Tuesday, August 17, 2010

To Train Up a Child OR you could call it How to Abuse a Child

Yesterday a friend on facebook-- a great friend of mine-- openly asked for advice on disciplining/ training children. She was reading To Train Up a Child by Debi and Micheal Pearl, and needed some insight from friends.
Seeing as how I love talking about children and books, I decided to research the book for myself.
I've rarely been so shocked by a book's content.

First, I went to Amazon, just to read reviews. You know something might be amiss when the average rating is less than 3 stars, and about 3/4 of the reviews (550+) were 1 star reviewers, with some serious concerns. The more I read, the more disgusted and appalled I became. So you should know that I went into the book already biased against it. It's hard not to be when you read direct quotes like,
"On p.44 they say not to let the child's crying while being hit to 'cause you to
lighten up on the intensity or duration of the spanking.' On p.59 they recommend
whipping a 3 year old until he is 'totally broken'."
So as not to swamp my friend's page, I brought up the reviews and my own concerns on my facebook page. Join the discussion here, if you want.

I received multiple facebook messages and emails from friends who had read the book, and maybe even recommended it to others. Why? Because there are some truths. Because it starts off all folksy and common sense. You find yourself nodding about little things. The Pearls mix a few Truths with a lot of extremes. Which causes some people to swallow hook, line, and sinker. They don't intend to, but they are caught. I'm glad-- SO GLAD-- that many of them are rereading, seeing, analyzing, questioning now.

Never take something you read for granted. Not the newspaper, a book by experts, or even my blog. ;-) Test everything against Scripture.

I read as much as I could online, and then checked the book out. It's nauseating to me, to read about such abuse, and know that it's continuing.

And, just as upsetting, is the fact that I know people who are saying "oh, just glean what you can," or "eat the meat and spit out the bones," or "as long as you discipline consistently, then whatever method you choose is okay." Hogwash. Abuse is merely "bones"? Something just to be overlooked? It's okay to "consistently discipline" by whipping with piping and holding your children down? Christian women, COME ON. STAND UP. Don't just say what you think people want to hear. It's really not "I'm okay, you're okay, just do whatever works for you." NO. There are absolutes, and child abuse is an absolute NO.

With permission, I'm sharing this post from fellow Mama Blogger Laurel at Our Journey of Faith. It's a 3-part series on her blog, and I encourage you to read them all.

Book Review: To Train Up A Child

While there are many parts of this book that we could look at, analyze, review, and get upset about ... what I really want to look at is the Pearls views on spanking, something that I fully disagree with.

The really hard part about writing this series of blog posts is that ...

I do believe in using spanking as a discipline tool;
I just don't believe in using it as the Pearls advocate.

I am not against the practice of spanking;
yet I am appalled in the ways that so many parents use it.

I agree that spankings can be beneficial;
but don't have any grasp as to how parents
(such as Lydia's) could beat a child so severely
that it could lead to the death of the child.

I. One issue that I have with Michael & Debi Pearl's philosophy of child training is their use of spankings at a very young age:

"One of our girls who developed mobility early had a fascination with crawling up the stairs. At four months she was too unknowing to be punished for disobedience. But for her own good, we attempted to train her not to climb the stairs by coordinating the voice command of "No" with little spats on the bare legs. The switch was a 12" long, 1/8th" diameter sprig from a willow tree." (page 9)

They are using a "switch" on a 4 month old? Unbelievable.

They claim it is "for her own good"; but couldn't they have just put a gate at the bottom of the stairs if they were concerned for her safety?

And, again, they claim that their use of a switch is not for punishment, but for training. I fully disagree with this method of training.

Michael goes on to share the story of a father that he was having a conversation with, who had an undisciplined 12 month old on his lap. The child wanted to go to the mother (who was across the room), but the father clearly "needed" to show this child who the authority was:

"Clearly, the lines were drawn. The battle was in array. Someone was going to submit his will and learn his lesson. Either the father would confirm that this one-year-old could rule his parents or the parents would confirm their authority. Everyone's happiness was at stake, as well as the soul of the child. The father was wise enough to know this was a test of authority. This episode had crossed over from "obedience training" to discipline for attitude.

