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November 25th, 2013
10:15 PM ET

Controversial parenting book linked to the deaths of several children

The book "To Train Up a Child" has been embraced by many fundamentalist Christian parents. It advocates raising children to obey without question, through spankings that begin when they are babies. The book is linked to the deaths of multiple children, including 13-year old Hana Williams. Her adoptive parents were recently convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to nearly 30 years in prison. Gary Tuchman has the latest.

Should the authors of "To Train Up a Child" be held legally responsible in these deaths? Wolf discussed that question with Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin and attorney and children's advocate Areva Martin.

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Filed under: 360º Follow • Areva Martin • Gary Tuchman • Jeffrey Toobin
soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. Jim

    While pain can be a great teacher, children are often times too young to understand the lesson and will only associate you with fear. Spanking teenagers may be more effective :P

    January 6, 2014 at 2:54 pm |
  2. Emma

    And for all those people that say spanking helps put kids in their place, honestly, it just makes your kids afraid and/or severely dislike you, leading to more disobedience. How would you like to be hit each time you did something wrong, even if it was an accident? I am a child after all, I'd know. It does absolutely nothing. Try taking away privileges. That works, and though I hate to say this, taking all the stuff out of a child's room and having them earn it back item by item really does work.

    December 24, 2013 at 8:54 am |
  3. glacierkaren

    I taught my children to obey from a young age by explaining why the rules were the rules- for their protection. I also never 'counted' because I know kids will wait til the last number before they obey. But I also taught them it's okay to question authority, if it's irrational. Blind obedience is what causes so many children to be abused or abducted. They have been programmed to just do what adults tell them to. How silly. If you are a just parent, you won't fear having your children questioning you anyway- I raised 4 children, by the way, who have all grown up to be productive adults. Did they ever get spankings? Occasionally. My saying, "If your brain doesn't understand, maybe your butt will" explains it all. But babies should never be spanked.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  4. Marion

    My son and his wife overacted to a behavior their child may of displayed. Later I called and explained that sitting on a chair for three minutes for a three year old will generally get across the message to a child that hitting is not acceptable behavior. My son has started using that method and both the parents and the small children are happier.

    December 7, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
  5. Ellen in CA

    As a mother who raised three children of my own, I believe we should start teaching each child as soon as that child can understand the meaning of a word. Parents are a child's first and most important teachers. This must be done with love and time, which today's parents are too busy to provide. Each time a child is struck that child is being neglected in the kind of very early education he/she could and should be receiving.

    December 6, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
    • Cynthia

      Spare the rod! Parents jump to spanking, why!!!
      This can also lead to so much domestic violence, on both male and female. parents are to be an example to their children. Not to be feared. What happen to all the other scripture in the bible. I am tired of people changing scripture for their cause. What happen to Love, Peace, and Joy, understanding,and where does bullying come from kids seeing or being bullied and spanked or beaten at home

      December 8, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
      • Michelle Jones

        Cynthia, in agreement with your comment, be aware that the "Spare the rod" scripture has been utterly MISINTERPRETED for centuries. The biblical "rod" is a shepherd's rod, which is straight and is extended to the sides of the sheep in order to keep them on the path, "the straight and narrow",much like a guard rail on the freeway. It may also be used to fight off attacking animals or thieves. But.a shepherd never, ever beats his sheep! ( I actually went shepherding as a youth!) When anyone says "Spare the rod, spoil the child," (paraphrasing Proverbs 13:24) explain that correct definition of the rod to them, and then quote "Thy rod and thy staff, they COMFORT me," Psalm 23:4.

        December 12, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
  6. jake

    What needs to be banned is parenting that involves 'breaking' children into happy little robots that do not question their parents. No child should live in a home where he/she can be beaten if they do not provide 'joy' to their parents. The idea that this is used for traumatized adopted children is insane. This book basically tells parents to beat children until they are the grinning Dugger kids who don't complain no matter who little attention they get. Adopted kids need to feel safe to talk to their adoptive parents about the horrors they've faced in their lives, not be beaten for crying or acting sad.

