A thin line between discipline and child abuse

Last month, a disturbing video of an Alaskan mother, Jessica Beagley, forcing hot sauce down her 7-year-old son’s throat and then placing him in a freezing shower was shown on the Dr. Phil show. The boy could be heard screaming and crying. This was the child’s punishment for lying to her.

The graphic video has gone viral and spurred passionate responses from people all around the world. It has also been a topic in many discussions. Visit a newspaper Web site or blog and read just some of the heated exchanges. Many have claimed, “Wait until you have children.” Yet, parents are horrified as well. It’s interesting to note that “horrified” crowd includes both parents and non-parents.

Did the mother go too far? Should the government be involved in how we raise our children?

These are not simple questions and there are no easy answers.

There are cultural and generational differences in parenting techniques and individual reactions to those raised by them.

I understand where the other side is coming from. My mother experienced similar punishment. Her mother washed her mouth out with soap when she talked back. However, soap is toxic. Ingest too much and you could die. A child’s body is smaller, less capable of processing the poison. Parents might think this is still acceptable, but it’s not safe.

There have also been some ridi-culous responses. Beagley’s lawyer claims the hot sauce wasn’t abuse because if the child had voluntarily eaten the sauce on food, it would be fine. Have you ever tried drinking straight hot sauce? The eye-watering experience is a heck of a lot different than the tasty light flavoring we get from adding it to pasta.

It has been scientifically proven that raising a child to experience continuous violent physical pun-ishment, may make that child significantly more likely to be a violent adult. A large amount of serial killers, rapists and pedophiles were physically abused as children: John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer and Paul Bernardo, just to name a few.

Yet, not everyone who experiences this type of parenting will grow up to become disturbed individuals. Comedian Chris Rock said once, “In the wrong hands, a beating could be considered child abuse but in the right hands it (could mean) the difference between raising a Bill Gates and a Bobby Brown.”

However, spanking, slapping and hitting are violent acts. Forcing hot sauce down someone’s throat, searing the epithelial cells of his esophagus? Yep, that qualifies. And soaking his small 7-year-old body in an ice-cold shower? The shock to his system, his heart, alone, is frightening to think about.

Are these acts lethal? Not usually. But they are cruel, especially when exacted on a child barely out of kindergarten.

What shocked me the most was hearing people ask what the boy did to deserve such punishment. Really? Does it matter? What could a 7-year-old have possibly done to deserve such barbaric treatment from an adult? There is no justification here, people. None.

Beagley said that she appeared on Dr. Phil’s show because she was “at her wit’s end” with the child. I can’t comprehend how stressful it must be to raise a child. I greatly admire those who take on the challenge, but only the individuals who parent with love. If you still think that people should be able to discipline their children however they wish, spend a few hours talking to my friend who takes in foster children.

Being a parent doesn’t give you carte blanche to do what you want with your child. These young children completely trust their parents with an innocence I can’t begin to understand. It’s beyond abominable that such innocence is shattered by such a betrayal.

Although the incident occurred last year, due to public pressure, the Anchorage Municipal Prosecutor’s Office charged Beagley with misdemeanor child abuse. It’s about time.

I can’t help but wonder if this had been a teacher or babysitter, whether people would be siding with the woman. If an English teacher had dragged a child into the kindergarten bathrooms, which have showers, and shoved him into the freezing water, would the masses still claim that she was right? If the babysitter forced her charge to drink hot sauce because the child lied, would people still stand up for her?

Instead of saying, “Well, she had a point” or “She had a right to discipline her child whichever way she deemed fit,” pause for a second. Think if you could do it. Think if you could wrap your hand around the 7-year-old boy’s jaw and force it open and pour hot sauce down his throat as he chokes on his tears. Think of your hands squeezing his little arms as you pull him into the shower and flip on the nozzle, turning it all the way to freezing. Imagine hearing his screams of pain, his pleas for mercy.

Still think that mother didn’t brutalize that boy?

Leave a Reply