For the next weary forty-five minutes, fifteen times the child would make his legs move, and the daddy would turn him around and spank his legs. The father was as calm as a lazy porch swing on a Sunday afternoon. There was no hastiness or anger. He did not take the disobedience personally. He had trained many a horse or mule and knew the value of patient perseverance. In the end, the twelve-month-old submitted his will to his father."

Do you see any problems here?

"Everyones happiness was at stake, as well as the soul of the child." Wow! That is a powerful statement. First of all, a child's disobedience should not control the parents' happiness. Secondly, how could this one little instance, at 12 months old, possibly do irreparable damage to the child's soul if the parent did not show their authority?

So, over the course of 45 minutes, this father spanked his young son 15 times ... for "moving his leg"??? I want my children to learn to obey me out of respect for me, rather than fear. I believe that this father was ultimately training his child to fear him (as MANY children trained this way have shown this to be true).

II. Another issue I have with Michael & Debi Pearl's philosophy of child training is the "instruments" that they use to "reinforce instruction":

"Any spanking, to effectively reinforce instruction, must cause pain ... Select your instrument according to the child's size. For the under one year old, a little 10" - 12" willowy branch, about 1/8th" in diameter is sufficient. Sometimes alternatives have to be sought. A one-foot ruler, or its equivalent in a paddle, is a sufficient alternative. For the larger child, a belt or larger tree branch is effective."

Oh my! I just cannot imagine going outside and picking out a tree branch ... in comparison to the size of my child ... in order to beat them with. Can you?

You can read THIS LINK to find out about the 1/4" Plumbing Supply Line, recommended by the Pearls, which was the "instrument" that was used in the death of 7 year old Lydia Schatz, in February.

III. A third issue that I have with Michael & Debi Pearl's philosophy of child training is who they believe has the right to spank a child. My philosophy: Only a parent should spank their own children.

Michael & Debi Pearl believe that they have the right to spank any child that is in their home, whether or not the child's parents are present. On page 53, Michael shares about a time that two sisters were in their home (ages 2 and 14). He seemed shocked that ...

"The fourteen-year-old admitted she was not allowed to discipline her little sister."

So, Debi ... "set up a training session" and "spatted her hand with a little switch".

They also advocate (I can't find the reference right now) allowing any of your older children to switch your younger children. They use an example of a 10 year old being allowed to switch a younger sibling.

Two big problems here ...

#1 We do NOT allow ANY of our older children to spank the younger children. Even if a Big Kid is left in charge for a day ... they do NOT have the right or the authority to spank the children. They are well aware of the many other discipline techniques that can be used (timeouts ... removing privileges ... )

#2 I would probably go BALLISTIC if I found out that an adult had "switched" by child without my permission (which I would NEVER give). I am actually surprised that the Pearls haven't spent time in jail for beating other people's children.

In another instance (on page 56) Debi sets up another "training session" with the mother of the child sitting right there. The little 2 year old boy picked up a plastic toy wrench and hit his mother on the arm with it ...

"... little Johnny got tired of assaulting his mother (all bold emphasis is mine) and turned on my wife. After the first blow, almost without diverting her eyes from the mother, and with no change of expression, she picked up a matching plastic toy. This was not to fight back, but to train. The mother is the one who would most benefit from what was about to occur. As little Johnny drove home the next blow, swiftly and with more than matching force, my wife struck. ... Again, Johnny strikes. Again, swift retribution (training really). ... again, but with less force, he struck. The immediately returned blow was not diminished in strength. ... he again, and with even less force, struck my wife on the arm. I was thinking, "She will lighten up this time and match his diminished intensity." Again, my wife struck, seemingly, with all the force she could possible muster without standing for a wind-up. ... To my amazement, with one-fourth the original force, he again struck my wife. This time, her bottom came off the couch as she drew back to return the blow; and I heard a little karate like wheeze come from somewhere deep inside. I was hoping that Johnny was getting close to learning his lesson. ... (but) he continued to trade blows about ten times. On Johnny's part, the blows got lighter and lighter until, after a short contemplative delay, he gave a little tap that was returned with a swift, forceful blow. ... (then) I could see an idea come into his experimental little head. He turned to his mother and pounded her on the arm. ... my wife handed the wrench to her. The next time Johnny struck, the young mother courageously returned the blow. It only took two or three times to learn his lesson for good. The mother was the one being taught. If she remained consistent, Johnny would be forever broken of a tendency to be a bully. Understand ... this was not discipline, but training."

