Thoughts from the Christian perspective: discernment issues as they relate to the current state of the church and society.
We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer
Saturday, January 30, 2010
To Train Up A Child?
This week I was asked what I knew about Mike & Debi Pearl, of “No Greater Joy” ministries. The outcome of this question led to my supplying a review of their book, To Train Up A Child, which I did several years back.
“No Greater Joy” is another one of those ministries which tend to divide churches due to legalism. The Pearls were one of the dividing issues in the last church we left, and they have a virtual cult following among home-schoolers. I will say right up front that they have some good teachings, but I can not recommend them.
So now I am going to give you my review of To Train Up A Child. The page numbers are from their 13th Printing, revised August 2000, so if you have a different edition, the page numbers may be different.
For the most part this book has some very good advice on raising children. I can’t recommend it though, because it also has many problems. One of the things that bothered me throughout the entire text was the attitude expressed: they are the experts to be consulted by all. They also project the philosophy that all children need to be spanked (for them it means use of a “switch”) which, from personal experience, is definitely not the case. There are also instances of Scripture-twisting and claiming to know the mind of God. The following are the areas I found problematic:
P. 1 SWITCH YOUR KIDS: "consistently rewarding every transgression with a switching" shows lack of compassion or common sense. Not every transgression warrants harsh punishment. There are many other corrective measures available.
P. 2 OBEDIENCE TRAINING: The book starts with bad philosophy by comparing child training with dog training. If you train a child the same way you train a dog, then you will end up with a child that is not much more than a pet.
P. 2 "TENNN-HUTT!!": Another philosophical problem. Children should not be trained like soldiers. Anyone who has ever watched the movie, The Sound Of Music, will see the problem of training children by military methods. You may get good soldiers, but not good children.
P. 4 TRAINING NOT TO TOUCH: The Pearls call this “training,” but it is more appropriately defined as "conditioning." I call it abuse to set up a scenario waiting for the child to disobey just so you can "switch" him.
P. 5 PLANT YOUR TREE IN THE MIDST OF THE GARDEN: There is no indication in the Bible that God put the tree in the Garden of Eden in order to "train the couple." Reading that purpose from the Scripture is eisegesis. The suggestion is to set some object out to entice the child into a "training session." This is a dishonest technique and can lead to distrust by the child. Why not wait for a real situation for the training? "Switching" the hand is excessive in my opinion; why not just smack the hand?
The next section continues this thought of "baiting for training," but then adds the idea that you want to have your child associate the word "no" with pain. This is not training; it is conditioning. I wouldn't want my child to associate any word with pain.
P. 6-7 OBEDIENCE TRAINING - BITING BABIES: The teaching is to inflict pain on the child who bites while nursing. My wife only responded with, "OW!", which startled the baby, causing cessation of the biting. If the baby bit again, she again said, "OW!" or "that hurt", which again would startle the baby. This method worked with both children and they never suffered any punishment or pain!
P. 7 COME WHEN I CALL YOU: The "booty camp." This is just plain ridiculous; it is a game that is dishonest to the child. Again, the use of real situations is better, because the child will learn the purpose is for protection rather than blind bullying.
P. 8 NEVER TOO YOUNG TO TRAIN: The claim is that a baby's crying is self-centered and manipulative. This is utter nonsense. A baby is in a new and scary world and needs comfort and security. NEVER abandon a child to cry.
P. 8 STEPS TO OBEDIENCE: "Switching" a 5-month-old child for anything is unconscionable. Block the stairs with a gate to protect the child. Punishment is for disobedience, and a 4-month-old doesn't understand the concept yet. If you want Pavlov's dog, then conditioning a 5-month-old is fine, but I prefer to treat the child as what he is; an innocent being exploring a new world.
