Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

Train Up a Child


I have very mixed thoughts about corporal punishment of children.  As a child I was disciplined in this manner.  Only a few times, mind you.  It wasn’t my parent’s go-to method of discipline.  As I got older that form of punishment was abandoned all together for more painful forms…like grounding.  Because of this rearing I cannot say that I believe it to be inherently wrong to spank a child.  Will I use that as a form of discipline for my children?  It is doubtful. 

Ultimately I believe that different forms of discipline work for different children.  Because, as a child, my dad could speak to me harshly and I’d feel like I’d had a lashing I didn’t require a lot of physical discipline, corporal or otherwise.  Neither did my siblings.  My parents firm but loving stance on issues when I was small let me know where my boundaries were and what would happen if I crossed them.

Michael and Debi Pearl have been in the news again recently, having been linked to another child abuse case. I have not read their book To Train Up a Child.  I don’t intend to.  Maybe I should to give them a fair shake, but just reading the commentary about the book from it’s very own authors and advocates is enough for me to know that I would disagree vehemently with it’s contents.

In the book spanking for children as young as six months is prescribed.   That is the most absurd thing I’ve heard in long time.  Spank a six month old?  What is more is that this spanking is prescribed with implements such as a thin dowel rod or pvc pipe or with a length of hose.  Ridiculous.  These methods are designed to break the will of a child.  Break the will of a child?  Is that what you want to do as a parent?  I’m not sure it is.  Now, If you have a strong willed child you may sometimes wish that’s what you could do.  But isn’t what you are really after to teach your child how to use their will?  If you break the will of a child, do they have any personality and thoughts of their own?  Don’t you want your child to be an individual, not a follower?

Evidently this book also prescribes some form of isolation and/or fasting for the disobedient child.  I’m not sure if this fasting is an isolated instance of sending a disobedient child to bed without dinner or if it is the prolonged withholding of food.  Some grown ups I know could use a good time-out.  But prolonged withholding of food and affection isn’t discipline, it’s abuse.

A number of parents who have followed the advice in the Pearl’s book have either taken this so far as to result in the death of their child or have been investigated and found guilty of child abuse.  The Pearl’s deny any wrongdoing on their part.  They say that these parents are taking their advice to extremes. Maybe so.  This is another topic I am torn about.  How much responsibility do the Pearl’s bare?  By their own admission they are, in my humble opinion, abusive.  Does that mean that others have to follow suit?  Where does personal responsibility begin and end?  Would these same parents be equally abusive without such a guide?  Maybe the Pearl’s are arming already abusive people with tools to carry out their own sadistic tendancies. 

Whatever my thoughts about forms of discipline, I believe it should be constructive not destructive.  It is not necessary to destroy a child to teach them acceptable behavior. Discipline is not punishment, it is instruction.  I’m neither an advocate of corporal punishment nor am I totally against it.  I don’t believe it should be a primary form of disciplinary action.  It should never be done in anger.  No disciplinary action should be done in anger.  It should be for the devolpment and instruction of the child. 

This video is a prime example of corporal punishment carried to an extreme.  It is difficult to watch and may be a trigger for some.  It is yet another story of a parent or parents who cannot manage their own anger, transfering to the child.  Train up a child indeed.  Whatever and however you treat your children they are unlikely to depart from it, passing maltreatment or goodwill from generation to generation.

(Trigger warning)

16 thoughts on “Train Up a Child

  1. "But isn't what you are really after to teach your child how to use their will? If you break the will of a child, do they have any personality and thoughts of their own? Don't you want your child to be an individual, not a follower?"That's the thing. We would see an independent will as a healthy thing, but in fundamentalist circles, the emphasis is on strict obedience (to God, church, parents, etc.), not independent thought. This can shed light on these extreme and sickening forms of abuse.As a side note, I don't believe in depriving children of meals as discipline. Children are growing and need all the nourishment they can get to be healthy.


  2. I completely agree with you, Ahab. I have, however, watched my sister battle with her 3 year old over meal time. It is certainly a battle of wills and he would rather eat junk than real food. She has taken him to his room and put him to bed when he refused to eat and after she had tried to force him. I've never seen anything like it.


  3. It seems like your upbringing was similar to mine. I was spanked as a kid too. I don't see that physical discipline is necessarily wrong. I think sometimes that shock to the system is the most effective option for certain children, and at certain times, and maybe only at certain ages. But it should not be the go-to method of reprimanding a child in every case.Maybe the Pearl's are arming already abusive people with tools to carry out their own sadistic tendancies.That is too true. You don't want to give dogmatic license for abuse.Also, it should never be used as an expression of the parent's frustration (as the man in the video does), but rather (as you point out) for constructive, teaching purposes. The trouble for all of us is that it is often difficult to separate what you should do from what you want to do at that moment of frustration. Unless the parents establish ground rules to the circumstances when they will employ corporal punishment for themselves, then even good-intentioned parents may go too far before they realize it.As you point out, parents who can't control their anger should never physically discipline their children in their anger.I think the underlying issue is that people who see God as an authoritative disciplinarian are likely themselves to be authoritative disciplinarians. Those are the people who are attracted to the more extreme forms of punishment, like the utter destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and subsequent turning of Lot's wife into a pillar of salt just for looking back. And those are going to be the kind of people who are attracted to Train Up a Child to possibly disastrous consequences.


