Friday, February 19, 2010

Adding Your Voices About Child Abuse

If you haven't read my article, "Child Discipline or Child Abuse?" yet, you may want to read it first! It's just below this one on the blog. This post here is a compilation of excerpts from just some of the responses I received in my inbox since I originally published it two days ago. I'm putting them here because these ladies bring up some great food for thought, as well as ideas on how to reach out to others.

First though, some link backs to two home school authors who have been kind enough to link to my article and add their voice to the cause:

Rob Shearer, noted home school author and publisher:

Karen Ehman, author of many books and popular Proverbs 31 conference speaker:


I wanted to let you know that I appreciate that you addressed this issue of child abuse. I also want to encourage you to continue encouraging others to actually get involved in the lives of those around them. We all know when something just doesn't seem right and kids just are not happy. When we see these that something is wrong, we have to purpose to make friendships so we can have a position of influence. We need to enlist others to befriend and encourage good works and develop parenting skills. It is okay to build a visiting schedule quietly with a few devoted families to discern and give direction. With God's help you can change the direction and perhaps hear one day that those times you came made "all the difference."


I appreciate you sharing this. It is horribly tragic, and the sad thing is that for those of us wanting to home school and appropriately discipline our children it is so hard. We don't want to shy away from the true God-given authority we have nor the appropriate discipline that is required in parenting. Yet I know I tend to shirk away and want to withdraw when I hear a story like this. I appreciate you sharing the voice of corrective balance to remember where appropriate and inappropriate differ. Knowing the extremes to which you are pushed as a parent in your own capacity, I realize that I (seemingly a sane and loving parent) have capacity to go beyond healthy and into inappropriate expressions of anger or frustration that could become directed at my child. I imagine many of these parents start out with good intentions, but their own woundedness and brokenness, misdirection, etc, can lead to inappropriate behavior that gets into abusive category. I appreciate you sharing this with your readers, and challenging them (us) to consider whether we have crossed certain lines. I don't think it's as far out of the average person's ability to go over the limit when we are pushed by the stresses of our day, being isolated from our community, and being guided by our own anger out of control. I also think it's very hard because this is such a bad witness to Christian parenting and home schooling. It's a slap in the face to all the parents who have done such an outstanding job with their efforts, and have loved their children and loved the Lord and followed His lead. No parent is perfect, but the sad thing is what a bad rap home schooling is getting anymore, and this just is another example that critics will point to. I want to have the balance of discipline which the world does NOT offer appropriately in their schools, nor do I want my children exposed to abusive behavior. I want to find the Godly path of leading them, but this can be scary. I am appreciative that there are so many good resources for parents who want to choose healthy Christian parenting, with healthy godly discipline, and I hope we can all continue to encourage each other and also keep each other accountable in this important area of balance. Thank God for his grace and mercy for us, and the grace of our children.


Your email was galvanizing for me. It crystallized many thoughts and feelings I have been having about the use and abuse of authority in the Christian home school movement - vs the authority the Holy Spirit wants to have in our lives. Kids are people too! I was particularly devastated by the destruction of a whose goals may have been so similar to ours..filled with books - like Frog and Toad books - that my children have loved.... The law - the religious spirit - is insidious. No wonder Jesus went on about it. There is nothing we can do to earn God's favor - not even being perfect disciplinarians will do it. Thank God.


The bummer is that they are a home school family and now we run the chance that all home school families will be labeled as such. And may I add that “deeply religious” really has nothing to do with true Christianity for one can be deeply religious about anything. Someone truly deeply into Christianity would NEVER even think of hurting anyone else in the name of Jesus. Bad things happen even to those that love Jesus but we should never justify it with religion. Guess I am ranting too…


Thank you for this info. This is important and it appears God has allowed it on your 'grace plate' to take the time to research and communicate to others. I pray it goes to the right in boxes and bears much fruit.


