To Brainwash a Parent

When my first child was born, a woman I had known many years handed me
a book. She told me it would be helpful as I raised my daughter as it
had helped her train her own kids. That book? To Train Up a Child, by Michael and Debi Pearl…(read the rest here at


When my first child was born, a woman I had known many years handed me a book. She told me it would be helpful as I raised my daughter as it had helped her train her own kids. That book? To Train Up a Child, by Michael and Debi Pearl.

It wasn’t a very long book—just the right size for a new mom to read in between feedings and changings. But still, something about the book didn’t sit right with me at that time and I never bothered to read it all the way through until later. Until five years later, when I had four kids between the ages of 0 and 5.

It was about this time I started keeping a blog, and when I finally got around to reading the book, you know what? My suspicions were confirmed. I was so saddened by what I read that I wrote about it and started a pretty significant discussion on what I perceived to be dangerous teachings the Pearls were presenting. There were many suggestions that seemed borderline abusive, but the most bewildering things was their likening of child training to that of training a mule:

“If you are just beginning to attempt to control an already rebellious child who runs from discipline and is too incoherent to listen, then use whatever force is necessary to bring him to bay. If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring, and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender. No compromise. You are to rule over him as a benevolent sovereign. Your word is final.”

Unfortunately, some parents have taken this teaching to its very literal and fatal conclusion. Maybe you’ve heard of this tragedy already, but just last week 7-year-old Lydia Schatz was “disciplined” to death by her homeschooling parents, Kevin and Elizabeth. Her 11-year-old sister Zariah was also hospitalized for extensive injuries. The parents used the teachings of the Pearls to “train” their children, whipping their kids with a quarter-inch plumbing supply line—the very thing the Pearls suggest parents use.

There has been quite a bit of internet buzz about this, as well there should be. This is not the first time a parent has killed his or her child after following the parenting advice of the Pearls. Four years ago, 4-year-old Sean Paddock died after his mother wrapped him up so tightly in blankets he was unable to breathe.

When is enough enough? When are Christians going to call this what it is—abuse—and stop defending the teaching just because the Pearls claim them to be biblical truth? When are Christians going to stop blindly following garbage teaching and THINK?

Lynn Harris of wrote:

“It’s one thing for those of us outside the fundamentalist Christian/Christian home-schooling world to point fingers at the Pearls and voice outrage at their methods. What really matters, and what stands to have actual impact, is the outrage inside the Pearls’ world. And right now, more than ever, an anti-Pearl movement within the conservative Christian community is rising up in heated, if sometimes whispered, fury. Some say—even pray—that Lydia Schatz’s death will bring Michael and Debi Pearl exactly the kind of attention they deserve.”

Indeed, it may be finally happening (See the blogs of Karen, Dana, Kathy, and Laurie), but at what price?

Elizabeth Esther, a Christian, writer, and mother of five, asks, “How many more children will die before the Christian community holds Michael and Debi Pearl to account?” She goes on to give the following analogy:

“Consider the current massive recall of Toyota cars. Do all Toyotas have the same fatal flaw? No. But the flaw is significant enough that drastic measures are being taken. Today, in fact, the CEO of Toyota is being critically questioned in a congressional hearing.This is how I view the Pearls’ child-training methods. Sure, maybe some parents are able to safely ‘drive’ the Pearl model. But there is a significant flaw in the Pearl method and tragically, for at least two young children, it has proved fatal.”

Former MTW Ukraine missionary and homeschooling parent Alexandra Bush of TulipGirl fame offers these reasons why some families have not spoken out before:

“It is easy to filter out the harsher teachings, the extremism, when surrounded by word pictures of peaceful, loving, fun families. The Pearls seem to tell parents that they just have to ‘win’ once and make sure their children know who is in charge, and then they will never have to spank again. That’s how parents get sucked in—promises of a fun, peaceful home, minimal confrontation, doing the ‘right thing’ for their children. Basically, the BS detectors are turned off by the pretty promises that are made.”


8 thoughts on “To Brainwash a Parent

  1. martha68 says:

    my concern re both pearls and to a lesser degree with raising kids God’s way is the overemphasis on perfectionism/legalism in chid-rearing which does not treat children like humans made in God’s image, but robots who can all be raised the same and come out making our family look like “the happy/perfect christian family”. how unbiblical is that? talk about feeding our idols…big time!
    what i learned by raising children was that they are each individual and unique. what works for one doesn’t work for the other. they are NOT robots! and we will never be a perfect christian family. we are all broken and marred and God uses that to sanctify us all along the way. that is how i have learned more about grace, mercy and love-what they truly are, how much i need Christ to live them out and how difficult they are to give and receive w/o HIM!


  2. kristen says:

    Thanks for speaking out on behalf of the least of these, who cannot.
    I can’t stop thinking about the children that remain, confused tonight about where their parents are, about the death of their sister. This was their “normal” and no one knew. I believe they thought they were doing the best for their children, that they were poisoned by other Christians into ignoring their instincts to save their children’s souls. Christ, have mercy on your church.


  3. Jill says:

    To fans of that book: If you train a child like a mule, you are training them for ownership, but you don’t get to be their owner forever. They will be ripe for the taking by some other owner, usually a spouse, and you probably won’t have any say in that. Once they’re obeying someone else, you have no power over them anymore. Now your “obedient child” is attached to a cruel spouse and all you can do is watch. Living with a child with independent thought and little fear of you can be a pain in the neck, but it is necessary to their future happiness and yours.


  4. gretchen from lifenut says:

    I think you were spot-on. Brava!
    Also, here is something that really, really drives me nuts: The Rod.
    Certain Christian parents like to trot out the verse with “spare the rod…” But they betray a massive lack of understanding what a rod ACTUALLY IS.
    The rod was used by shepherds when they were tending sheep. A stick of sorts, a staff or crook. The shepherds never BEAT the sheep with the rod.
    They used the rod to guide the sheep where to walk. Where not to walk. They used the rod to fight off predators, to pull sheep to safety.
    If you spare protection, safety, guidance, then your child will surely be ruined. People like the Pearls are the very predators ancient shepherds feared—those who would do harm to the smallest and most helpless of the flock.


  5. Aubrey says:

    Your column was timely – I had just been given that book at a shower. I already had heard about it and was fairly certain that we wouldn’t parent that way, but certainly after doing more reading online and at their website I was more convinced. I have sort of enjoyed reading all the comments – there are some interesting people out there. šŸ™‚


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