  4. While it is easy to say that parents are the ones choosing to follow the advice, that isn't so simple either. If a grown-up child has been trained to follow orders and deny and hate her own instincts, she will obey. She or he won't want to, but be terrified by the fear mongering of those who advocate breaking children's wills. Learning to discipline wisely, as opposed to just forcefully, requires the parents or caregivers to question orders themselves.I know. I tried to follow some harmful child-rearing advice and luckily found other authorities who had better ideas. I was too scared to follow my own instincts.


  5. @TWF,I think I may have been spanked(with a belt) four or maybe five times. It was always in a controlled environment. By that I mean my parents 1)never ganged up on me, 2)never carried out the spanking while they were angry, 3)made certain that I understood completely why I was being spanked, 4) made certain that I understood they still loved me when it was over. If discipline isn't carried out in a controlled manner, physical or otherwise, it is usually not discipline. The man in that video is out of control. That isn't discipline, it's abuse. It is all too easy to allow oneself to be pushed to the point of frustration and then regret the actions born out of that frustration. @prairienymph,I agree wholeheartedly. It really isn't black and white, is it? While I do think a lot of us have gotten some pretty bad parenting advice and followed it to some degree, taking it to extremes does seem like a choice of the parents. It just seems to me that leaving a child in the back yard for days on end with no food or spanking a six month old with a dowel rod(or anything for that matter) would set of some kind of internal bells and alarms that would be difficult to shut off no matter who was instructing them to do it. I guess my point is that maybe abusive people are drawn to this type of instruction. I've made that point about abusive men being drawn to fundamentalist religions before. They are attracted to it because it suits them whereas people like you and myself are repulsed by it.


  6. I regret that I ever trusted that someone like Dr. James Dobson knew anything about discipline. I'm not sure why it is we think that people like Dobson &/or the Pearls have any wisdom about such things. Of course, their so-called wisdom has its roots in the Bible. Spare the rod, spoil the child. And, for some reason, we believe it.


  7. D"Ma,Where did you obtain this video? I'm finding this very upsetting. Do you know if this is real or acting to illustrate child abuse? What is the location of this family? Who is Judge William Adams?If this is real, these people need help, and should be reported to the local Child Protective Services in their area. We have seen this, and have a duty to protect this child. If this is legitimate, I will make the report myself.Rebecca.


  8. Never mind, D'Ma.I've researched this over the internet, and see the man has been dealt with.Rebecca.


  9. I guess I sometimes am afraid that if I hadn't had good influences and had something traumatic trigger a mental illness such as hypomania or extreme paranoia, what would have stopped me from becoming extreme? Those parents are still responsible for their actions, but they aren't the only ones that need to be dealt with.


  10. @Zoe,Oh boy, Dr. James Dobson…where do I begin? I trusted him about a number of things. @Rebecca,I'm assuming by now you know that this video is years old and that the girl is now a grown woman. Abuse is much more common than we realize. It happens every day where people suffer in silence because they don't know what else to do. Keeping the family secrets only prolongs the agony.@prairienymph,I certainly believe the Pearls need to be dealt with. If I had written a book that had been associated with the abuse and death of others I would voluntarily pull it from production. I would be mortified to know that my advice(even if it seemed harmless, which theirs does NOT) was used to mistreat another. Yes, these people certainly play a part in all of this.


  11. Sometime ago, I searched the net for scientific studies on the effects of corporeal punishment and discovered that almost no such studies have found any benefits to it. On the contrary, there are several studies that indicated corporeal punishment is counter-productive and harmful to children.


  12. Yahweh spanked his kids. Big time! (Especially the one.)


  13. @Paul Sunstone,I think that parents who use corporeal punishment exclusively lack the ability to control their anger and proper people skills. While I'm not completely against spanking I don't believe that it's necessary to use it as a form of discipline either. I can definitely see how it could be more harmful than productive. Thankfully it was not used on me in what I would consider to be an abusive manner. I think in a lot of cases it is used in an abusively. It is too easy to loose control. Not only that, how do we convince our children that violence is not the appropriate response to normal frustrations and aggravations of everyday life if corporeal punishment is used on them in a way that shows them otherwise?@EI,Let's be honest. God waterboarded an entire population save a select few. Have you been hiding out somewhere?


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  15. Even the mere name of this book stems from a misnomer.

    The verse that says, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not stray from it is inaccurate.

    “Train Up” in English is “Hannuk” in the original Hebrew. Hannuk means “To dedicate.”

    Like Hannukah (which is the feast of dedication.) If you look at the verses substituting the real Hebrew words, it speaks of gentle parenting with firm boundaries.


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