Posted October 27, 2004 by Nick Lindauer in Hot Sauce News

Respondents run hot, cold on 'saucing'

Respondents run hot, cold on ‘saucing’
Maria Elena Baca, Star Tribune
October 26, 2004

“For lying and 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!)”

This description of a disciplinary practice called “hot-saucing” is from “Creative Correction,” a 289-page parenting book that former child actress Lisa Whelchel published by Focus on the Family in 2000. Attention to this passage from a recent Washington Post article and a “Good Morning America” feature have created a firestorm on parenting Web sites and blogs.

While some reactions have been positive, others have been overwhelmingly negative. “Frightening,”vile” and “inhumane” are among words being tossed about on the Web. Paul McIlhenny, president and CEO of the McIlhenny Co., which produces the Tabasco label hot sauce, declined to be interviewed for this story, but told the Washington Post he viewed the practice as “strange and scary” and “abusive.”

‘Not meant to be cruel’

Hot-saucing has roots in the American South, and appears to be rare in Minnesota, but it exists.

Diane Butler, of New Richland, Minn., joined Whelchel’s e-mail list after hearing the actress speak at a women’s conference. She responded to an e-mail Whelchel sent, seeking parents who had tried hot saucing, and subsequently was contacted by producers for “Good Morning America.” The television interview, with Butler and her daughter, Melanie, aired in late August.

Butler said she used a couple of drops of Tabasco sauce to discipline her now adult children only a handful of times as punishment for lying or back talk.

“I just really want people to know that it wasn’t something to just be mean or cruel or any of that,” Butler said. “Each child is so different, and what works for one just may not work for another.”

She said she doesn’t remember where she got the idea and still doesn’t get the fuss.

The goal, she said, “is to raise children who love the Lord, and who are good and respectful people, and sometimes things work, and sometimes things don’t. As parents, all we can do is our best and to try to learn from our mistakes and go on.”

John Rosemond, a family psychologist, syndicated columnist and author of “New Parent Power,” said that while he generally thinks there are better alternatives to spanking and hot-saucing, he wouldn’t tell parents not to do it.

“I don’t think putting hot sauce on a child’s tongue is abuse, nor do I think it’s going to create psychological problems,” he said. “If a parent does something like this and it produces a couple of blisters, that certainly is not life-threatening. If the parent is aware that it produces blisters [and] that the child is extremely sensitive to this, I would hope the parent would stop. I guess the line is drawn where the parent knows this is causing physical injury — not just physical pain — and doesn’t stop.”

Nausea, pain potential dangers

In humans, pure capsaicin, the substance that makes peppers hot, can cause potentially fatal swelling of the tongue and esophagus, or cardiac arrest. Even lower potency hot sauce can cause nausea and extreme pain to children’s sensitive tongues, said Steve Setzer, education director at the Minnesota Poison Control Center.

Setzer warned that distraught children might also get hot sauce-laced saliva in their eyes and damage their corneas by rubbing to ease the pain.

Child-care centers in Michigan and Georgia were investigated for using hot sauce as a disciplinary tool, at the parents’ request. The practice also is actionable in Virginia.

The Minnesota statute defining child abuse does have a passage that covers punishments that involve forcing children to ingest non-prescribed substances. In practice, as with all disciplinary tools, child protection gets involved when the punishment results in injury such as cuts, bruises or blisters.

In Ramsey County, child protection workers open less than one hot-saucing file a year; in Hennepin County, these cases are similarly rare.

“We don’t get a lot of them, but we do get them,” said Carolyn McHenry, program manager for child protection at Hennepin County. “We do assess them. Often it’s a disciplinary practice people use not realizing how harmful it can be.”

Harvey Linder, program manager at Hennepin County Child Protection Services warns that punishments such as these are indicative of larger issues in society.

“We have to get away from the notion that harming people is the way to get a behavior,” Linder said. “Usually there’s a better way.”

He acknowledged that parenting can be difficult and frustrating.

“We live in a society that teaches us you have to get instant results,” he said. “Parents have to be consistent,” he said. “They have to be willing to keep doing the same thing over and over until it begins to work. What gets the desperate parents in trouble is they give up on a strategy before it begins to work … Sometimes you have to try something 20 or 30 times [so children get the message]: ‘It doesn’t matter how many times you do this, I’m not going to change my mind.’ Children learn from that.”

She stands by the practice

As for Whelchel, the former Mouseketeer and “Facts of Life” star who unwittingly has been cast as the poster mom for “hot saucing,” the fuss has been unwelcome and unsettling.

“I’m really not willing to lose my reputation for hot saucing,” she said. “It’s an idea, and if a parent feels uncomfortable with it, for goodness sake don’t use it. If explaining and reasoning is enough, and if they have children like that, then God bless them.”

But she stands by the practice.

“When my son was little, I took him twice a week every week [to an allergist] for nine months and stood by and watched a nurse poke a sharp needle in his arm while he cried,” she said. “I was willing to let him suffer a little bit of pain in the belief it would spare him a lifetime of misery. Was I abusing him? As I’m older, I have learned the best lessons that have shaped me by going through pain. I don’t think the goal in life is to avoid pain. We can learn a lot through pain.”

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog