In fundamentalist circles, there is an often quoted saying that says : "Children are not goats (kids), they are God's little lambs/children".
Well I am here to say that God's little lambs/children are being silenced. Silenced by abusive practices initiated by Pearls, Ezzo's and their ilk. Sadly, these practices have spread like wildfire through church after church, and are still going strong.
Both the Pearls and Ezzo's promote the concept that the child from birth is naturally bad, and selfish. That from birth, they will want the world to revolve around them.
In a recent Salon article they explain that in the case of the Pearls:
As the Pearls, their advocates, and supporters of similar Christian parenting approaches appear to see it, child "training" serves, in part, as a bulwark against "modern," liberal, secular, permissive, "child-centered" parenting -- the touchy-feely stuff of timeouts that, they suggest, spoils children into believing in a boundary-free world that revolves around them. "Pearl and others in their camp associate permissive parenting and the assumed moral laxity that it produces with non-biblical, humanist or naive understandings of human nature. It's 'us,' the true believers, against 'them,' the secularists and anyone else who has fallen under their influence," says Mark Justad, senior lecturer in religion and society and executive director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture at Vanderbilt University. "It's all part of the larger picture of returning our whole culture to godliness." Or at least preserving godliness in one's own family, safe from the "crusade" launched by "spanking abolitionists," safe from the influence of the corrupt, and corrupting, secular world.
"If you want a child who will integrate into the New World Order and wait his turn in line for condoms, a government funded abortion, sexually transmitted disease treatment, psychological evaluation and a mark on the forehead," writes Pearl in "To Train Up a Child," "then follow the popular guidelines in education, entertainment and discipline, but if you want a son or daughter of God, you will have to do it God's way."
Admittedly, compared to Pearls, the Ezzo's appear more mainstream. But ultimately, and underneath all the spin, they too promote a similar message. Another Salon article writes:
In interview after interview with families who are using "Babywise," parents spoke of their sincere desire to produce "obedient," "respectful" children. Rarely did these parents mention a hope to produce emotionally healthy adults. Overwhelmingly, "Babywise" parents accepted without question the conventional wisdom that "kids today" are out of control. Faced with the onslaught of media images of rampaging middle-schoolers and wilding teens, these parents believe that by cracking down on what Ezzo defines as infant rebellion now, they will prevent problems later.
"I have no intention of raising an out-of-control child, " says Franklin Stout, a 32-year-old father of two who is implementing "Babywise" methods with his young children. "My wife and I like having a guide to help us know how to respond to our sons' different behaviors. We believe that firm discipline in the first year or two will save us all a lot of grief later."
Several parents spoke of their belief that, after reading the books, they are convinced that any other child-rearing philosophy might eventually produce some type of obnoxious felon. Some of them may have gotten this idea from a statement made by "Babywise" co-author Bucknam, who in 1997 told the Denver Post: "As they [babies not fed on a schedule] get older, every whine is an opportunity to feed. They become more demanding. They become brats."
"I believe that never teaching a young child to delay gratification sets the stage for immoral behavior as an adult," says Karen (who declined to give her last name in her response to an Internet survey), a mother of four who says that she has found Ezzo's teachings to be a "blessing" in her home.
Growing up, my parents were unaware of the Pearls. However, they were aware of the Ezzo's, particularly their program called "Growing Kids God's Way". During the later years, they even taught it in our church, basing a home group around the program.
I know that my mother had tremendous outside pressure to have well behaved, quiet children, during this time. She often said to me how misbehaved we were compared to others at church, and how that reflected on her as both a parent and christian.
As a child, there was also a huge pressure to be quiet and well behaved.
As the only girl, that pressure was 10 fold: mostly because girls were really not allowed to be boisterous, or disobedient. I still have memories of being disciplined at someone else's place, because I was in some way being naughty. The shame of being spanked at a virtual stranger's house lives with me still.
As the oldest, I was also the guinea pig...so I also had the highest expectations and standards, out of all us three.
Now we are currently seeing the first wave of fundamentalist children brought up under these programs, rules and expectations. And the end results? Are not perfect adults, and are often not stable adults, certainly. We are hearing more and more stories of abused children, with terrible mental scars that stretch into adulthood. We are seeing more and more children leaving fundamentalism, and often, Christianity, behind, because of what they experienced in the churches, and at the hands of the pastors, elders, and parents in these churches.
But yet these programs live on, despite of the wealth of information that proves they do not work, and in fact, can do major harm. Why? I think it is simply because parents are so desperate for godly, well behaved children, that they are willing to look past all the negative stories. That they focus on the promises and changed behaviour of their child currently, instead of the future impacts such an upbringing may have on their emotional state, on their mental health, and future relationships with partners, friends, and children.
So if you are thinking of using these materials, I beg you to think first. I beg you to remember my story, and the all the ones just like it. I beg you to consider your child's future, not the instant obedience you get in the moment.