Over the years, one of the most frequently read posts on this blog concerns the physical punishment of children. My position is clear and unambiguous: any physical discipline of children is a form of abuse.

Of course, adults have a way of rationalizing all of their sick behaviors, including beating and humiliating their own children. Several have taken the time to write and defend spanking, hitting, physical abuse. The excuses all fall into certain categories:

“I was spanked and haven’t murdered anyone (yet), so it’s OK to beat my kids.”

“Children need discipline and if it takes a spanking to get their attention, so be it.”

“Spanking really doesn’t do any harm. My children were spanked and they are all good, productive members of society.”

“Spanking has nothing to do with me and my need to control things. I do it for the children.”

“There’s no permanent damage, physically or psychologically, so what’s the big deal?”

Well, for those of you who are fans of corporal punishment, there’s a true story from North Carolina about a mother and father who thought they were doing the right thing. Their 13 year-old was not behaving the way they wanted so they tied him to a tree to spend the night. No doubt the father and stepmother expected a change in perspective in their errant child. Instead, they ended up with a corpse and murder and felony child abuse charges.

According to an Associated Press report:

A 13-year-old left tied to a tree as punishment for 18 hours in June had been badly beaten and likely died from dehydration and heat stroke, an autopsy report showed. The report, made public Monday, also says Tyler McMillan’s body was covered with insect bites and he had bruises caused by a rod-like instrument and flesh missing from his buttocks. Marks on his wrists and ankles show he may have been restrained with plastic ties. Authorities say Tyler McMillan’s parents found him unresponsive on June 12 after he had been tied to a tree overnight as punishment. His father, Brice McMillan, and stepmother, Sandra McMillan, have been charged with murder and felony child abuse.

The report says Tyler McMillan’s body temperature was 105.6 degrees when he arrived at the hospital. Brice McMillan told a deputy the teen was tied to a tree and forced to sleep outside on June 10 because he was being disobedient. Tyler McMillan was released the next morning, but again tied up that night for bad behavior. Both parents are scheduled to appear in an Edgecombe County courtroom on Jan. 13, 2009.

You can read the AP story here.

I know that most of the parents who abuse their children by spanking, hitting, and humiliating them will proclaim that their behavior has nothing in common with what happened to this teen. Let me ask: Do you think the parents in this case thought of themselves as abusers? Killers?

Of course not!

They thought they were doing the right thing and were acting in the best interests of the child. And so, most parents who hit their kids deny any long term consequences and always excuse what they do for the reasons I listed above.

But once you act violently towards your children, you have crossed the line from parent to abuser, from someone focused on helping your child become a self-sufficient, mentally and physically healthy adult, to a tyrant who thinks he has a right to impose his self-will over another, helpless being. Once you  believe you have that right — and that God-given duty — you can easily convince yourself that you have the right to hit harder, more often, more painfully, more destructively.

From there, the path from a “gentle spanking” to murder and felony child abuse charges is a lot shorter than you think.

What people don’t understand is that we teach our children violence by acting violently around them.

Next we need to understand that the same hubris that we believe gives us the right to abuse our children is the same anthropomorphic narcissism that allows us to slaughter animals because we can.

– Frank

PS For one of the most astounding books on the effects of physical discipline on children (and the hidden reasons why adults physically punish children), I strongly recommend For Your Own Good by Alice Miller. I’ve created a link to the book on Amazon.com. There’s no “sale” here for me — I don’t make a penny. My reward is passing along great advice and insights from Dr. Miller.

From our local newspaper:

Article Date: Sunday, January 6, 2008
CONCORD — A Franklin woman who allegedly beat a child’s hands and buttocks with a belt has been indicted on two Class B felony charges of second-degree assault.

Michelle Hardy, 37, also known as Michelle Talbot, of 118 Elkins St., is alleged to have caused contusions on the body of an 11-year-old boy. Hardy allegedly struck the boy on the back of his hands and on his buttocks multiple times with a belt on Sept. 20.

The grand jury also returned two Class A misdemeanor charges of simple assault against Hardy, charging that she sat on the victim’s back, choking him and striking the palms of his hands with the belt on the same date in Franklin.

A Franklin man was indicted on a Class B felony charge of second-degree assault for allegedly striking a baby multiple times in the head causing contusions in Franklin in October.

Bryan St. John, 18, of 400 Central St., #4, was also charged with a Class A misdemeanor of reckless conduct for allegedly holding a stuffed teddy bear over the same victim’s mouth until the infant was gasping for air.

Here’s a news story worth reading. . . .

