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 Change.org to request that Amazon.com not endorse certain books:

Currently there are several books available to buy on Amazon (both .com and .co.uk) 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.


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