The world's largest bookseller, Amazon, has a policy not to carry material with "offensive content." Their policy description states, "What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect." This seems like a bit of a surface skimmer for such a large international corporation. Doesn't the definition of "offensive" differ dramatically from person to person? As far as books are concerned, there is a whole raft of literature, from Lady Chatterley to The God Delusion, that some people, somewhere, find abhorrent, and some people, elsewhere, find interesting and essential.
When it comes to parenting manuals, things are no different. Some people, myself included, find the practice of cry it out (CIO) - leaving a baby or small child to cry themselves to sleep - quite offensive. Yet there are a host of people who do not. Many books are available today on Amazon and elsewhere which promote this damaging practice. I wrote a post, Judgemental, in which I questioned where we draw the line... At what point do we decide this is not just a matter of "parenting choice," but simply wrong.
There are some manners of treating babies and children that could never be described as "grey areas." The abuse of children can be physical, emotional, sexual or neglectful. To hurt a child, to make them feel worthless, to betray their naive trust, to fail to offer them even basic care - these are all forms of abuse. We know, when we meet such terrible situations, that wrong is being done. We are deeply shocked, upset and saddened. And we are offended.
Amazon currently stocks several parenting manuals that promote the physical and emotional abuse of children and babies. The main player in the pack, To Train Up a Child, was recently drawn to my attention by two Facebook groups, The Mom: Informed and The Dangers of Baby Training. The Mom: Informed published the following advice given by Debi Pearl. Debi is one of two authors of To Train Up a Child, along with her husband, Michael. When they were asked on their website, No Greater Joy, what they meant exactly about using a "rod on babies under 12 months of age." This is her reply. (Please be warned that the content is disturbing):
We never used the rod to punish a child younger than 12 months. You should read No Greater Joy Volume One and Volume Two. We discussed this subject several times in those two books. For young children, especially during the first year, the rod is used very lightly as a training tool. You use something small and light to get the child’s attention and to reinforce your command. One or two light licks on the bare legs or arms will cause a child to stop in his tracks and regard your commands. A 12-inch piece of weed eater chord works well as a beginner rod. It will fit in your purse or pocket.
Later, a plumber's supply line is a good spanking tool. You can get it at Wal-Mart or any hardware store. Ask for a plastic, ¼ inch, supply line. They come in different lengths and several colors; so you can have a designer rod to your own taste. They sell for less than $1.00. A baby needs to be trained all day, everyday. It should be a cheerful, directing training, not a correction training. If a 10-month-old plays in the dirt in the flowerpot, a simple swat to the hand accompanied with the command “No,” said in a cheerful but authoritative voice, should be sufficient.
When your 6-month-old baby grabs sister’s hair, while he still has a hand full of hair, swat his hand or arm and say “No, that hurts sister.” If he has already let go of her hair, then put his hand back on her hair, so as to engage his mind in the former action, and then carry on with the hand swatting and the command. If you found your baby trying to stick something in the electrical receptacle, keep his hand on the object and near the receptacle while giving him a few swats on the back of the offending hand, and this to the sound of your rebuke—“No, don't touch, No, don't touch.” This time he needs to cry and be upset.
If your 10-month-old is pitching a fit because he wants to be picked up, then you must reinforce your command with a few stinging swats. You are not punishing him; you are causing him to associate his negative behavior with negative consequences. Never reward bad behavior with indifference. Tell the baby “No” and give him a swat. If your response is new, he may be offended and scream louder. But continue your normal activities as if you are unaffected. Wait one minute, and then tell the baby to stop crying. If he doesn’t, again swat him on his bare legs. You don’t need to undress him, turn him over, or make a big deal out of it. Just swat him where any skin is exposed. Continue to act as if you don’t notice the fit. Wait two minutes and repeat. Continue until the baby realizes that this is getting worse not better. Most babies will keep it going for 3 or 4 times and then slide to a sitting position and sob it out. When this happens, it signals a surrender, so give him two minutes to get control and then swoop him up as if the fit never happen and give him a big hug, BUT don't hold him in the manner he was demanding. Now remove yourself from the area so as to remove him from association with the past event.
Don’t ever hit a small child with your hand. You are too big and the baby is too small. The surface of the skin is where the most nerves are located and where it is easiest to cause pain without any damage to the child. The weight of your hand does little to sting the skin, but can cause bruising or serious damage internally. Babies need training but they do not need to be punished. Never react in anger or frustration. If you lose it, get your self under control before you attempt to discipline a child.Further reading led me to discover that in the Pearl's book, To Train Up a Child:
- Thumping, smacking and hair pulling are promoted as a way of training a child to obey instructions.
