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Another couple found guilty of murder for parenting by "To Train Up a Child"

Two parents in Washington state have been found guilty of murder after allegedly following the abusive parenting techniques advocated in the parenting book "To Train Up a Child" by Michael and Debi Pearl.

The horrifying book cloaks terrible abuse in loving words and images
The horrifying book cloaks terrible abuse in loving words and imagesAlicia Bayer

Larry and Carri Williams received the maximum prison sentences allowable under the law after being found guilty of beating and starving their adopted daughter Hana to death. The methods they used to "discipline" their daughter were advocated in the controversial Christian book.

The New York Times reported:

Late one night in May this year, the adopted girl, Hana, was found face down, naked and emaciated in the backyard; her death was caused by hypothermia and malnutrition, officials determined. According to the sheriff’s report, the parents had deprived her of food for days at a time and had made her sleep in a cold barn or a closet and shower outside with a hose. And they often whipped her, leaving marks on her legs. The mother had praised the Pearls’ book and given a copy to a friend, the sheriff’s report said. Hana had been beaten the day of her death, the report said, with the 15-inch plastic tube recommended by Mr. Pearl.

Some of the discipline techniques the Pearls teach include:

  • Using plastic plumbing tubing to beat children
  • Wearing the plastic tubing around the parent's neck as a constant reminder to obey
  • "Swatting" babies as young as six months old with instruments such as "a 12-inch willowy branch," thinner plastic tubing or a wooden spoon
  • "Blanket training" babies by hitting them with an instrument if they try to crawl off a blanket on the floor
  • Beating older children with rulers, paddles, belts and larger tree branches
  • "Training" children with pain before they even disobey, in order to teach total obedience
  • Giving cold water baths, putting children outside in cold weather and withholding meals as discipline
  • Hosing off children who have potty training accidents
  • Inflicting punishment until a child is "without breath to complain"

Michael Pearl tells one mother on his website, "I could break his anger in two days. He would be too scared to get angry. On the third day he would draw into a quiet shell and obey."

Despite Pearl's claim that plumbing line is too light to cause damage to muscle or bone, it caused the death of seven year-old Lydia Schatz in 2010. Officials ruled that she died of severe tissue damage.

The Pearls and their ministry, No Greater Joy, make an estimated $1.7 million a year.

The couple is the third set of parents to be found guilty of killing their children who were said to be followers of the Pearls, whose books are commonly given out in some churches and sent for free to military families. It is unknown how many other children's deaths could be tied to the books.

I have written extensively about the Pearls in the past, including:

After the death of 7 year-old Lydia Schatz, family friend Paul Mathers wrote on his blog:

"The Schatzes followed, to a "t", a system of child rearing which came from Michael and Debi Pearl... The Pearls are not professionally trained or educated in child development. They came up with this darkness out of the abundance of their hearts... It is one of the most hate-filled, wicked and evil systems I've encountered in my life, all with a sheen of 'Christian' and 'happy families.'"

Mathers told Salon.com:

"I would love to see the people rise up and say no to the Pearls, that this will not stand. I would love to see the Pearl system become anathema, disgusting, and shunned by the world. I would love to see the Pearls out of a job. Before another child dies."

Sadly, this was not the case.

Please use your voice, both online and off, to speak up against abusive practices like those advocated in To Train Up a Child. Put a banner on your blog. Post to your Facebook page. Speak up in your church. Sign the petition asking Amazon.com to stop selling these books. Give better books and resources to new parents you know.

Children need love, safety and guidance. The best way to raise good children is to be good to them. Let's do all we can to protect all children from anybody who says otherwise.

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Want to learn a gentler way to deal with discipline issues? To see some of my advice on issues such as children talking back, hitting, drawing on walls, toothbrushing battles and fighting with siblings, see my Attachment Parenting archives here.