Monthly Archives: August 2011

The “Ministry” of Michael and Debi Pearl

One of my readers forwarded me some information about a recent child death caused by parental abuse. It is always horrible to hear that a child was killed by his or her own parents, though I seem to hear of these incidents constantly. This instance, however, had a particularly intense emotional impact on me. I feel as if I am choking back tears as I write this now.

In 2010, a couple named Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz were charged with murder for killing their 7 year old adopted daughter during a “training” session in which they engaged based on advice given in a childrearing book by Michael and Debi Pearl called “To Train Up a Child”. The Pearls’ teachings have a significant following.

According to the Pearls’ website, Michael Pearl is a pastor, missionary, and evangelist with the couple’s ministry “No Greater Joy Ministries” (“NGJ”). One of the most widely promoted tenets of NGJ relates to childrearing. According to language on the Pearls’ website and in their literature, their childrearing methods lead to joyful, well-behaved and loving children. They promote corporal punishment that necessarily inflicts pain using implements and tools beginning from infancy to teach children to be well-behaved. They frequently repeat the biblical retort concerning sparing the rod as their justification.

One of the practices promoted by the Pearls on their website is the use of plastic plumbing tubing which according to them can be purchased at any hardware store and keeping it around the house in various locations. This is apparently the Pearls’ modern version of the biblical “rod”. Here is their description of it in one of their advice artcles on the NGJ Ministries’ website:

“The rod we speak of is a plumbing supply line that can be bought at any hardware store or large department store. It is a slim, flexible, plastic tubing that supplies water to sinks, and toilets. Ask for ‘1/4 inch supply line.’ They cost less than one dollar. I always give myself one swat before I swat the child to remind myself how much force to exert. It stings the skin without bruising or damaging tissue. It’s a real attention-getter. Michael demonstrates its use in our new Seminar videos.”

The Schatz’s were engaging in the use of the plastic tubing to “train” their 7 year old adopted daughter for several hours because she mispronounced a word in a children’s book. This training led to her death. The Shatz’s regularly engaged in this form of discipline with their children based at least in part on the Pearls’ advice in their popular book “To Train Up a Child”, though with more vigor applied to the teachings inflicted on their adopted children than on their biological children. In this instance, not only did the training kill their 7 year old Lydia, but it also gravely injured her older sister Zariah, whose injuries included kidney failure.

I looked up some reviews for “To Train Up a Child” and was deeply disturbed by the numbers of glowing pronouncements concerning the childrearing methods promoted by the Pearls and how well-behaved people felt their children were after having applied the Pearls’ biblical methods.

The following is a summary of the results of some recent research on the subject.

Corporal punishment leads to violence and aggressive behavior, as well as other social problems

In a study out of Duke University, researchers found that spanking (but not verbal punishment) at age 1 predicted child aggressive behavior problems at age 2. (Berlin, L. J., Ispa, J. M., Fine, M. A., Malone, P. S., Brooks-Gunn, J., Brady-Smith, C., Ayoub, C. and Bai, Y. (2009), Correlates and Consequences of Spanking and Verbal Punishment for Low-Income White, African American, and Mexican American Toddlers. Child Development, 80: 1403–1420.)

In addition, researchers have found a link between parents who use severe physical discipline and children who become overly aggressive.(Lehigh Researchers Examine Link Between Abusive Child-Rearing, Overly Aggressive Behavior; ScienceDaily (Feb. 6, 2001) [])

In another study, two researchers named Eric P. Slade and Lawrence S. Wissow followed a group of 1,966 children younger than two years old to test the hypothesis that the frequency of spanking before age two is directly correlated with the probability of having significant behavior problems four years later. (Slade E., Wissow L. Spanking in Early Childhood and Later Behavior Problems: A Prospective Study of Infants and Young Toddlers, Pediatrics, vol. 113, no. 5, May 2004).

The researchers collected data about 1,966 children and their mothers who participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Mother-Child Sample, a large-scale national study of youth ages fourteen to twenty-one. Some of these young people were mothers with children. Data were collected on the mother-children groups when the children were under two years of age. Four years later, after the children had entered elementary school, the researchers interviewed the mothers to explore their hypothesis. Mothers were asked if they spanked their child the previous week and how frequently they spanked their children. They were also questioned about the child’s temperament, mother-child interactions, and whether they had ever met with the child’s teacher due to behavioral problems.

Slade and Wissow found that, compared with children who were never spanked, children who were frequently spanked (five times a week) before age two were four times more likely to have behavioral problems by the time they started school. (Slade E., Wissow L. Spanking in Early Childhood and Later Behavior Problems: A Prospective Study of Infants and Young Toddlers, Pediatrics, vol. 113, no. 5, May 2004).