P. 14-15 GOD-GIVEN SELF-CENTEREDNESS; TO BLAME OR NOT TO BLAME: This section starts with an unscriptural assumption: "For the purpose of moral development, God created us to exist in a constant state of need and dependence." There is no scriptural basis for this claim, so it then becomes a claim of knowing the mind of God! A baby is not really "self-centered" except for the fact that he only knows he has needs. Self-centeredness is a choice of sinful attitude, and that is not what a baby has.
P. 18 WHEN DRIVES BECOME SIN: Pearls say, "God will not condemn a child until he has grown into a state of accountability. However, during this transition, which occurs between the ages of about two and fourteen..." They should have said they believe God will do this, but the Scripture doesn't tell us. Being dogmatic here is claiming extra-biblical revelation. I also believe this to be true, but I certainly think two is an unreasonable age to suggest. I would think more in the line of seven or eight. Pearls then suggest that "responsibility for sin is not imputed unto him until his moral soul is fully functional." We just don't know this, and claiming it authoritatively is wrong.
P. 37 SUMMARY: Infants do not "falsely [represent their] needs to" "get [their] wants met as well." They can't reason in that fashion. What she calls false representation is nothing more than a felt need for security. The whole paragraph is full of this inane thinking.
P. 38-40 GUILT AND SELF-LOATHING; GUILT: Their theory of guilt is much like common psychobabble. It ascribes feelings to children that most likely are not there.
P. 40 THE POWER OF "ABSOLUTION": The assumption that spanking always takes away guilt is unfounded. In fact, there may be nothing wrong for still feeling guilt about something for which one is punished; it may help prevent a recurrence.
P. 42 THE CANE, NOT THE CORNER: This section is definitely only an opinion, with no factual basis. "Dark corners and dark closets breed darkness in the soul. An empty room and a pouting child incubate guilt and anger. Only the rod and reproof bring correction. Somehow children know the rod is their just due." So how were we able to train my children with very little use of the rod (actually, the hand)? We even used the corner and the empty room!
P. 43 TO DO MY DUTY: I think 5-10 swats with the "rod" is excessive. It doesn't take that much to get the point across.
P. 44 INSTRUMENTS OF LOVE: "under one-year-old" should NOT be spanked! Also, the hand is just fine for spanking; it is easier to tell that way how much pain is being inflicted.
P. 46 "Reproof without the rod is equally unbalanced, for it leaves the impression that the law has no teeth." The Pearls obviously have no imagination if they think the rod is the only way to show that the law has "teeth."
P. 48 "Use of the rod is not optional with a Bible believer." Can the Pearls back this up with Scripture? The rod has its place, but if the rod is not warranted, it IS optional.
P. 50 THE OLDER SISTER (begins on P.49): There is no biblical support for the contention that God put the tree in the garden as a temptation - to see what would happen. God knew what would happen.
P. 53-54 STRIKING OUT: Trading blows with a toddler is nonsense. The first time he hits, the object is to be removed from his hand as he is told "NO!" If he repeats the action he should be spanked then and there for the disobedience. Waiting until he has done it for 10 times is ludicrous. The Pearl's reasoning was that he wasn't being mean so it was "training" vs "discipline." Mean or not, the child was behaving in a wrong manner and must be stopped immediately; once he was told "no" it would be rebellion.
P. 56 THE PROPER RESPONSE (begins on p.55): Again the recommendation is 10 "licks". Why so many? The purpose can be accomplished without so much pain being inflicted. It would have to be an unusually stubborn child to need that much corrective action.
P. 57 A SWITCH AT NAP TIME SAVES MINE: Putting an infant down for a nap. The first question would have to be, how old is the "infant"? Babies should be held by Mom or Dad until they are asleep. They can also be carried in a frontal carrier so as to feel the security of the parent. A young child can be cuddled either in a bed or on a sofa while they fall asleep. Again, it is the sense of security and trust that is being inculcated; children need to be comforted even when they are tired.
P. 57 OBEDIENCE: A one-year-old child should never be spanked for not wanting to nap. Spanking should be reserved only for disobedience or rebellion. You can't order a child to sleep when he is not sleepy. Rather than "putting the child down" for a nap, sit with the child, cuddling him and maybe even reading or singing to him to help him get sleepy.
