Stinging Debate -- Parents Divided Over Practice of ‘Hot Saucing’ as a Form of Discipline Stinging Debate -- Parents Divided Over Practice of ‘Hot Saucing’ as a Form of Discipline
By ABC News
August 24, 2004

Responses to ABC News from:

  1. Dr. Bob Fathman
  2. Mark J. Johns / Dr. Madeleine Y. Gómez
  3. Jordan Riak

The practice of "hot saucing" a child's tongue as a method of discipline may seem cruel to some parents, but those who regularly use the punishment say it teaches their charges valuable and long-lasting lessons

Advocates of "hot saucing" as a form of discipline will sometimes add a drop of hot sauce on their child's tongue as a punishment for lying or talking back.

Lisa Whelchel, who played Blair on the popular 1980s TV series Facts of Life, is an advocate and practitioner of "hot saucing." Whelchel, the author of Creative Correction: Extraordinary Ideas for Everyday Discipline, says the practice worked for her children when other disciplinary actions did not.

"It does sting and the memory stays with them so that the next time they may actually have some self-control and stop before they lie or bite or something like that," Whelchel said on ABC News' Good Morning America.

Whelchel says she would have never used hot sauce to discipline her three children if it caused lasting damage. The actress-turned-home-schooling mom suggests using just a dab of hot sauce, placing it on your finger, then touching your finger to the child's tongue.

Boston family therapist Carleton Kendrick says he is vehemently against hot saucing or corporal punishment of any kind.

"There's no room for pain and humiliation and fear in disciplining healthy children," Kendrick said. "I think it's a rather barbaric practice to say the least."

[In a non-scientific ballot on, 35 percent of voters said they feel hot saucing is an acceptable form of discipline. Sixty-five percent of voters said the practice of hot saucing was not. More than 8,000 votes were cast in the online ballot.]

Whelchel says she's been aware for some time that many people are strongly opposed to hot saucing, (which was covered in The Washington Post earlier this month) a form of discipline that's been around for decades, but she says she believes in many different creative ways to discipline, including this one.

"It's totally against popular opinion in culture these days," Whelchel said. "I prefer my child receive a small amount of pain from my hand of love than to encounter a lot more pain in life," she said.

Whelchel said hot saucing works better than traditional spanking when it comes to offenses related to the child's mouth.

"It's a logical consequence. If you cause somebody pain, either by the words you say by lying and not being a trustworthy person or by biting, this is a logical consequence. It's your mouth that's the offender," she said.

Practices at childcare centers in Michigan and Georgia were called into question after it was discovered that workers used hot sauce to discipline some of the children.

Kendrick says even parents who endorse corporal punishment should think twice about using hot sauce to discipline children because it could lead to an investigation of child abuse in some states.

"The state of Virginia, for instance, calls this practice bizarre and finds it an actionable offense," Kendrick said.

Whelchel says she practiced hot saucing from the time her children were in pre-school through their 10th birthdays. Her children are now 12, 13, and 14 years old.

Whelchel says parents who turn to creative punishments should always use common sense and make sure the punishment is age-appropriate.

Response to ABC News from Dr. Bob Fathman, August 24, 2004

Dear ABC News:

I am extremely disappointed, outraged in fact, that you have a story presenting a person who favors putting hot sauce on the tongues of children. While the producer may try to defend himself by claiming that an opponent of the practice was also quoted in the story, answer this question for yourselves:

If we substitute the word "wife" or " pet animal" for "child," would you run the story the same? In other words, if someone espouses "hotsaucing" wives, is it ok to run it just because you also run an opponent's words? To give equal weight to two spokespersons implies an equality of belief. Do you realize that you just encouraged perhaps thousand of parents to mistreat their children that way?

Hot sauce can cause gag reflexes and tears to the throat lining. Shame on all of you who ok'd this story. You don't present both sides of the "story" of sexual activity of children, or of blatant child abuse -- why present this form of abuse of kids as if it is acceptable?

You have undermined the work of child abuse professionals across the country. I plan to write the FCC to see if they can do anything to reprimand your news department.