I think that we parents of older children who still have younger ones learn that less is more. I wish I could go back and relax a little in the way I schooled and disciplined my older ones, but it was never anything near this. How these people can close their eyes and pray or sleep I do not know! God will surely judge them, but until then I agree that we need to be as out spoken on the "DON'TS" of discipline, especially in the homeschooling community! I join you in prayer and work to try and keep this from happening again.


It’s interesting. My 12 y-old daughter came into me this morning as she was woken from a sad dream she had of a little girl she tried to rescue but was unable to, from her abusive parents. We discussed the responsibility God places on parents to be their child’s protector. A small helpless child most often has ONLY their parent/guardian to keep him/her safe. How said it is when the only person appointed to be that child’s protector is the one that does him/her harm. We had ourselves a time of grieving for all the children who are so betrayed by their parents. I reminded her that the Bible warns about God’s fierce wrath toward those who harm little ones. Defenseless ones… even aborted ones. Why does God put up with our depravity? And how much longer with He continue to have mercy on us? But, let us NEVER waiver in speaking out against what God hates…Let us never fail to warn others of God’s wrath, and that its ONLY because of His unmatched mercy that any of us are breathing! Thank you Virginia for doing just this. And I among many stand with you…CONTINUE TO SPEAK TRUTH IN LOVE!


I hear what you are saying loudly and clearly. My husband and I are in the midst of and working through many fallouts of the early homeschooling parenting techniques that have been just as abusive if not more so than the physical - the control and manipulation used by parents - the worst being the use of God, Scripture, and religion to beat children into submission. I have been reading several blogs and am blown away by what I read. An incredible blog I read is called The author is the eldest in a large fundamental family. She is completing a book out by this spring. You will be very intrigued by her writing! We have worked with more couples and young people than we ever imagined, who find themselves in abusive situations. My thinking has been challenged and I feel like a different person as I study the Word and allow God to take me into the lives of these precious people who are being controlled and manipulated by those who were supposed to love them the most! Thanks for the words.


Thank you for taking the time to inform on this and for taking a solid stand. You are so right, abuse can never be tolerated. Abuse in the name of Christ is so very wrong.


I couldn't agree with you more! Thanks for sharing your feelings. It seems like people stay silent on the issues of child abuse and homeschooling, and it has bothered me for years.


I’ve graduated my last homeschooled student/kid two years ago, but my heart remains in the home school community and I mentor several younger women. I can’t tell you how many times I received calls from home school moms who want to know what to do about situations like the ones you’ve described. They suspect something is “just not right.” Either in neglect, NON-homeschooling, father/daughter relationships, or promiscuity, or even in inappropriate dress of fellow students in the home school co-ops. I encourage them to pray for those they are concerned about and go to them directly as the Bible instructs us to do to share their concerns, then to their elders. Over and over again the response is similar. When information is brought to the attention of the parent the response is denial, or preference to keep their heads in the sand and not look at the tough issues, to hostility and accusations of “witch hunts.” It’s painful to not see transparency and humility in the approach to lovingly bring something to the attention of another believer and have this response. I do think this is a serious issue with homeschooling parents as they attempt to guide and instruct, yet self-righteousness begins to cover over-bearing control to produce perfect kids. Thank you for tackling this tough issue, and I want to encourage you to continue. I’ll pray for you and your family and those homes your newsletter reach; but above all that the gospel will become more and more meaningful in our hearts and lives. God bless you sister.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Child Discipline or Child Abuse?

Update on August 16, 2011 at end! 

Dear friends,

Please permit me a rant. You need to read this.

On February 6, seven year old Lydia Schatz, adopted from Liberia, was murdered. Her 11 year old sister Zariah is in critical condition with severe kidney damage. Who did it? Their deeply religious (I can’t bring myself to say Christian) home schooling parents, who were attempting to “discipline” them. The “offense” of the murdered child was that she mispronounced a word during her home school lesson. She was beaten for hours with a plumbing supply line. Another brother has been found with significant bruising. Read the
news story.

