Creative Punishment Kills 9-Year-Old Girl in Alabama

COMMENTARY | While I’m all for creative discipline, it can go too far. Savannah Hardin, a 9-year-old girl who lived in Attalla, Ala., was literally punished to death over eating some candy and lying to her grandmother about it. She was forced to run non-stop for three hours, which resulted in severe dehydration and ultimately caused her death several days later on Feb. 20, reported the Associated Press. No comment was made from the step-mother and grandmother who enforced this odd punishment on exactly how a deadly run fit the crime in this case.

The idea of a creative discipline is to find a punishment that creatively teaches the child why what was done was wrong so they won’t do it again — a method that is waste if the child dies, of course. While a three-hour run certainly would work off a candy bar, even had the girl not died, this form of corporal punishment certainly would not have taught her anything but not to get caught. The lesson did not show that lying was bad, nor reinforce to Savannah that the bladder condition she had prevented her from safely eating chocolate, it only showed that not obeying resulted in severe punishment. Such discipline is not a form of parenting, it’s simply controlling.

You may be happy to know Savannah’s “mother,” Jessica Mae Hardin, as well as her grandmother, Joyce Hardin Garrard, are now behind bars facing murder charges, and possibly the death penalty, with a $500,000 bail. Her 3-year-old son and newborn baby, who was born Feb. 22 under guard only hours after her arrest, are now in protective care.

Savannah’s third grade classmates at Carlisle Elementary school have set up a memorial at her desk, and the neighborhood has held an ongoing candle vigil at her home, a sorrowful reminder that there is a difference between punishment and discipline, as well as that the way we discipline our children can affect them in more dramatic ways than we may anticipate. While this little girl’s guardians may have been trying to keep her safe from chocolate due to her health condition, their misguided actions led to her death, as a parent, I think there’s something we can all learn from that.

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