Robert Fathman, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist l

Response to ABC News from Mark J. Johns and Dr. Madeleine Y Gómez, August 25, 2004

Dear ABC News:

As mental health professionals and family therapists who strive to help parents raise children with positive, non-violent ways, we are writing this letter in response to a news story that was nationally run on August 24, 2004. The item seemed to condone the use of “hot-saucing” as an effective and acceptable form of “discipline” for children. Our concern is that ABC’s irresponsible reporting of the issue could be construed as advocating this abusive practice. And, quite frankly, whether you take a scientific, or non-scientific poll, if you report that over 1/3 of responders are in favor of abusing children, then, that is 1/3 of an audience which needs to be responsibly educated that any punishment that is violent or violates the human rights of people at any age, is neither appropriate nor effective in the long run.

The ethical responsibility in reporting this piece is questionable on several levels because it leaves several points unanswered. For example: What are Lisa Whelchel’s credentials (other than being a childhood actress)? Is she qualified to dispense advice regarding childhood rearing practices? Did the producer or preparers of this news item thoroughly investigate the physical and emotional consequences of “hot-saucing”? Why is Boston family therapist, Carleton Kendrick, vehemently against hot-saucing or corporal punishment of any kind? What prompted the state of Virginia to call this practice “bizarre” and find it to be an actionable offense? Why might 65% of responders in your “non-scientific” survey vote against hot-saucing?

Responsible investigations and reports have repeatedly demonstrated that inappropriate or violent discipline damages the emotional, intellectual, and growth processes of the child. Many studies have shown that violent punishments not only teach violence, but also can lead to other forms of violence. As clinicians, we have dealt with several cases of abuse…perpetrated in the name of “love and disciplining the child”…which resulted in tragic consequences. In our experience, parents who use hot-saucing with their children are likely to engage in other forms of abusive behavior. We recently dealt with a case in which it was reported that a small child, who was being professionally evaluated due to “behavioral problems,” was being force fed hot-peppers when he spoke disrespectfully to his parents. The assessor dismissed this practice as “idiosyncratic, non-abusive, and culturally appropriate.” Never mind that hot-saucing or force feeding of peppers to children can result in anaphylaxis or cause significant burns and damage to developing tissues in the mouth, esophagus, intestinal walls, stomach, and colon. Within a few short weeks of this assessment, the child was found dead after being severely beaten in the head by his parents. Need we say more?

While children may not comprise the majority of your viewing audience, they deserve the same respect, justice and protection under the law that the rest of us are afforded. We hope our efforts in responding positively impact your future planning.


Mark J. Johns
Clinical Professional Counselor
Director, Clinical Services, PsycHealth, Ltd.

Madeleine Y. Gómez, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
President, PsycHealth, Ltd. --
Volunteer Board, Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE)
Assistant Professor, Northwestern University
Clinical Supervisor, Hartgrove Hospital
Board Certified, American College Advanced Practice Psychologists

Response to ABC News from Jordan Riak, August 27, 2004

Dear ABC News:

It's painful even to contemplate the amount of force or intimidation required to enable one person to introduce hot sauce into another person's mouth. There is an instinctive reflexive response that guards the buccal cavity against the intrusion of noxious or irritating substances, and any creature that lacked it wouldn't survive for long. Nevertheless, Lisa Whelchel, -- a mom who presumably cares about the survival of her children -- has written a parenting book in which she blithely describes thwarting that protective mechanism in her children. She calls it "hot saucing."

What could motivate such behavior? Was she "hot sauced" when she was a child? Or did she dream this up on her own? My theory is she is deeply conflicted over this blatantly perverse and abusive family ritual, and in order to allay her own misgivings, she wants others to follow her example. So, she's written a book. It stands to reason, if she can fool others, she can fool herself. Some of the most dangerous parenting books ever published were written for precisely that purpose.

ABC News has given Ms. Whelchel's theories on childcare the wrong kind of publicity. Children are going to be hurt. When a child gags, chokes and suffocates, who is going to be held accountable? Tabasco? A more appropriate response from a major news agency would have been to issue the warning: ADULT FICTION. TO BE READ FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS PROCEDURE WITH ACTUAL PERSONS.

Jordan Riak
Exec. Dir., Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education

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