Do any of you have a problem with this???

I was sick to my stomach while reading this again, and writing it out for you.

I am nearly speechless ...

I cannot even fathom it ...

How can thousands of Christian parents read these Parenting Principles and actually believe that they are based on God's Holy Word???

This. Is. Just. Plain. WRONG!!!

On page 64 Michael shares that ...

"When my wife babysits ... it is always understood to be on the condition we have full liberty to discipline and train."

Would you EVER leave your children in their care???

IV. I will conclude my review of To Train Up A Child with my concern about their purpose in switching a child ... to "break" his spirit.

Speaking of a 3 year old boy who spilled some water and wouldn't clean it up. This is what they would recommend ... (page 59)

"She then administers about 10 slow, patient licks on his bare legs. He cries in pain. If he continues to show defiance by jerking around and defending himself, or by expressing anger, then she will wait a moment and again lecture him and again spank him. When it is obvious he is totally broken, she will hand him the rag and very calmly say, "Johnny, clean up your mess." He should very contritely wipe up the water. To test and reinforce this moment of surrender, give him another command. "Johnny, go over and put your toys all back in the box." .. After three or four faithfully performed acts of obedience, brag on how "smart" a helper he is."

10 switches on his bare legs for spilled water?

Totally broken??? How can anyone see this as a "good thing"?

My heart aches for the precious children who's hearts have been severely "broken" by their parents, as a result of following the Parenting Principles that the Pearls advocate.

How can we stop this foolishness before more children are murdered by their "loving, Christian parents"???

We will conclude with another ... Parenting Guarantee ...

"For the rest of the day, he will be happy and compliant. The transformation is unbelievable.

You have just witnessed the potential making of a peaceful home and of an emotionally stable and obedient child. If you are faithful to guard against and reward every infraction, whether in attitude or action, in just a few days you will have a perfectly obedient and cheerful child."

What more can I say? It truly grieves me to see how this parenting philosophy has grown into a legalistic community of parents who ... crave perfection ... expect perfection ... and won't settle for anything less than perfection from their children. This, in turn, creates children who live in fear of their parents. And ... in addition to fearful children ... this philosophy can actually lead to death ... as was the case for precious little Lydia Schatz.

Let me know if you write a blog post on this critical parenting issue. I believe it would be a GOOD THING to spread the word about the dangers of these principles, which are clearly NOT Biblical. I read that the Pearls made over $1.8 million in 2008 from the sales of these very books. Now, THAT is scary!!! Even if you have not personally heard of the Pearls' ministry, it is BIG ... and it needs to be STOPPED!

If you'd like to read others' thoughts on the topic ...
MommyLife has written 5 posts about the Pearls, since Lydia's death.
TulipGirl has a long list of Christian leaders and ministries that have spoken out against the Pearls' child training methods.
TulipGirl even wrote a post about them back in March 2005. Very interesting.
WorldMagazine has a blog post about it, as well.

Finally, in
Avoiding Millstones, I found heartfelt words of encouragement in "An Open Letter to Those who Advocate Spanking".
That was a great review, Laurel. Thank you for allowing me to repost.
These reviews, friends, aren't written only by people who don't use spanking. These reviews are written by Christians and non-Christians, spankers and non-spankers, basically every kind of concerned, appalled parent.

This post was written by a woman who is the friend of the family being charged in the death of their child, after following the Pearls' methods.
PLEASE don't follow these "guidelines." Please don't encourage others to follow such a messed-up philosophy. And, if you see someone spanking their children excessively, SAY SOMETHING. Who else will stand up for that child? How many lives could be saved, if someone would simply stand up and say something?


michelle edwards joy said...

The older I get the more I realize that the Word of God is taken out of context and used to cause hurt by many people. I am thankful that my Heavenly Father does not punish me in such violence or I would cease to exist. Hopefully we can provide boundaries for our children but still love and accept them so they in turn will show love and acceptance to the world.

michelle edwards joy said...

The older I get the more I realize that the Word of God is taken out of context and used to cause hurt by many people. I am thankful that my Heavenly Father does not punish me in such violence or I would cease to exist. Hopefully we can provide boundaries for our children but still love and accept them so they in turn will show love and acceptance to the world.