I am heartsick. I've been tracking news stories in the home school community for years, and these deaths are not the only ones. (This hits a little close to home for me. A few years back, I was shocked to hear that another home schooling mom named Kimberly Forder, who had written an article about international adoption for the Hope Chest -- ouch! -- was convicted of murder in the abuse death of her son Christopher.) Many horrible abuses that don’t happen to result in death are never even reported. Much of this is the result of very misguided or overwhelmed parents trying to implement “Biblical” discipline in their homes. THIS IS NOT BIBLICAL DISCIPLINE AND IT MUST STOP! As compassionate Christians and as a home schooling community, we must have ZERO tolerance for abusive parenting. If we seriously want to preserve the abundant liberties we enjoy as home schooling families, we're going to have to make sure that our movement is not characterized by such aberrant behavior. We need to start speaking out and educating one another about healthy family dynamics and child discipline.

I am not railing against reasonable corporal discipline, nor should we overreact to an occasional minor accidental injury related to this, but we do need to take a stand when we see any of these warning signs:
  • Parental action which results in bruising, bleeding, welts, burns, fractures, dislocations, or other injuries (I don't consider very temporary minor reddening of the skin to be a concern)
  • Parents who neglect to seek appropriate medical care for an injury out of fear of being accused of abuse
  • Parents who withhold proper food, sleep, hygiene, or emotional nurture from the child as a form of punishment
  • Parents who force their children to have unnatural contact with urine, feces, or other unhygienic situations
  • Parents who lock their children up in a room for extended periods of time (I'm not talking about reasonable "time out")
  • Parents who are “out of control” in their anger, and who are more interested in punishment and retribution than in sincerely and compassionately training their child
  • Parents who routinely resort to extended yelling, shaming, ridiculing, harsh accusation, and other forms of verbal abuse -- which can be (but not necessarily) a signal of physical abuse
  • Parents who publicly advocate using discipline methods which seem abusive or excessively harsh, even if they are taught as being “biblical” or “godly”
  • Children who are cowering in fear from their parents, or who are unusually withdrawn, depressed, or aggressive
This may be you! If so, stop now and get help! Your child’s safety and emotional well-being is far more important than your reputation. Do we want to train our children that it’s OK for Mom and Dad to be violent bullies in the name of Jesus? How can we ever teach them self-control if we aren’t setting the example? Things can get better! Things MUST get better! Perhaps it is your husband who is doing this. You may think that it would be unsubmissive to intervene in a “discipline” situation because your husband is supposed to be the spiritual leader of the home, or because if you were being a "better mom" your kids wouldn't behave badly enough for him to get that upset. Sorry ladies, but these excuses just don't fly. In Acts 5, Sapphira was punished just as harshly as her husband Ananias because she went along with his deceit and tried to cover for him. So you don't get off the hook for your responsibilities just because you are "submitting" to your husband. If your husband is out of control to the point of abusing your children, you have the MORAL and LEGAL obligation to do whatever you can to put an end to this behavior. If that means you need to physically restrain your husband and/or take your children to a safe place until he calms down, then do it. If this is a pattern and your children are in continued danger, you NEED to get outside help. Call a trusted friend, your pastor (unless he condones or ignores abusive discipline), a professional counselor, and/or your community’s family crisis center -- and keep going until you get the REAL help you need.

In addition, husbands should never treat their wives like dirty doormats in the name of “Biblical submission.” You do not need to passively accept physical or verbal abuse. I've heard from some of you who are being subjected to this kind of degradation, even some who have been in danger. This is not right! You are not becoming a “liberal feminist” if you begin to draw healthy boundaries of respectful treatment around yourself. But, remember, everything must be done in love - even when we have to draw safe boundaries. Someone else's poor behavior is never an excuse for ours. This blog post might help:
Help for Hurting Marriages.