In a different study, one of a series of studies of physically abused schoolchildren, Salzinger and colleagues looked at 87 children aged 8 to 12, finding that children who had been subject to severe corporal punishment exhibited problematic social behaviors, including lower peer status, less positive reciprocity with peers chosen as friends, ratings by peers as more aggressive and less cooperative, by parents as more disturbed, and participation in social networks with more insularity, negativity and atypicality. (Salzinger, S., Social Relationships of Physically Abused Schoolchildren (1993-1997), including The Effects of Physical Abuse on Children’s Social Relationships, Salzinger, Suzanne; Feldman, Richard S.; Hammer, Muriel; Rosario, Margaret, Child Dev, 1993, 64, 1, 169-187, Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development.)

Corporal Punishment Leads to Lower Intelligence Levels

In one study, University of New Hampshire professor Murray Straus led a study which he presented on September 25, 2009 at the 14th International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Trauma, in San Diego, California, in which he and his colleagues made finding concerning IQ and spanking both in the United States and worldwide. (Straus, Murray A. and Mallie J. Paschall. Corporal Punishment by Mothers and Development of Children’s Cognitive Ability: A Longitudinal Study of Two Nationally Representative Age Cohorts. Journal of Aggression Maltreatment & Trauma, 2009; 18 (5): 459 DOI: 10.1080/10926770903035168.)

In the United States, Professor Straus and Mallie Paschall, senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, studied nationally representative samples of 806 children ages 2 to 4, and 704 children ages 5 to 9.

Four years later, they retested both groups. They found that the IQs of children ages 2 to 4 who were not spanked were 5 points higher four years later than the IQs of those who were spanked. The IQs of children ages 5 to 9 years old who were not spanked were 2.8 points higher four years later than the IQs of children the same age who were spanked.

Further, the frequency of spanking made a difference in cognitive development and ability. The more a child was spanked, the slower was the development of the child’s mental ability.

Professor Straus and his colleagues also studied the effects of corporal punishment worldwide. In 32 nations, Straus and his colleagues used data on corporal punishment experienced by 17,404 university students when they were children, and found a lower national average IQ in nations in which spanking was more prevalent.

According to Straus, the link could be caused by the intense stress experienced by children subjected to corporal punishment, particularly continuing corporal punishment, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms, which are associated with decreased IQ’s.

Another study at Duke University found that (among other consequences) children who were spanked as one year olds did not perform as well as other children on a test measuring thinking skills at age 3 (the Bayley mental development test). (Berlin, L. J., Malone, P. S., Ayoub, C. A, Ispa, J., Fine, M., Brooks-Gunn, J., Brady-Smith, C., & Bai, Y. Correlates and Consequences of Spanking and Verbal Punishment for Low Income White, African American, and Mexican American Toddlers. Child Development. 2009.)

In an earlier study, Straus at the University of New Hampshire and colleagues released evidence which showed that the more often a child is spanked, the lower the child scores in IQ tests four years later. Their paper was described by Straus at the World Congress of Sociology on August 1, 1998 in Montreal, Quebec. They examined 960 American children who were between one and four years old between 1986 and 1990. (“Corporal Punishment by Mothers and Child’s Cognitive Development: A Longitudinal Study” (Family Research Laboratory, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH; a paper presented at the 14th World Congress of Sociology, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 1998.)

Thirteen percent of the parents studied reported spanking their children seven or more times a week. The average was 3.6 spankings per week. Twenty-seven percent reported using no physical punishment. Those children who were spanked frequently averaged 98 on their IQ tests — a below average score. Those who were rarely or never spanked scored 102 — an above-average score. The four point average decline in IQ among the spanked students is sufficient to have a negative functional effect on those children. (Corporal Punishment by Mothers and Child’s Cognitive Development: A Longitudinal Study, Family Research Laboratory, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH; a paper presented at the 14th World Congress of Sociology, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 1998.)

Additionally, repeated corporal punishment can lead to the development of PTSD or other stress disorders, the process of which interferes with optimal cognitive development. (Carrion VG, Weems CF, Watson C, Eliez S, Menon V, Reiss AL. Converging evidence for abnormalities of the prefrontal cortex and evaluation of midsagittal structures in pediatric posttraumatic stress disorder: an MRI study. Psychiatry Res. 2009; 172 (3): 226-34. Carrion VG, Weems CF, Richert K, Hoffman BC, Reiss AL. Decreased prefrontal cortical volume associated with increased bedtime cortisol in traumatized youth. Biol Psychiatry. 2010; 68 (5): 491-3.)