A Mom After God's Own Heart said...

Wow, this just breaks my heart. As a Christian mom of two young children, I could not even imagine using these techniques to discipline my girls. I had been looking at purchasing this book. Thank you for this post as it has helped me to save my money and put it towards a much better book down the road. God bless.

Anna K. said...

I'm fighting the urge to vomit...and cry. I believe that structure created by loving parents is important. Spanking, on the rare occasion it's needed, is a last resort and only for our oldest son.

I'm sickened and grieved that there are parents out there who are using this horrible book as a guideline for raising their children.

Thank you for bringing this to our attention...now I'll have an idea what to do if a fellow parent brings this up.

Up2Late said...

Just in asking around I've talked to people who recommend this book. I want to vomit (truly very nauseous). I trust you Wendy when you say you've read the book, so I won't go out and buy it to confirm all this horrible abuse. Thank you for sharing. I cannot believe people I know have this in their homes to use on their children. I hope they do not... Thank you.

Paula (Belgium) said...

Yesterday I read a beautiful piece of Harry Eyres on the philosopher Jacques Barzun, Financial Times, Life & Arts. In this article Barzun's aversion against 'Idea-machine's' is mentioned, idea-machines designed to spare the buyer all further thought.
I got that feeling while reading your warning against this book: here is an idea-machine working, designed to spare busy parents all further thoughts. I am very happy to read you stand up against it and your advice to question everything deserves a Big Bravo.
Kids should never be spanked. It imprints thoughts and feelings that aggression and violence is allowed and normal adult behaviour.

Living Creatively said...

Ladies, I agree totally. The book just hurt my heart. I was -shocked- that so many people have read it, that bookstores still carry it (Not barnes and Noble anymore- they did take a stand.)
Don't the authorities have enough evidence now to do something about it? Since when did whipping children with piping become okay?

Here's another review of the book by my friend at JoyfulChaos: http://www.thejoyfulchaos.com/drop-the-training-and-regret-less/

If you've read the book, write a review. Educate the public. Or share this blog post.

Michelle said...

I use to occasionally read the Pearl's articles on parenting but for some strange reason I never caught on to THIS part! My stomach hurts and i am in tears.

I just want to go hug my children now.

Positive Reinforcement said...

There is nothing wrong with spanking your child appropriately. They need to learn discipline and consequences. BUT it must be done in love and not in anger.

Living Creatively said...

Positive Reinforcement,
The key word is appropriately. I don't believe that spanking should be used exclusively. I rarely spank my childen; redirection, time-outs, etc work better for us. I believe that the punishment should fit the crime. If my son throws his blocks and hits his brother, I take his blocks away.

Like you said, it must be done in love and not anger. The truth, though, is that few people can (or do) consistently spank without negative emotion. And if there is a potential in someone to misuse it, then they shouldn't use it at all. Just my thoughts.

I'm not saying that spanking is -wrong-, just that there are often more effective ways to teach.
Even for someone who primarily disciplines by spanking, I'd hope that they can see the abuse that this book suggests. Whipping a child for crying about being whipped is absurd. Using a tree branch whip on an infant is crazy.

Hermana Linda said...

Excellent review. I collect reviews and arguments which expose the danger of the Pearls' teachings and have added a link to this post. I hope that is ok with you. Thank you for joining in the fight!

julie mason said...

I thought this quote from Charlotte Mason was appropriate since it is obvious the Pearls have NO IDEA what authority is - "It is atuocracy and arbitrary rule which must be enforced, at all points, by a penal code; hence the confusion of thought which exists as to the connection between authority and punishment. The despot rules by terror; he punishes right and left to uphold his unauthorised sway." She had more interesting things to say about the difference between autocracy and authority.

I would suggest, as an antidote, to anyone that has read the Pearl's book that they should read Ross Campbell's book How To Really Parent Your Child. There are enough case studies mentioned in his books to make you think twice before using a heavy-handed form of parenting. He is not anti-spanking by the way, he just thinks it should be used rarely and wisely.

My sister sent me the link to this post - I'm glad you wrote about this as I had not heard anything about it before!

Anonymous said...

good points and the details are more specific than elsewhere, thanks.

- Norman