Chapter 10, SAFETY TRAINING: The guy sounds like an ex-drill sergeant. While his method will definitely work, it is unnecessary. Our training was done with real situations as they presented themselves, and it was just as effective.
Chapter 11, POTTY TRAINING: Their philosophy on potty training is, in my opinion, just plain stupid. Using "bathroom" words such as "pee pee" and "doo doo" is inane and unnecessary. We used the words "wet" and "bowel movement." If a child is not ready to be potty-trained it will be frustrating for both child and parent, and can often lead to the child "training" the parent! A three-week-old child, as implied in the one paragraph, is much too young to try potty-training; it is foolishness to suggest otherwise! Even 3-months old is too young. Hosing a child is inappropriate and abusive. I could think of much better ideas that would work just as well for a late-comer.
Our daughter was enticed to begin potty-training when she was about 2 years old because she wanted to wear pretty panties. Our son cared nothing about it until he was almost 3, and, if I remember correctly, he also wanted to wear underwear instead of diapers.
P. 75-76 THEY BETTER NOT MISTREAT MY BABY: This whole section is inane at best. The idea that if you defend your child you make him a "sissy" is utter nonsense. Protecting one's child gives that child security! It matters not that the world is unfair, Christians still must teach fairness because that's how we are to treat others. We do indeed deserve equality, and to teach otherwise is harmful.
P. 80 TOUGH TEENS: "When I was yet young I determined that I would rear no sissies." This tells a lot about the author's thought processes. The idea of ignoring children's falls and injuries to "toughen them up" is ludicrous. There is absolutely nothing wrong with comforting a child who is injured. Yes, teach the child the difference between a real and feigned injury, but the latter should not be a problem with a child who has been raised right to begin with. For example, when a child falls down, checking to see if he is okay gives him assurance that you care about his well-being, even if he is not injured. If he is crying from a minor fall, he can be examined, pronounced uninjured, and sent on his way. Crying at a young age is usually the result of being startled about the fall, and will cease once the child sees he is okay. Comforting a child that is injured teaches that child compassion. It appears that Mr. Pearl is a regular "Mr. Macho" and wants his kids to be the same. One doesn't have to be "Mr. Macho" to not be a "sissy."
Chapter 15: The claim that a pacifier or bottle for grumpiness is leading to obesity is downright silly. The whole of chapter 15 is pure psychobabble, with mainly cause and effect non sequiturs.
Chapter 19: To say, "Never even consider sending your children to private Christian schools" is irresponsible. Why not consider a good Christian school as an alternative to home schooling? Not everyone has the ability to teach at home, regardless of what the Pearls think. And not all home schooling is of good quality! Whether you consider public school would be based on many, many variables. I do believe that public school, in general, is no place for Christians, but I do know that there are rare instances of public schools that don't conform to the norm. This would be a consideration if home school is not an option. And what about states which make home-schooling virtually impossible?
Chapter 20. This chapter is actually very good. The problems with it are primarily in his attitude towards
education, such as saying it should be finished by age 12 or 13, and a few other comments. He is also very strict on eating likes/dislikes and the ownership of toys.
Well, there you have my analysis of the Pearl’s child training ideas. While my words may sometimes seem harsh (“ludicrous,” “inane,” “ridiculous,” “stupid,” “nonsense,”), I have very little patience with people who abuse children in the manner the Pearls teach, and justify it by their legalistic interpretation of Scripture. While they are not as bad as the Ezzos, I could never recommend such abusive treatment of children in the name of "training up a child."
UPDATE 12/20/10: I have read an advertisement for this book in a Pearl publication, which says this book teaches "God's way of parenting." Once you claim something is "God's way" and it isn't in the Bible, you've just claimed direct revelation from God and approval from God, and that if anyone disagrees with this book, they are therefore disagreeing with God. This is very dangerous ground.
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