Researchers have also found a link between post traumatic stress symptoms in children subjected to interpersonal violence and lowered verbal IQ. This indicates that children who may develop PTSD based on continuing and/or severe corporal punishment may develop lower verbal IQ scores. (Saltzman KM, Weems CF, Carrion VG. IQ and posttraumatic stress symptoms in children exposed to interpersonal violence. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev.2006 Spring;36(3):261-72.)

While I do not want to pronounce my own judgments on any religion and recognize that people of all religions have used religious rhetoric to justify child abuse, I have to say that it appears particularly pernicious to me to use God and love as precepts to justify our own infliction of cruelty and violence on the innocent and helpless children we have been charged with protecting. In addition, I want to point out that it is violence and cruelty by a child’s own parents inflicted when the child’s brain is just developing that imprints in that child’s brain architecture that very same cruelty and violence which the parents claim to be preventing.

NAPNAP calls for an end to corporal punishment of children

The National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (“NAPNAP”) has issued an official position statement calling for widespread education about the harmful effects of corporal punishment. In the statement, issued on June 25, 2011, the Association takes a direct stance in opposition to corporal punishment in the home as well as in schools and instead asserts support for “alternative, non-violent, age-appropriate discipline strategies.”

Defining corporal punishment as “the use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain but not injury, for the purposes of correction or control of the child’s behavior”, the Association states that spanking can often be a first step toward escalating violence and cycles of abuse, potentially leading to beating with fists, switches, belts, cords, or other objects.
Pediatric Nurse Practitioners are in fact in a strategic position of direct contact with children and families such as to observe and advocate concerning effective versus harmful parenting methods.

Acknowledging that recent studies indicate that the majority of American parents use corporal punishment, the NAPNAP indicates that education is critical to ensure parents understand that what may be effective at stopping a particular behavior in the immediate present can be harmful to that child in the long term. The statement cites studies which have directly linked corporal punishment to higher levels of violence by the individual throughout the life span including increased violent behavior in adulthood.

You can read the full text of the NAPNAP’s official position statement at this link: NAPNAP Position Statement on Corporal Punishment.

Severely abused girl escapes from adoptive parents’ home after years of torture

Lilly Manning

Despite numerous reports to child protection authorities for a period of many years, a tragically scarred girl, Lilly Manning, finally escaped a life of torture and imprisonment on her own at age fifteen in October of 2007.

According to reports, the girl was removed from her mother’s home and placed in the care of her great-aunt, Lillian Manning-Horvath, in the early 1990’s. Living in her aunt’s home, along with siblings, and her aunt’s new husband, the girl was subjected to deeply horrific acts of abuse and torture. When she was examined by authorities upon her escape, scars were found covering the majority of her 5’3″ body, reflecting hammer attacks, beatings, burns, strikes to the head with a 2-by-4 and a padlock swinging from a cord, among numerous other horrific acts of cruelty inflicted on the child by her adoptive mother and the adoptive mother’s husband. Lilly was generally locked in a 20 by 26 inch closet.

A 53-year-old woman, Brenda White, who had visited the family in August 2007 while dating Manning-Horvath’s brother, came forward to testify at the trial against Lillian. White testified that one Saturday morning, while she was on the patio of the Manning-Horvath house, she heard banging noises in the mobile home behind the house and saw it shaking. When she ducked inside to ask Manning-Horvath about it, the woman replied: “Joe is out there whipping that bitch’s ass.” White said she later saw Lillian’s husband emerge from behind the mobile home holding a two-by-four. White said the adoptive mother later took her inside the mobile home, where she saw a scared, frail girl, bloody, with patches of hair pulled out.

Another witness, Twyla Wilkins, 36, Lilly’s second cousin, said one adult family member observed Lillian strike Lilly so hard that a tooth flew out.

Neighbors had also reported the family for leaving horrible cockroach infestations when they moved.

In light of the removal, Lilly must have been exposed to abuse and/or neglect at the hands of her own mother previously, though her memory of those years is limited.

Significantly, issues at the Manning-Horvath home were reported to Sacramento authorities numerous times, yet all the reports led either to a complete lack of investigation or investigations which resulted in “inconclusive” findings. Child Protective Services (“CPS”) visited the home numerous times, each time finding no evidence of abuse.

This horrible story reflects the need to increase funding in this field, to prevent the problems of inappropriately high case loads for CPS workers and apparent inadequate training leading to desensitization.

Additionally, something was wrong when the dependency system placed this girl in the care of Manning-Horvath, who had a documented history of mental illness. According to Manning-Horvath’s own attorney, it was appalling that his client was allowed to adopt the children in the first place, in light of the fact that she had a “30-year history of mental illness” including hallucinations, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

To read a more complete description of these events, see article in the Sacramento Bee: