advice as if he's “merely” reporting what God Himself wants rather than persuading others to adopt Dobson's own violent parenting habits: "My purpose has been nothing more ambitious than to verbalize the Judeo-Christian tradition regarding the discipline of children and to apply those concepts to today's families...My task has been merely to report what I believe to be the prescription of the Creator Himself.” (The Strong-Willed Child, p. 329)

Fundamentalist writers who claim to speak for God when they encourage adults to inflict physical pain on their children are doing families a grave disservice. They distort the Good News that Jesus brought to humankind. Just imagine Jesus hearing someone telling parents to make sure they really hurt their tot in he name of "discipline": "Should a spanking hurt? Yes, or else it will have no influence. A swat on the behind through three layers of wet diapers simply conveys no urgent message" (The Strong-Willed Child, p. 329).

Many Christian parents are afraid to rebel against this kind of advice when the advice-givers claim to speak for God Himself. They suppress their natural compassion for their children, adopting the violent techniques they've been taught because they fear being called overpermissive, or "ungodly"--yet by conforming to human traditions, they betray the central teachings of Jesus. In order to avoid criticism by other churchgoers or clergy, they (often reluctantly) parent with unChristlike violence and threats of violence.

Bullies and Criminals Treat Their Kids the Same Way

Parents are told that pinching small children’s necks, whipping their delicate skin with switches, even hitting babies so young that they’re still in (wet, unchanged) diapers is “the Judeo-Christian tradition”. Yet hitting kids is nothing new, and is certainly commonplace among nonChristians. I have seen these identical behaviors in serious child abusers, in drug dealers and crack addicts, and in garden-variety rage-aholics and neighborhood bullies who couldn’t care less about Jesus.

Yet Christian parents are continually urged to behave no better than these troubled parents! Some fundamentalist parenting experts add one condition: that the parent should spank, pinch, slap, whip, or "hot sauce" without anger or other strong emotion. Human beings cannot infict pain on one another without experiencing strong emotions--unless, that is, they have grown so accustomed to hurting others that it no longer fazes them. And that, dear Friend, is the cardinal sign of the psychopath--inflicting pain with cool decisiveness and detachment.

Much in the Bible—particularly with respect to the treatment of women, children and slaves—stands in opposition to Jesus’ teachings and example. Imagine, if you will, Jesus’ response to the Old Testament instruction to stone rebellious children to death, or the stories of men given “divine” permission to rape girls and women. Have Christians strayed so far from Jesus’ message of compassion and mercy that we actually prefer Old Testament human traditions to that which Jesus taught and modeled?

Certainly when it comes to hitting children, there are preachers and parents who ignore Jesus’ nonviolent approach to guidance and to children and prefer instead Solomon’s writings in Proverbs to discipline with “the rod”. In fact, some religious scholars note that the original meaning of the word "rod" in this context was not an actual rod or stick to beat someone with--this 'rod' was a well-known symbol of the shepherd's staff or rod, which stood for gentle, ongoing guidance to keep those under one's care on the right path.

Jesus Has a Better Way

We have a wonderful blueprint for guiding our children towards self-discipline, while staying aligned with Jesus’ teachings. We have only to notice how he handled unacceptable behaviors or words in his disciples.

Jesus’ disciples often said things that were distressing to him. They asked him for special favors, knowing how he felt about that kind of competitive power grabbing. Feeling rejected and angry, they once asked if Jesus thought it would be okay if they prayed for God to wipe out a whole town! As previously mentioned, they often took him literally when he was speaking metaphorically, asking questions that reflected their inattention, incomprehension, or both. Yet never, with the exception of one topic-whenever Jesus foreshadowed his death and they feared asking what he meant-did they seem to feel they couldn’t ask or say whatever was on their minds.

Think back to all the teachers and bosses you’ve worked under, and ask yourself: How many of those you felt completely comfortable saying whatever was on your mind and asking even “dumb” questions? Probably not many. Why? Because most people in authority positions think their job is to tell, not ask; to punish, not guide; to talk, not listen. Hence, they do a pretty bad job of helping those under their supervision to learn self-discipline and develop their talents.

Jesus took a very different approach. He was quite aware of certain behavioral problems in some of his disciples, but was more concerned with the internal spirit leading to those problems. When your focus is on fostering internal growth, punishments and other short-term solutions just don’t cut it, even with Peter, that highly sensitive disciple who went so far as to remove a guard’s ear as Jesus was being arrested (can’t we all identify with young Peter?):

“Jesus apparently did not put extreme pressure on [Peter] to control his impulsive outbursts during all those years they were together. He knew he would in time, when he had grown to the point where it would happen naturally as an outflow of his inner spirituality. Just to stop for the sake of externals, to create a better impression, would have had little meaning to Jesus. For Jesus, goodness had to flow from the heart.” (Joseph Girzone, A Portrait of Jesus, 1998).

Adapted from Jesus on Parenting by Dr. Whitehurst, coming to bookstores this September

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