Some say parenting book methods amount to child abuse

Fox News, Massachusetts/February 22, 2012

This is all the talk right now with moms and dads. A controversial book written by a Tennessee pastor and his wife, "To Train Up a Child," is coming under fire.

The book is sparking outrage among child advocacy groups who say the method pretty much amounts to child abuse.

Pastor Michael Pearl and his wife Debi live on a 100-acre farm in a quiet Amish community in Pleasantville, Tennessee, about 2 and a half hours East of Memphis. But, the remote location doesn't make them immune from death threats.

"Got one the other day, it said, 'your whole family ought to die,' everyone in our church ought to die so we get letters like that, E-mails from time to time," said Michael Pearl.

The Pearls, who are originally from Memphis, have come under fire since their book has been linked to the deaths of three children across the country. The book teaches parents to use a switch, along with other techniques, to make their children obey.

The Pearls say it's as easy as training a dog or a horse.

"Yes, I compare child training to animal training because the parallels are significant," Pearl said.

Page one starts with the words, 'Switch Your Kids'. Other chapters are titled, 'The Rod', 'Safety Training', 'Child Labor' and 'Religious Whips.'

The Pearls say the book is guided by the teachings of the bible. The book and others they've written are stacked in a warehouse on their farm. More than 670,000 copies have been sold.

Pearl invokes the Bible to justify his writings, "he doth spareth the rod, hated his child."

The Pearls say a rod is anything from a switch to a spatula, comparing it to a magic wand and saying, "the rod is a gift from God, use it as the hand of God to train your children."

"That's like a dowel rod with spoon on the end, that would be a rod," said Pearl. This would be a rod, little knob on the end and this piece of flexible tubing would be a rod as well, very light."

He smacked a gray plastic tube on his leg saying, "this instrument right here is not going to break any bones, cause any deep bruising, tear the flesh."

But in the book, Michael Pearl writes "if you have to sit on him to spank him do not hesitate and hold him there until he has surrendered ... you are to rule over him as a benevolent sovereign." Pearl compares his children to proud soldiers and brags about using word association to potty training their children including their 3-month-old.

"Our children were so well-trained to the voice command, we had to be careful not to say the words at the wrong time. We could be bragging to our neighbor, say the magic word and possibly induce a release," Pearl writes.

In the chapter on "Safety Training," Pearl talks about coaxing his toddlers over to see the flames of a fire. He writes, "They always wanted to touch so I held them off until the stove got hot enough to inflict pain without deep burning. When heat was just right, I would open the door...the child would inevitably run to the stove to touch it. Just as his hand touched the stove I would say "hot" was so effective thereafter if I wanted to see them do a back flip all I had to do was say "hot!' They would even turn loose a glass of iced tea."

Barbara King, the executive director of the Exchange Club in Memphis says, "It's just so freighting to me."

The club offers a variety of programs to help Memphis area families breaking the cycle of abuse.

"This is child abuse to me," King says. "If they did this to an adult, it would be assault."

But, the Pearls say their children have no issues with how they were raised, "my children are totally delighted in the way they were brought up and wish it on everyone."

The Pearl's niece, 25-year-old Elizabeth Stewart says she remembers getting switched, "it stings though, oh my it stings." Stewart says she was raised by the book and grew up with the Pearls children.

When asked if she remembered getting switched, Stewart replied, "Yes, I do and I deserved it. I don't think I'd be the woman that I am today if I hadn't been. I think there is a large misconception with everything that is said I come from a cheerful happy home and I was raised among the Pearl kids, it was never thinking you were going to get abused."

But, investigators say there are some across the country, who may have taken Pearls advice to far.

According to investigators, all three children who allegedly died at the hands of their parents, were regularly hit with plastic tubes.

The children were all adopted and home-schooled. Investigators say their parents all owned the book by the Pearls.

But the Pearls say it's unfair to blame the extreme actions of a few on their book.

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