Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Hot Topic

Two events prompted this post. First, a conversation I recently heard at a get-together (not my colleagues for once, so they were normal, non-psychologist people, I might add) and then an email from my sister.

The conversation I heard consisted of an individual discussing the oh-so-humorous subject of people he knows using the "punishment" technique of burning a child's tongue/mouth with hot sauce. I was pretty shocked (especially at the cavalier attitude), but there were some other important things going on at the time so I was distracted. (Not that a party-contextual lecture at this guy would have helped anything anyway, I'm guessing.)

The email consisted of a description of a dinner guest of my sister's who could not tolerate (delicious!) spicy Ethiopian fare they were serving because--you guessed it--her parents had used "hot saucing" when she was a child.

My first reaction to all this is...are people nuts??

I see enough individuals with eating disorders and anxiety disorders and depression every work day to know this is creepy and bizarre. I mean, permanently making an association in your child's mind between eating--eating in general, hot food in particular--and punishment / pain / humiliation and so bad. Really, really bad. Do not attempt this at home, folks.

For another thing, if there's any activity you ever want your child to be able to voluntarily participate in as an adult, then for the love of God don't use that activity as a "punishment"! (Duh!)

Common things used in violation of this premise are: household chores, homework, exercise, and eating nutritious foods. As I personally love spicy foods (more the older I get)--and eating in general--I would never risk something so important on something so retributive, unseemly, and out-and-out dumb as this. (Those are clinical terms.)

My second reaction was...oh yeah, people doing this are nuts!

After all, the current poster child for this fad is Lisa Whelchel, former Mouseketeer and child actress, current home-schooling mom. Not, you'll notice, child psychologist, early education specialist, registered pediatric nurse, or developmental researcher. (Or even dog trainer, which--I have great respect for dog trainers, as they know that when it comes to carrot versus stick, carrot totally wins out in terms of behavior change of organisms.)

So, this Whelchel came out with a book that promotes "creative" "correction". Read those words very slowly, out loud, with enunciation, for proper effect. Don't you feel like you just said a line from a movie about Nazis? Can you guess how I feel about being "creative" (rather than consistent) in the ways a person punishes [read: wreaks revenge upon] a child? (Adults might pay hard-earned money to dungeonmasters for that kind of "creativity", but...children?)

There is a good aggregation of discussion about this at uggabugga. Especially the collected customer reviews, followed by this quote from the author:

I have three children, ages 8,9 & 10, including a son diagnosed with ADHD. It was out of sheer desperation that I came up with many of the discipline ideas in this book.

Yep, they're pretty desperate ideas, alright--and she even has a diagnosis for one child. But she's just not desperate enough to try a few months of simple family therapy / parent training. Now, that would be evil.

Meanwhile, the state of Virginia (for example) considers this practice one that can trigger an investigation of abuse.

This whole concept is from the same school of thought that brought us the texts of Dobson.

A reviewer: "My father used Dobson's methodology ... If you wish to die alone in a nursing home, I suggest you listen to [Dobson]. There is not a day that I don't dream of lashing my old man..."

As an alternative, here's my recommendation for a non-freakish method of training children parents. When actually used as recommended (instead of haphazardly tossed into a chaotic mix of random behaviors and "techniques") parents do seem to find it's magical-seeming.


Tim said...

Say, look at that, Virginia might actually be doing something right. I've never heard of this method of punishment, and it seems bizarre as hell. Where did the idea come from, the Spanish Inquisition?

[cue the Pythons]

I don't have kids, but I can tell you from being one, that I drove my parents nutty for a good punishment. For example, time out never really worked for me, as I always preferred being alone, could get lost in my imagination in seconds, and had no problem sitting quietly. So I suppose, in some ways, I can understand how parents might get desperate, as I know I drove mine to distraction.

Still, this kind of torture is just plain twisted. And how "regular folk" can really think it's a good idea is beyond me. It brings up that great line from Parenthood -- You need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car -- hell, you even need a license to catch a fish, but they'll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.

argotnaut said...

Thank goodness no one ever ruined hot sauce or spanking for me!