Is 'hot saucing' discipline, or abuse?

Jan. 29, 2011 at 7:00 AM ET

When does discipline cross the line into abuse?

Anchorage mom Jessica Beagley is facing child abuse charges after the "Dr. Phil" show aired video of her putting hot sauce in her 7-year-old son's mouth and forcing him into a cold shower, as punishment for bad behavior. Matt Lauer discussed her case on TODAY with two experts on Tuesday, and they all seemed pretty appalled by the video. "I don't think I want to say what I think about this," Lauer said.

Russian officials are now investigating the case as well, as the 7-year-old boy in the video as well as his twin brother were both adopted from Russia. Beagley has six children.

Psychiatrist Dr. Janet Taylor said on TODAY that she believes Beagley's actions constituted abuse: "This was punishment and torture,” she said.

Dr. Alanna Levine, pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, agreed, calling it a “black and white” case of abuse.

Beagley's lawyer, William Ingaldson, said she regrets sending the tape (which was made by her 10-year-old daughter) in to Dr. Phil. Ingaldson said she didn't do anything criminal: "Some people think spanking your child is wrong, and she doesn't even do that." (On the "Dr. Phil" show, Beagley said she tried spanking, but it didn't work, so she turned to hot sauce.)

Here's a longer clip of her Dr. Phil appearance, but be warned: It's brutal to watch. The sound of her son screaming and sobbing as Beagley calmly administers this "punishment" is hard to forget. 

While Beagley's case and the attention it's getting may be extreme, "hot saucing" is an accepted form of discipline in some parenting circles -- though a controversial one. One prominent supporter of the practice is Lisa Whelchel, who played Blair on the TV show "The Facts of Life" and is now a Christian parenting author and speaker.

"A correction has to hurt a little," Whelchel told The Washington Post. "An effective deterrent has to touch the child in some way. I don't think Tabasco is such a bad thing."

What do you think? Is "hot saucing" an acceptable discipline method, or child abuse?

Related: Full story.

Related: Read the charges against Beagley.

Related: Experts say Dr. Phil's "hot sauce mom" mixed punishment and torture