I feel like I’ve not had a rant on here in the longest time… Heh, that’s writing for you. I’ve been busy locked in the Writers’ Cave (it’s an actual place) working on Match, but when news of a certain book currently being sold at reputable retailers everywhere reached my ears, I decided to climb out of the coffee-coma and fire up the old blog. You see, this book has got me pretty riled up. And what is it? Why, a “Christian” parenting guide.
I put “Christian” in inverted commas because I see nothing Christian about it. You may have heard about this book, To Train Up A Child, already. There’s been a wide backlash about it in recent days because a couple have just been found guilty of murdering their child by following this book’s advice. They beat and starved her to death. Her naked, emaciated body was found face-down in their garden.
What’s most shocking is this isn’t the first case of its kind, but the third.
Yet this is a book still widely available: distributed free at some churches and sent to military families. It’s Amazon (US) ranking speaks for itself:
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,445 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
- #6 in Books > Christian Books & Bibles > Christian Living > Family
- #11 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Parenting & Relationships > Parenting > Child Care
- #26 in Books > Parenting & Relationships > Parenting > Early Childhood
I know a thing or two about Amazon rankings and I can tell you it’s selling well into double figures a day to reach that level in the store. I only hope and pray those sales are coming from people who are so incredulous to the contents they need to read the book themselves to believe it, and this current sentencing hasn’t in some macabre way promoted the ethos espoused within its pages.
So what’s in this book that is so bad? Well, here’s some examples of the ‘advice’ of the authors:
Page 65: co-author Debi Pearl whips the bare leg of a 15 month old 10 times for not playing with something she tells him to play with.
After about ten acts of stubborn defiance, followed by ten switchings, he surrendered his will to one higher than himself.
And here, on page 46:
If you have to sit on him to spank him, then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he has surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring, and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally…
The book advocates the use of corporal punishment with objects (willow switches, moving up to plastic tubing) from six months old. We’re talking teeny weeny babies here, that the Pearls believe should be reprimanded with a stick. Not because the children have done something wrong – indeed, from reading the introduction alone it is clear that if you reach the stage of having to punish a transgression the Pearls believe you’ve already let things slide too far – but for the purpose of training the child to do no wrong in the future.
The first ‘technique’ they offer is, to my mind, classic bating. The book advises parents to put an attractive, interesting object within the child’s sight and reach and, when they reach for it, to switch them. Repetition of said activity will, the Pearls claim, instill in the child the desired behavioural pattern, i.e. not to touch, before the child has ever even attempted to touch something they shouldn’t.
Note this training began with the Pearls’ own children when they “were about to crawl (in the case of one, roll) around the room.” Before their children were even walking, they were disciplining – sorry, training – them by beating them with a stick.
Is this kind of training effective? Well, maybe to some extent. If you learn from an early age that to touch something invites physical punishment for no apparent reason then sure, you’ll probably keep your hands in your pockets your whole life just to be sure. But what is it the Pearls are really teaching their kids? There is no why or how or wherefore. There is no attempt to engage with the child, to educate them in any rational manner. The Pearls compare training a child to training a dog or a horse, and they certainly seem to view children in much the same light: as dumb beasts, incapable of reasoning.
No, by using such aversion therapies (because let’s call a spade a spade here) they are stifling the child’s natural curiosity about the world around them. They’re telling them that being inquisitive is bad and requires punishment. They’re raising drones, not people.
There’s also a lot of terminology of warfare, of strength and weakness and battle and defeat. “Break his will… Hold him until he has surrendered… Prove that you are bigger, tougher…”
I’m sorry, I thought these were children we were talking about – moreover, the children of the people taking the advice. I can understand why someone teaching bottom set year 9 would consider what they do akin to open warfare, and I’ll be the first to admit that I turned into a monster when I hit my teens, but treating a toddler like they’re some malevolent mastermind out to destroy you unless you destroy them first is surely a sign of insanity. Never mind that the Pearls are ascribing the type of mental cognition and intent to children at an age where they simply don’t possess the ability to behave in that manner.
Are children manipulative? Of course. Want, scream, get. It’s a cycle we all know and I think we’ve all silently judged some harried mother in the supermarket who caves to a child throwing a temper tantrum, but that doesn’t make the child some diabolical genius who spends his days plotting how best to humiliate and extort his parent. Those kind of scenarios are cause and effect and start with the fact that very young children lack the verbal or emotional capacity to express their wants or, indeed, to understand why all their whims aren’t met on demand. Children cry, that’s what they do. There are ways of disciplining temper tantrums without caving to the child’s demands, but they don’t involve sitting on the child and holding him down to beat him, or spanking him until he’s too hoarse to cry anymore.