Is hot saucing discipline or abuse?

By JAMES BAKER, Staff Writer

You’ve just instructed your 7-year-old son to pick up his toys, and he’s responded by launching a torrent of expletives in your direction.

How should you discipline him?

One child-rearing author suggests parents skip the hickory stick and administer discipline with a different sort of sting.

It’s called “hot saucing,” or “hot tonguing” in some circles. Thought to have roots in Southern culture, this method of discipline entails dabbing a fingertip-full of hot sauce on a misbehaving child’s tongue. In theory, at least, the child will remember the temporary discomfort long after the burning sensation subsides.

In an interview earlier this week on “Good Morning America,” former television personality Lisa Whelchel advocated the use of a few drops of hot sauce on a child’s tongue, especially when other forms of discipline have failed.

“It does sting, and the memory stays with them so that the next time they may actually have some self-control,” said Whelchel, who played Blair on the 1980s series “Facts of Life.” Whelchel, who is also a former Mousketeer, wrote of the technique in her book, “Creative Correction: Extraordinary Ideas for Everyday Discipline,” published in 2000.

Whelchel’s comments drew a mixed reaction from the general public, some calling the idea distasteful and others suggesting that it might be effective. Out of some 8,000 responses to an unscientific survey on the Web site ABCnews.com, 35 percent said “hot saucing” was a legitimate form of discipline and 65 percent said it was not.

Comments from local experts ranged from outrage to conditional acceptance.

Kathleen McCartney, a former psychology professor at the University of New Hampshire and developmental child care and parenting expert now teaching at Harvard, said she would not advocate “hot saucing” as a disciplinary tactic.

“In general, children respond much better to positive reinforcement. It’s important to model behavior you want to see in your child.

“Parents need to build a trusting relationship with their children, and inflicting pain is not a way to accomplish that goal,” she said.

Murray Strauss, a psychology professor at the University of New Hampshire, also condemned “hot saucing,” referring to it as an “inhumane” form of discipline. “I think it’s analogous to briefly burning a child on the arm with a cigarette. It’s certainly no better than that. In my opinion that sort of disciplinary tactic lays the groundwork for a child growing up to become a cruel adult.”

Strauss said inflicting pain in this way can cause long-term damage to the parent-child relationship.

“Discipline is important, but how it’s meted out is crucial. When punishing a child, a parent needs to explain why in a consistent manner. Causing pain like this is humiliating, and it undermines the bond of trust,” he said.

But not every local expert consulted completely dismissed “hot saucing” as a constructive disciplinary tool.

Stan Rockafellow, pastor of the Eliot Baptist Church in Eliot, Maine, said that while he wouldn’t use “hot-saucing” with his own children, he wouldn’t judge a parent who did.

“We’ve gone through a long period in this country where corporal punishment has been viewed as destructive rather than constructive, and I think we’ve paid a price for that.

“God tells us children need to be guided, and I believe in the saying, ‘spare the rod, spoil the child.’ A parent needs to have the liberty to discipline as he or she sees fit, but it must be done with moderation, balance, purpose, and most of all, in a loving way,” he said.

The debate over “hot-saucing” has even extended to the level of state government.

According to a recent Washington Post article, a Michigan day care center was cited two years ago for “saucing” an 18-month-old child. The toddler’s mother purportedly gave the child care workers permission to use hot sauce to dissuade her son from biting other children.

In Virginia, the state’s child protective services agency lists “hot saucing” among disciplinary tactics it calls “bizarre behaviors.”

“We have to have some community standards for what’s appropriate to do to children,” said Betty Jo Zarris, manager of Virginia’s child protective services program.

“Common sense would tell you hot sauce is not appropriate for a child. The common man on the street would know this is offensive.”

And perhaps even dangerous.

In the same Washington Post article, Carlton Kendrick, a Boston-based family therapist, said parents who use the technique are at the very least “ill-informed,” pointing out that hot sauce can burn a child’s esophagus and cause the tongue to swel l ­ a potential choking hazard.

Capsaicin, the substance that makes peppers hot, inflames membranes in the eyes, nose, and mouth. While some adults find this sensation pleasurable, capsaicin can cause negative reactions.

And there can be additional risks for children, according to Dr. Walter Hoerman, a Rochester pediatrician.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that physical punishment doesn’t work, but this form of discipline is especially unusual.

“There are a lot of hot sauces that can burn , and a child’s mouth is more tender than an adult’s. There’s also the potential that a child would struggle and resist and aspirate the sauce into the lungs, which would be a major issue. I just don’t think it’s a safe idea.”

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