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Parents Talk: 'Hot Sauce Mom' -- Child Abuse Or Discipline?

An Alaska mother's child abuse conviction for putting hot sauce in her child's mouth has sparked heated discussion about whether she committed a crime.

By now, most parents are familiar with Anchorage resident Jessica Beagley, aka “hot sauce mom.”

The 36-year-old mother of six was found guilty Aug. 23 of misdemeanor child abuse after the “Dr. Phil” show aired a video of her punishing her 7-year-old adopted son for lying by putting hot sauce in his mouth and forcing him into a cold shower.

Outraged parents flooded the Anchorage Police Department with calls after the clip aired last October, and the case sparked heated discussions on parenting blogs and message boards. 

Was this child abuse? Or an acceptable discipline tool blown out of proportion?

Most agreed with the former. In a poll of 3,000 “TODAY” moms, 69 percent considered “hot-saucing” abusive, while 31 percent said it did not constitute child abuse.

Personally, I’m not sure what else you CAN call it.

As an adult, you can be charged with assault if you hit another adult or menace them by forcing them to do something they don’t want to do. Assault is defined by law as any unwanted touch, and if you’re doing that to a defenseless child, it’s wrong and you should be arrested. 

Conservative commentator Princella Smith thought hot sauce mom was simply being “creative” in her choice of discipline and called her arrest “a bit extreme.”

“I think, well, I know what my parents tried to teach us was that there are consequences to our actions,” she told Joy Behar on Behar's HLN talk show in February. “I wasn’t spanked every time I did something wrong, but I do believe that, you know, with every child there’s a different level of discipline.”

I’m sure a good number of us can remember a spanking or two from our childhoods. Maybe even worse. 

But are those fond memories? Did such punishment make you respect your parents? Or resent and even fear them. 

I tend to agree with "Supernanny" Jo Frost, who also appeared on Behar’s show and said things like cold showers and hot sauce do nothing but cause a “humongous” amount of damage to the parent/child relationship.

That kind of extreme discipline has also been shown to be ineffective.

Dr. Alanna Levine, pediatrician and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said you want children to listen to you because they respect what you say, not because they fear you.

She suggested being consistent with small, repeatable consequences like taking away TV privileges or canceling a play date rather than enforcing harm on a child.

Looking for more tips? The University of Minnesota Extension has a ton of material on discipline and behavior on its website, as does the Minnesota Children’s Museum on its blog via Saint Paul ECFE parent educator Esther Shak.

Also check out the state's Minnesota Parents Know website or Teenwise Minnesota if you have older children.

What discipline measures do you think are appropriate for children, Maple Grove residents? It's your turn to weigh in.

Sherry August 30, 2011 at 03:43 PM
I think this is total BS. Not every child is the same and not every child requires the same discipline, but who are we (her peers) to step into Ms. Beagley's shoes as a parent and tell her how she can discipline her child? Of course we have memories of being spanked as children and of course they're not fond memories.....that's how we LEARN... from our mistakes. If our mistakes produce only fond memories, then how can we call them mistakes? Yes, our children should have a 'healthy' fear of their parents! It's called consequences! C'mon people, we have gotten way too soft! Now I haven't had to resort to any such punishment with my own children, but you bet your butt, that if a stearn reprimand didn't work, and grounding didn't work, then hot sauce on the tongue would be an option I would consider! And a cold shower? Sheesh! Tell me how that boy was hurt or abused by a cold shower?
d August 30, 2011 at 05:30 PM
its just hot sauce its edible and if they are charging her what about that mom that appeared on a supernanny episode that put hand sanitizer in her childs mout. hand sanitizer is not edible it has alcohol and ish. if anything charge her.i dont agree with the cold shower but water doesnt hurt anybody. the cold shower wasn't a great idea because kids that age dont care about hygenie any way so when u use it has discipline they are not going to want to take a shower.hell this is dumb the government is trying to run our lives and tell us how to raise kids when they need to run the country and stop spending money on girls,jets,and vacations. i think the hot sauce would have been appropriate if the had cussed but just becuse he was lying? that was dumb when i started lying my mom just told me the story about the boy who cried wolf. hot sauce aint nothin if it was tobassco sauce or hot goya suce then i can see ppl being outraged. hell when i was younger i used to get spanking and my parents used to get spanked with cords and everything else now that is abuse this is just blown outta proportion
Kathleen ring August 30, 2011 at 11:50 PM
What harm is a little hot sauce going to do? All it does is sting for a while long enough for the child to think about they have done or said I have done it to my child and he remembers it as a lesson learned. I also had a great aunt that would say on spankings that "that is whey god put so much padding back there!" as long as you don't hit them with a closed fist or sexually-what harm is it?
Heather Schultz August 31, 2011 at 12:26 AM
I completely agree! It is abuse! There are many other ways to disipline a child. The consequence should fit the crime...and hurting a child or forcing them to eat something they don't want to doesn't fit any crime as far as I am concerned. Consequences are for teaching appropriate behavior and that is their sole purpose! Excellent article!
Meghan August 31, 2011 at 02:58 AM
Cold showers on a frail young body could result in hypothermia leading to death, especially if the child is already elevated with emotions like fear and anxiety. I'm not against discipline but the word implies that you are teaching your child alternatives to their negative behavior, not just consequences. With that being said, consequences should be self-instilled not built from fear or a control issue from faulty parenting. In this case the boy was not only being reprimanded IN school but coming 'home' to it as well without being given a chance to redeem himself. Fear only breeds negativity and victims of abuse typically become abusers so maybe hot-sauce mom needs more than legal consequences... Perhaps another visit to Dr. Phil...
Tee August 31, 2011 at 08:21 PM
When you say “her peers”, I am going to assume you’re a mother too. No, this is not BS. Why would you want to inflict physical pain to a child? You are right, each child does need to be disciplined differently but giving him/her hot sauce is not the answer to whatever the child may have done and YES, it is considered child abuse. There are other several effective ways to discipline a child. One may not work, try the other; such as, taking something of value from the child for a period of time. If the child loves video games, take the game from him/her for a week or so and explain why you are taking the game away. This way they understand. I have 3 children of my own and they are not perfect. Yet, I have never laid a hand on them or given them hot sauce for punishment and I can honestly say, that my kids do not throw a tantrum at home or in public just because they are told no when they want a toy or candy. So, I know inflicting physical pain on a child is not necessary to make them understand what is right and what is wrong.
Tee August 31, 2011 at 08:23 PM
agreed!
Tee August 31, 2011 at 08:24 PM
Well said...
Holly September 03, 2011 at 12:29 AM
This is a small child who has lived three years in an orphanage. His behavioral problems should be treated with patience, kindness, understanding, and perhaps therapy. Those who say cold showers and hot sauce treatments are no big deal- did you watch the video? And, if this mother's testimony says anything, his continued behavioral problems suggest extreme punishments are not working. The video was heartbreaking, and what's even more heartbreaking is that it was created by an attention-grabbing mother who was prodded into making such a tape by Dr. Phil's money-grubbing show.
Ashley September 03, 2011 at 03:51 PM
I think the woman, the "mother", needs to take a mouthful of hotsauce while being screamed at and then thrown in a cold shower. Then she can decide if she learned anything or not. I would have feared and dreaded my parents had they been this way with me. Of course we had the occasional spank but that never physically hurt us. My brother and I turned out just fine and we have a great relationship with my parents who I adore. This "mother" might have control now, he will despise her one day.
Eric September 04, 2011 at 07:09 PM
You're missing the entire point of what this article should be about. Clearly when you wrote this: "As an adult, you can be charged with assault if you hit another adult or menace them by forcing them to do something they don’t want to do. Assault is defined by law as any unwanted touch, and if you’re doing that to a defenseless child, it’s wrong and you should be arrested." you made your position known that you do not support physical discipline at all, ever. Obviously from there, then, you don't support this mother. If you're going to argue that corporal punishment is wrong, period, why bother writing this? The better discussion (and the one I anticipated you would bring) would be at what point corporal punishment crosses the line.
BOB September 05, 2011 at 08:19 PM
that lady is super crazy we talked about this in school and some people said that dr ohill shouldt have reported her cuz she went 2 him 4 help. but i think think that he did the right thing consdering that she got put i njail 4 jyeat.? i think and i a really big fine. did the dad even try 2 stop this.? but they said that he veido typed it right.? i oersonal think the dad was scared two tell the mom 2 stop because she might have done somethign wrose rihgt.?
BOB September 05, 2011 at 08:19 PM
PHILL*
BOB September 05, 2011 at 08:21 PM
d.... thats a little boy with hot sauce in his mouth..... he is only 6 or 7 and thats runins there teast buds like seously
Anne Mack September 08, 2011 at 10:21 PM
As a survivor of severe child abuse myself (hitting w/ hands & 2" x 4" boards, face punching, head slaps, kicking, wall slams, hair pulls) and now an abuse counselor helping other adults who were "disciplined" (tortured) by our "caregivers," I agree this is definitely child abuse. EVERYONE WHO FINDS THIS ACCEPTABLE, line up, we'll force . . . force hot sauce down your throat, then force you in to a cold shower and we'll see how you like it. We have raised two decent, rule abiding teens with firm but non-violent discipline, NEVER physical pummeling, NEVER verbal abuse (insults & threats). My siblings & I lived in constant, intense fear of our parents while our children genuinely love & respect us. Mrs. Beagley needs help as does the child. I hope the entire family receives competent, empathetic counseling. THANKS TO DR. PHIL FOR BRINGING THIS CASE INTO THE PUBLIC EYE. Peace to ALL.
Heidi smith September 09, 2011 at 09:27 AM
I am a bit confused --- obviously pouring an entire bottle or even a tablespoon of hot sauce into a Childs mouth - whose taste buds are not as dull as adults- van be painful and damaging, but what about a dab on your finger onto their tongue?? I have tried to take video games away, talk softly and out of concern and love for my 8 year old and tried rewarding for food behavior yet his mouth and attitude and the way he treats some kids and his own brother are getting worse as he gets older!! Nothing is working as well as a drop of hot sauce on his tongue!! It is edible not like soap or hand sanitizer and he is seeming to make slow strides in the right direction!! Am I abusing him??? No!! I think I've just resorted to something that does create a negative consequence fir negative behavior!! Parenting is the hardest job but ti see my son improving since this tactic is also so rewarding!! I did love and sometimes fear my father - God rest his soul- and I absolutely respected him for not putting up with the five of our attitudes And misbehAviors!! He spanked us, yelled at us and took things away but he showed his pride and Love for us too. Maybe that's the part this mother was needing education on! I think her punishment was a bit harsh!
Simon December 01, 2011 at 03:38 AM
I think you'all don't understand punishment to abuse, punishment with reason is nesessary to educate a child or else they will become mentaly dumb besides thats what they have JAIL for. Pain is a natural system for learnig and thats why we punish childern so they understand, if they don't learn form taking away (mental punishment) then you should use physical but simple punishment to an unharmfull degree, "hot sauce" it does NOT inflict harm wich could damage a child but it does use a natural sence of pain awarenss wich then signals the child to stop and prevnt the pain, so if you punish a child with PHYSICAL and RESONABAL PAIN and tell the child why then he/she will learn and stop behaving bad.

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