You may know someone in your neighborhood, your extended family, your church, or your home school support group who is abusing their children or spouse. Don’t turn a blind eye. Do your best to discretely find out what is going on in the family by talking to the children and to the parents. This is compassionate intervention, not gossip. Offer support. Encourage them to get help. If they refuse to do this, and the situation is serious and continuing, you will need to call in outside intervention. (Be VERY careful about making accusations public, though, because it may not be abuse at all, and an unnecessary visit from the police or social worker can be quite traumatic for a child. Be sure of your facts before you call.)

While we are on the topic of inappropriate parenting, I’d like to say a few things about over-authoritarian control in the Christian home schooling movement. I know most of us are taking the time and money and effort at this because we want our kids to turn out to be fine, upstanding, godly young adults. We don’t want them to make the same mistakes we did. We want to keep them out of trouble, out of harm’s way. We don’t want them to “fall into sin.” Fair enough! But I think we need to take a SERIOUS look at how we view this and how we try to implement this in our homes. (This is something I am reevaluating, too, so I'm preaching to myself.) I think some among us have become control freaks with our kids. We need to realize that we aren’t God, we don’t own our children, and we don’t need to dictate every last little detail of their lives or isolate them from all outside influences, especially as they move into the teen years. We don’t need to use ridicule or guilt-trips to get them to behave according to our expectations. Yes, we need to teach them as best we can, be wise "gatekeepers" over the influences in our homes, and certainly set a wholesome example -- but most of all we need to pray for them and trust God, who loves them so much more than we ever could. We need to listen to our kids and not try to shut them down whenever they express disagreements. They should have the freedom to share whatever is on their hearts (hopefully in a respectful manner!) without fear that we will react in shock, disapproval or rejection. We need to seek to inspire our children into such a warm relationship with their Heavenly Father that they will increasingly learn for themselves how to hear and follow his voice. Home schooling should not be the means to unduly limit our children’s options in life, but to launch them into the Grand Adventure (risks and all!) which our loving Lord has planned for them!

I hope to write more about these topics sometime soon, but for now, these links will provide some food for thought…

And, if you didn’t click on it earlier in my letter… News story on the Schatz family

I'ver received a lot of responses in my e-mail inbox since I published this on February 17.  I have compiled excerpts from several of them, including ones with additional ways to reach out to hurting families: Adding Your Voices About Child Abuse

Update: On March 11, I had the opportunity to speak for a home school group in Gainesville, Florida. Some of my comments touched on positive child training. You can listen to the audio message: Amazing Grace for Home School Moms.

For grace and mercy - and justice!

Virginia Knowles

P.S. In the past few weeks this blog has received well over 2000 visitors linked from other sites. (It usually gets one or two per day!) I didn't realize until at least a week after I posted it that I didn't have the comment function turned on - I was beginning to wonder why folks weren't leaving any! So now it's on and you are welcome to share your thoughts! Please just remember to be civil and discrete.

Update on August 16, 2011:  Anderson Cooper is doing a CNN news report on this case tonight, and the clip is on-line.  You can watch it here: Girl Spanked to Death in the Name of God.   Michael and Debi Pearl are interviewed in this video.  They seem so calm and self-composed here, but this is what I wrote in an e-mail to my subscribers after my original blog post: "When I originally wrote my article, I mentioned Michael and Debi Pearl because their books on child training (To Train Up a Child and No Greater Joy) have been implicated in the abuse deaths of Lydia Schatz and Sean Paddock.   I received a few vocal protests about that, so I removed that paragraph when I posted it on my blog, not wanting it to be a distraction from my main point that parents must not let child discipline turn into child abuse.  However, I was absolutely shocked today to read Michael Pearl's own blog post in which he has the audacity to very mockingly laugh at his critics without mentioning the murder of Lydia Schatz, expressing any grief that her death has been linked to his methods, or even cautioning his readers not to overdo his own methods.  Instead, he brags about how children trained by his methods are going to take over the world.  This is unconscionable and sickening!"