Books To Beat Your Baby By – The Right-Wing Biblical Approach To Raising A Child

I noticed Leslie Cannold and a few other skeptics that I follow on Twitter chatting about this (highly recommended Twitter-follow, for catching up on relevant links, ideas and issues that you might otherwise miss) – while at the same time I had open in front of me a petition on to request that not endorse certain books:

Currently there are several books available to buy on Amazon (both .com and that advocate, endorse and advise on parenting methods that involve the physical abuse of children. Examples of titles include To Train Up A Child, by Michael and Debi Pearl; Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp; and Don’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Plowman.

Such books, and others like them, promote behaviour which is abusive of children. All of the above books advocate the use of a rod and other implements on children under one.

What exactly are the claims being made?

According to Alternet, this issue has been of great concern for some time: Beating Babies in the Name of Jesus? The Shady World of Right-Wing ‘Discipline’ Guides (There is a brutal movement in America that legitimizes child abuse in the name of God.)

Two stories recently converged to make us pay attention. Last week, a video went viral of a Texas judge brutally whipping his disabled daughter. And on Monday, the New York Times published a story about child deaths in homes that have embraced the teachings of To Train Up a Child, a book by Christian preacher Michael Pearl that advocates using a switch on children as young as six months old. 

…Meanwhile the evangelical leaders who embrace Dobson, the Pearls and Gothard will continue to tell the rest of us how to live “moral” lives while children are beaten in the name of Jesus.

The rest of the article is just as distressing, involving cases of child abuse and justifications for hurting (and worse) very young children.

While early research I read while studying undergrad Psychology indicated that there were no detrimental effects of occasional mild to moderate spanking in a longitudinal study of children from preschool to adolescence (Baumrind, 2001), more recent advice that is endorsed by the American Psychological Association (2010) indicates that it is not endorsed and certainly isn’t effective in the long run:

Corporal punishment of children has long been a topic of controversy in the United States. According to some studies, more than half of all U.S. parents condone spanking as a regular form of punishment for small children. Other studies have shown spanking to be harmful to children. So when children misbehave or act out, what should parents do? APA spoke with Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, John M. Musser professor of psychology at Yale University and director of Yale’s Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic. He was APA’s 2008 president and is the author of many professional-audience books on child psychology and behavior.

Dr. Kazdin. There is a good deal of research that has already been conducted that shows that anything beyond very mild physical punishment does not work in the long term and has negative consequences. While not all child development experts agree, my advice to parents is to avoid physical punishment altogether; there are simply more effective ways to teach and discipline your child.

This is a distressing topic and although these books are clearly being distributed, we can make a stand against them being endorsed by booksellers and reporting / retelling about useful articles that promote better strategies for child rearing. Feel free to pass on that link to the APA article to anyone who is questioning the ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ attitude.

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About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.

  • nijm

    Petition signed. I was [mildly] spanked as a child and all it did was make me dislike the parent who did the spanking – a feeling that still exists in adulthood, unfortunately.

  • davidct

    Amazon allows product reviews and ratings. It might be useful to look up these books and leave a review. Of course negative reviews might be found to be incentives to buy by some people.

    There was an interesting study commented on by the Skeptics Guide to the Universe which indicated that abusive parenting is a good way to create effective liars.

  • Aliasalpha

    Now now if parents don’t beat their children to the point of death, who will? The schools?

    It’s stuff like this that makes me wonder if I really should overthrow world governments and install myself as a benevolent dictator. I mean I’d be great at it and all but stuff like this… the pearl’s would never get a fair trial from me. Although on the plus side my shiny laser-armed killbots would get a field trial…

  • Lou Doench

    Hemant over at Friendly Atheist hosted a lively and reasoned debate on this subject yesterday…


    Ok, I might be stretching on the “reasoned” part, it pretty much devolved into a lot of anectdata getting thrown around by armchair psychoanalysts who were spanked as kids and turned out fine thank you very much, sprinkled with sanctimonious assholes who think we’ve scarred our children for life by looking at them too hard.

    Fun Times…

    • Kylie Sturgess

      Yes, which is why I did a little reading around (having found the survey in the morning) before posting about the newly-found article. There are a range of views, naturally. But I’d rather err on the side of caution in regards to hitting a child of mine – certainly not endorse the books that are mentioned. :/

      • Lou Doench

        I’m always very cautious when hitting my children… first, make sure they aren’t armed.

        • hemlock

          Casting parents as “sanctimonious assholes” doesn’t help. You’ll find if you read their arguments they are not saying anything remotely like that, but that there are other ways of teaching/disciplining a child that hitting them and that not hitting does not equal no discipline.

          As a person who survived the old-fashioned strap (both at home and school) as a child complete with the welts and bruises that it left behind and who does not appreciate at all the argument that merely surviving it means it’s OK to perpetuate it I’d say the norm of hitting children for “discipline” has to stop. When milder forms of it are condoned, it’s selling down the river those that really are harmed by this as violence against children is normalised and justified as being necessary and even good for them by the adults in their lives. The excesses can and do go unnoticed because that’s what everyone does. It’s a completely normal and acceptable thing to see an adult hitting a child, someone much smaller and more vulnerable than them. And when hitting a child fails the only option left is to hit them harder and for longer. That harder, longer hitting is damaging. Sometimes it goes too far and a child dies.

          Slippery slope, but that’s the way it is. The abusers can just slip in under the radar in the environment where it’s acceptable to hit children.

          • Kylie Sturgess

            Yes, which is why I linked to an earlier 2000 study which indicated that it was okay. Times change, cultures differ, and yet the ‘slippery slope’ fallacy can also have some truth to it. I’d rather err on the side of caution. :/

  • Alethea H. Claw

    One of the things that bothers me is the way these people get cover. There’s always people replying “I was spanked and I turned out OK” and “I spank my kids and it’s OK” – and they are usually referring to a few open-handed smacks on the bottom. This is perhaps OK while children are at a certain stage of development. If there’s any harm, it’s minor and hard to prove. (Some disapprove of even this level and that’s fine; I only claim that it’s a debatable topic.)

    But that’s not what these books are talking about.

    These books aren’t talking about a little smack. They advocate regular beatings of babies and toddlers with sticks and straps. This should *not* be open to debate. This is out and out wrong.