    December 1, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • Ty

      Teaching a child "first-time obedience" when they are young saves parents from doing the rediculous "I'm going to count to 10...", or "That's three", or repeatedly telling their child to stop, without result, leading the parents to "beat" their child. There is nothing in the Pearls' book that condones beating, or discipline in any way that is not done lovingly. We, and the dozens of families that we know have well-adjusted children that are respectful and responsive because they learned it at a young age. The result is that we rarely need to discipline them at all, and never physically. It's just that you can't sit down with a baby or toddler and say, "Hey, we need to talk about your behavior", thus the need for physically noxious feedback to train children not to play with the stove, and to obey when tild to stay out of the street, etc. The fact that these abusive parents read the Pearl's book only means they were somewhat well-read, they certainly didn't get their abuse from the book.

      December 10, 2013 at 10:58 pm |
  7. B Bennett

    In the meantime why no go out and pick up a copy of "Mein Kamph" – it is readily available. Or how about Mao's "Little Red Book"? Oh! – But let's ban this book and by the same reasoning let's ban the Bible that it is supposedly based on.

    November 27, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  8. Ron

    Michael Pearl is not a licensed or clinical child counselor. Where does anyone get the idea he is authorized to give advice on raising children?

    November 27, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
    • Ty

      If you're a parent, you are authorized.

      December 10, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
  9. Frank Mondana

    Holding the writers of this really outdated and ignorant book would be wrong. It would open a floodgate of lawsuits filed by those who are too stupid to apply thought and simply follow what they read or watch.
    The only censorship should be the market driven kind. Books like this one should just die from lack of sales, not a lawsuit.

    November 27, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • Tami Walker

      I'm not sure how it could be "wrong" to hold the Pearls accountable for the actions of others that were influenced by the book. As a society, we are responsible for our actions. The book was obviously intended to influence others to follow the teachings that this couple has set forth. Along with that, as with many cults, the Bible was twisted to be what the Pearls thought it should be, rather than what it's actually about. Why is it, that the children being "trained" are to be accountable, but the people that, in my opinion, participated via teachings, in the deaths of these children are not to be held accountable? Why is it, that it isn't a criminal act for the Pearls to teach child abuse and hide behind a religion, when a teacher can have sex with a student and it's not called sex ed? Both are wrong. Yet if child protective services was to walk into the homes of anyone following the teachings of this book, they would be arrested. David Koresh was looked at as a monster, yet some people are defending the rights of this couple who encourage people to break the law in the form of child abuse? A sin is a sin no matter who is committing it and breaking the law is breaking the law no matter who the guilty parties are. How do you charge one person as an accessory in ANY crime and yet allow these people to continue to be an accessory in abuse and murder and let them live freely? Abuse is abuse no matter how anyone wants to sugar coat it.

      December 7, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
      • Ty

        You haven't read the book so I can understand how you could be so wrong. The opposite of abuse, loving discipline, is what is taught. All sane parents try to teach their children to obay. The Pearls just say it needs to start early or you have an uphill battle for the rest of their growing years. To teach our children to obey the first time, instead on the count of three, or some other rediculous, abitrary number or time is simply common sense. The abuse I witness much of the time is the angry reaction of parents whose kids our completely out of control, and so are the parents. That's when physical abuse generally happens. Having taught our children from a young age to respect our instructions makes it so we generally don't have to discipline at all, and never physically. Parents that abuse are not following what the Pearls teach in any stretch of the imagination.

        December 10, 2013 at 11:11 pm |
  10. Dan Orr

    While I doubt there are laws on the books to hold them legally accountable, I see no reason why there shouldn't be.

    Pretending to be an expert is bad. Pretending to be an expert who encourages criminal acts within that expertise is horrid. I don't understand how anyone can defend it.

    November 27, 2013 at 6:38 am |
    • Ty

      Where do they claim to be experts and what criminal acts have they encouraged. You know nothing except what you saw on CNN, and they are about as clueless as they've not read the book. If you give me advice about how to not get a speed ticket by using a radar detector, does that make you an expert? And if I use that detector to excuse driving at outgrageous speeds resulting in an accident the deaths in the other vehicle, should you then be help responsible for my irresponsibility. Some common sense people!

      December 10, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
  11. David

    An so...Huck Finn causes racism, so ban it from the schools. In the twenties, the three-person library committee from Clyde, Ohio used tongs to carry copies of Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio into a field to toss them into a bonfire. In mid-century, Catcher in the Rye was forbidden to many 'cause it dropped an early f-bomb on the reading public. We vote not to ban sub-machine guns and assault rifles stored by our neighbors in closets, under beds, in car trunks. This whackiness is part of our DNA. And someone, I am sure, will want to ban this comment.

    November 27, 2013 at 6:38 am |
  12. sheryl wilson

    No, I do not think the author should be held acccountable for these deaths. Just because you write something does not mean you should be held accountable for what context some people may use something they read.

    November 26, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
  13. Cynthia Weber M.A. Media Literacy

    That's like saying every movie, every television show that shows violence toward any human or animal is to blame for someone carrying the crime out in reality. MEDIA LITERACY is the ONLY answer to these issues. (consultant for Media Literacy answers)

    November 26, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  14. Sandy

    This book was extremely helpful when my children were small and now that they are young adults, I see that their respect for authority is healthy but not overpowering. They have respect and yet also were raised with a healthy dose of knowing when and how to question authority. An ideology taken to its extreme is dangerous, and thus anyone who abused the wise principles of this book, To Train Up a Child, must be held accountable for his/her own corruptions and not shift blame to the author of this book.

    November 26, 2013 at 8:51 am |
    • Rodney

      Very well said! I too have this book and consider it an absolute staple in the parenting of my 9 children. While I don't agree with everything that is written by Mr. Pearl, an overwhelming majority of his advice has reaped benefits. I am not a perfect parent, but with his tools of LOVINGLY disciplining my children, my children have an unyielding sense of respect for their fellow man and it didn't happen by chance. We were deliberate in how we raised our children, and taught them the unequivocal principle that if you don't discipline yourself then someone else will (i.e police). My children respect others because they want to, not because of some authoritarian standing over them waiting to cast them into outer darkness if they dare disobey...it's all about balance and if people truly read "To Train up a child", instead of reading a blip in a story, they would see that Mr. Pearl is very balanced...contrary to what this article asserts.

      December 9, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  15. Melinda

    What has happened to being responsible for one's own actions, decisisions or choices? This is a perfect example of society always looking for a scapegoat. Do i believe our children need disciplin and guidance, yes. Do i believe that there is a great lacking of parenrting for todays children, yes. Although this is not the only area our society is suffering, it is the one with the saddest and most global affect to our future. This is no different than using the news or a tv show as an excuse for committing a crime or even for having an opinion about something or treating someone badly. We have a choice! And we are responsible for those choices. Sociwty as a whoke needs to grow up, wake up and think for themselves.

    November 26, 2013 at 8:02 am |
  16. Mark

    OMG. Link the book to bad parents, so ... ban the book ! How about some parental accountability and NOT jumping to ridiculous conclusions?

    or ...

    Burn all books you don't like ... wait ... didn't we fight a war about that?

    November 26, 2013 at 6:09 am |
  17. Dan Torres

    Where is the common sense?!?
    There’s a HUGE difference between spanking and abusing a child!
    If the authors of that book are found to have legal responsibility for the deaths of those ABUSED children, then why not ALSO blame the publisher, the book stores, the truck driver who delivered the books to the stores, the lender who funded the publishing, the author's parents, etc.?? Exactly –how ridiculous!
    I have an idea: how about blaming the people who actually ABUSED the dead child? No one else...just the people who actually DID IT! It seems society continues to reach for the sharing or deflecting of blame. I also believe it’s solely a tool used by money hungry lawyers! They’re the first ones to scream bloody murder and encourage a civil lawsuit (for that big piece of the pie).
    By the way, I don’t believe the discipline book condones child abuse AT ALL.
    I’m a parent and strongly believe as it says in the bible (Proverbs 13:24).
    I believe in discipline, NOT abuse, NOT neglect, NOT starving, or NOT withholding medical care. I wholeheartedly believe in spanking as a part of teaching discipline.
    Yet another example of how the more our country separates itself from the bible (and God), the worse society gets.

    Dan Torres
    Fort Walton Beach, Florida

    November 26, 2013 at 5:44 am |
  18. Marcy

    Books are all around us, these are other peoples opinion. , all kids are NOT the same some need very little discipline while other siblings need more But NO child needs or should have to endure beatings!!! That's not acceptable in any child rearing & anybody who advises this is flat out WRONG

    November 26, 2013 at 1:45 am |
  19. kristen

    I'm quite certain more is done to protect animals from this type of "training" than is done to protect humans. Gross. However writing a book with stupid advice doesn't equal killing.

    November 25, 2013 at 10:35 pm |

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