- Children are compared children to dogs.
- The use of a rod is promoted, which the authors describe as a "divine enforcer."
- A meter long branch or a belt is recommended for use on an older child and a smaller object on a younger child.
- "Any spanking to reinforce instruction, must cause pain."
- "If you have to sit on him to spank him, do not hesitate... hold the resisting child in a helpless position for several minutes, or until he is totally surrendered."
- Michael Pearl says his wife trained their daughter to stop biting during breastfeeding by pulling on her baby's hair. "Understand, the baby is not being punished. Just conditioned."
I feel certain that no one reading can be in any doubt: such advice does not belong to a grey area of parenting do's and don'ts - it can only be described as child abuse, and it is distressing and offensive.
I have spent the past month researching this matter and I was shocked to discover that this book belongs to a section of parenting literature which appears to all be published by those in the United States who claim to be Christian fundamentalists. Many similar books are also available on Amazon. For example, Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp is discussed in many child abuse awareness locations online and advocates using a rod to punish babies as young as eight months. So does the disturbingly titled, Don't Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Plowman. I have also discovered the U.S. case in which a young child was beaten to death, and her sister severely battered, while their parents used To Train Up A Child as their parental training guide. The CNN report, including an interview with authors Michael and Debi Pearl, can be found here.
While reading and researching I have been thinking a lot about censorship, and the banning of books - something I typically wholeheartedly disagree with doing. "Those who burn books, will ultimately burn men," as the Heinrich Heine quote goes. I have wondered at the wisdom of getting involved in this debate, and other people who have already been involved have told me, "It's pointless."
Many times I have held back from writing this article. But I also know, from several years of working with the victims of abuse in my professional life prior to becoming a mother, that it is very easy, once we enter this world, to unwittingly find ourselves adopting the distorted thinking that actually belongs to the abused or the abuser. "Perhaps I should not speak up..." "Perhaps this isn't really that bad..." or even, "This is a matter of 'personal choice'..." These are all thoughts that run through the minds of victim and perpetrator, and consequently pollute our own thinking.
I know from experience that it is important when addressing situations of abuse, to plant our feet firmly on the ground, take a deep breath, and hold on very tightly to what we know to be right. It is for this reason that I am writing this article, and for this reason that I have decided to petition Amazon.
Let's be clear, this is not a petition to ban books. It is simply to ask Amazon to cease their stocking of parenting manuals which advise the physical abuse of children.
What is the difference? To ban a book is a very big move, with implications on freedom of speech which need to be considered at high levels before such a move is made. I am not saying that this shouldn't happen at some point. But for now, to call on Amazon to review their policy of selling the books seems a logical and more manageable step. With a petition thousands of signatures long, Amazon will be forced to take some kind of action, even if it is to simply respond and say that they are going to continue to sell the book, aware of the contents. As such a high profile retailer, whatever action they take will be news worthy, and will raise awareness of these books and the destructive measures they push upon children.
A petition will open up the question of whether such books that justify forms of child abuse should be allowed at all to a far wider group than I am able to reach through my work. Hopefully, it will also generate critical thinking and discussion about the whole issue of smacking, hitting and physical abuse as part of an aggressive parenting approach.
More than one person has said to me recently, "Stopping the books from being sold will not make any difference - you cannot stop people abusing their children." This is not the case. First, people can and do change their attitudes on such matters, and often news articles or changes in policy trigger such changes. Second, to throw up our hands and say, "It's hopeless, let's stay silent," places us back in the role of victim or perpetrator again, burying our feelings of outrage and pain, and deciding to say nothing.
The fight against all forms of child abuse is complicated, difficult, challenging, and can sometimes seem hopeless, but this does not mean we should not try. Like the victims, we need to find our voices and cry out.
Please take a moment to sign the petition urging Amazon to stop carrying books which advocate the physical abuse of children. To view the petition and sign, click here:
Thank you for speaking up on behalf of those who may not otherwise be heard.
11/07/11 UPDATE: Read The New York Times article here.
Milli Hill worked as an Arts Psychotherapist for several years before becoming a full time mother. Through her professional work, she gained extensive experience with both adults and children who lived through various forms of abuse. Hill now writes both comical and contemplative posts about motherhood at The Mule. Topics include breastfeeding, positive birth, evidence based parenting, and life for women and mothers in the 21st century.
If you are struggling with discipline in your home, or thinking ahead to the future with your beloved little ones, please review many of the excellent, effective gentle child rearing books available here.