Yet we must ask, given the abundance of good advice and help there is for struggling parents, how a book such as this comes to sell at all. How is it that three separate sets of parents have taken the Pearls’ advice so much to heart that they have murdered their own children in following it? How many more children are right now living under similar regimes? How many more at risk, how many have died whose deaths weren’t linked to this book when perhaps they should have been, and how many more will die? The front cover proudly proclaims there to be “645,000 copies in print” and god knows how many ebooks have been sold. Even if only a fraction of the recipients actually follow this so-called ‘advice’, that’s still an awful lot of children who are at risk of physical and psychological harm or even death.
I’m afraid, and I really don’t like to say it, but it’s the “Christian” angle. Ever heard of the Milgram Experiment? Ordinary people administered what they believed were real electric shocks to other ordinary people – up to and including a level they knew to be fatal – because a man in a white coat told them to do so. Milgram initially devised the experiment because he was trying to understand how people committed the most terrible atrocities during the Holocaust. Nobody predicted just how many would do what they were told because an authority figure (the Experimenter) told them to do it. Yet they did. Scores and scores of them administered what they believed was a fatal shock to a perfect stranger because they were told to.
This kind of behaviour relies in large part on (a) compliance to authority, and (b) a sense of removed responsibility. “Somebody else told me to do it, so it’s their fault.”
The Pearls are relying on (a) positing themselves as authority figures (people who advise about child-rearing must, of course, be experts in the subject) and (b) God. Parents who subscribe to their methods are not only following ‘expert’ advice (although, raising their own children aside, I’m not sure what qualifications the Pearls claim to have in this field), but they’re also doing God’s will, following His word. It’s a heady mix.
I’m not saying this is a Christian-specific problem, or that all or even most Christians raise their children in this manner. The numbers are blessedly few and I’m not going to start bashing anyone for their religion, but the fact remains that religion is a tool which can be used by the manipulative to subdue the faithful.
Yes, Michael and Debi Pearl, I’m talking about you.
It’s not so hard to see how a young, inexperienced and religious couple, raising a child and perhaps feeling a little overwhelmed, could come to put too much stock in a book they received at/through their church, and put their misgivings aside to follow its instructions. Certainly, if such a book were endorsed by their pastor or congregation, and seemed to speak from a position of authority both on child-rearing and on God’s will, that will be enough to lend it credence with a particular demographic.
Let me be clear. There is nothing Christian about this book. It speaks not of love or compassion. The purpose of having children is to love them, to raise them right and to help them grow into good, honest, well-adjusted people. This book will not aid any parent in achieving that aim. The only thing this book can teach is how to rule by fear in your own home. Having a child subdued and scared because you keep them under constant threat of physical punishment is not the same thing as having a well-behaved child.
The only way to raise a decent, moral, Christian, adult is to teach them right from wrong, help them understand what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour, and instill in them a strong moral compass. You cannot do any of that with a child too scared to think, all you’re teaching that kid is that they have to be still and silent whenever you’re around or when they’re in an environment you control. What happens when you’re not around or that child grows into an independent adult? Think about the type of human being you’re raising them to be.
That’s why such books should be stopped at the point of sale. Yes, there would still be some copies in circulation, perhaps printed privately and distributed through churches or by the Pearls themselves, but certainly not half a million copies or more. I’m sure you’ll remember from my last rant that Amazon is once again whitewashing the world’s minds by censoring erotica. Yet this book stands untouched on their shelves, ready to be downloaded to your Kindle at the click of a button.
I’d wager there is far more harm to be caused in one paragraph of this book than in the entirety of the erotica catalogue. Children have died at the hands of their own parents as a direct result of reading what is contained in this book. I don’t believe in censorship but if ever there was a case for it, this is it. If you agree with me, go sign the petition over at Change.org to have this book removed from Amazon’s shelves. it won’t remove it from circulation completely, and it won’t help the children who have already been harmed, but it could protect more kids in the future and it will make a serious dent in the finances of the authors. And, let’s face it, that’s why they really wrote it in the first place, otherwise they’d be giving the ebook away rather than charging $6 a copy.