A tasteless approach to punishment

How do American parents punish their naughty children? They reach for the Tabasco and tongue spank.

A poll in the United Kingdom last month revealed that 47% of British 18-to-30-year-olds favour the return of the cane (for those under 18). In America over the past month there has been headline-making controversy over ‘hotsaucing” — dabbing the naughty child’s tongue with stinging Tabasco.

‘Tongue spanking” is recommended to parents and teachers in the current bestseller Creative Correction: Extraordinary Ideas for Everyday Discipline.
The book’s author, Lisa Whelchel, is two-times famous: she also played teenager Blair in the 1980s TV sitcom Facts of Life. She’s now the mother of three teens herself and an enthusiastic ‘saucer”. Her kids all got a dab of the hot stuff when they cussed, talked back, or lied.

Whelchel’s title is carefully chosen. Its ‘Creative” because ‘Correction” is sanctioned by the Creator.

‘For those whom the Lord loves He punishes.” Hotsaucing is nothing compared to what Job undergoes, simply because God has made an idle bet with Satan about how much punishment one of his true believers can take (what a bastard He is, sometimes).

A poll by the American TV network ABC discovered that 35% of those sampled approved of hotsaucing; 65% didn’t. Broken down, the figures were less reassuring. Tongue spanking is much more prevalent in the south (which also laps up most of the country’s hot sauce) and in rural America. Many playcentres, kindergartens and junior schools specifically ban it, along with the dunce’s cap, standing in the corner, kneeling on gravel, washing the mouth with soap, the coal hole, and all forms of chastisement.

In Virginia, hotsaucing is legally actionable and defined as ‘bizarre behaviour”. The president of the Tabasco company, Paul McIlhenny, calls it ‘strange and scary” — an abuse both of children and of his product. None-the-less, hotsaucing is becoming respectable, especially among conservative Christians. Whelchel, before she wrote her national bestseller, regularly advocated it in the magazine Today’s Christian Woman, of which she is a superb example. It is parental affection, not cruelty, which makes her reach for the punitive bottle. As she says, ‘I prefer my child receive a small amount of pain from my hand of love than to encounter a lot more pain in life.” For those with less stern hands of love she allows that vinegar or lemon juice may be substituted. And remember to give milk and crackers afterwards. God loves you.

Stripped of its religious baggage, hot-saucing may seem an unobjectionable punishment for juvenile sins of the mouth. It’s only mildly painful and memorably symbolic. Symbolic punishment is preferable to corporal.

If it becomes universally acceptable, hotsaucing might even reduce, rather than increase, violence against children. According to one 1998 poll, 55% of American parents agreed that ‘a good hard spanking is sometimes necessary”. Even domestic pacifists will think the Tabasco bottle preferable to battery. Hotsaucing, saucers will argue, is no worse than putting bitter aloe on fingernails to stop children biting them. Opponents will retort that hotsaucing, like all ritualised punishment, infringes George Bernard Shaw’s golden rule: ‘If you strike a child, take care that you strike it in anger.” Hotsaucing is cold, calculated punishment. For Europeans, it has odious associations with Mussolini’s thuggish squadristi forcing castor oil down their opponents’ throats — then waiting gleefully for the involuntary defecation.

McIlhenny is right. Tabasco belongs on the tacos and the refried beans, not the child’s tongue.

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