The world's biggest bookseller, Amazon, has a policy not to carry material with offensive content. In their policy description, they say, '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 find abhorrent, and some people find interesting and essential reading.
When it comes to parenting manuals, things are no different. Some people, myself included, find the practice of C.I.O - leaving a baby or small child to cry themselves to sleep - pretty offensive, and yet there are a whole host of people who do not, and many many books available via Amazon and elsewhere which promote this practice. A while ago I wrote a post, Judgemental, in which I wondered where we draw the line and say, this is not just a matter of parenting choice, this is wrong.
There are some ways of treating 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. 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 drawn to my attention last week by two Facebook groups,The Mom: Informed, and The Dangers of Baby Training. The Mom: Informed published the following advice given by Debi Pearl, one of the authors, when asked about using a rod on children younger than twelve months. Please be warned 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 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 with dogs.
- The use of a "rod" is promoted, which the authors describe as a "divine enforcer". They recommend using a metre-long branch or a belt on an older child and a smaller object on a younger child.
- They say "Any spanking to reinforce instruction, must cause pain."
- Also "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 said his wife trained their daughter to stop biting her during breastfeeding by pulling on her hair. "Understand, the baby is not being punished. Just conditioned."
I feel certain that no one reading this 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 week 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 Christian fundamentalists in the States, many more of which are also available on Amazon. For example, Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp is already talked about in great depth online and advocates using a rod to punish children as young as eight months, as does the disturbingly titled, Don't Make Me Count to Three, by Ginger Plowman.
Whilst reading and researching I have been thinking a lot about censorship, and the banning of books, with which I usually wholeheartedly disagree. '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 post. 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', are some of the 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 weknow to be right. It is for this reason that I am writing this post, and for this reason that I have decided to petition Amazon.
Please take a moment to sign the petition I have created, urging Amazon to refuse to carry books which advocate the physical abuse of children. To view the petition and sign, click here.
Today in New Zealand, To Train up a Child has been removed from some book sellers, and could potentially be completely banned. Adding weight to the argument is the fact that, as in many other countries around the world, it is illegal to smack your child in New Zealand. Certainly one way of getting the book removed from Amazon would be to campaign for smacking to be banned in the UK, rendering the book and others like it 'illegal'. If you are interested in reading more about the issue of smacking, you might like to look at the NSPCC document, Hitting Children is Wrong and the Law Should Say So, the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, and you may wish to sign this petition to the UK government, to Abolish the Parental 'Right' to use Corporal Punishment.
In the meantime, I hope readers of this blog are able to get the attention of a goliath such as Amazon, and make them finally see that instruction manuals for the physical abuse of children truly are offensive.