What if I told you that there is a parenting technique you can follow that will give you "a renewed vision for your family--no more raised voices, no contention, no bad attitudes, fewer spankings, a cheerful atmosphere in the home, and total obedience from your children?" And what if I told you that this technique "always works with every child?" And what if I added that this technique comes with God's own seal of approval because it is "the same technique God uses to train His children?" Such are the claims of Michael Pearl in To Train Up a Child, a book that is well on its way to selling its one millionth copy.
Let me tell you why I am reviewing this book. After I recently wrote a two-part review of Debi Pearl's Created To Be His Help Meet I received repeated requests to take a look at To Train Up A Child, written by her husband Michael. The people who wrote to me told me of the impact the book has had on their lives and on their churches. They also told me how many copies it had sold and how many are in the hands of people who read this web site. In light of all of this, I determined that it would be wise for me to have some knowledge of it.
As I read the book, I found it a fascinating illustration of the reality that what we believe will necessarily impact what we do and how we do it. In this case, it shows that what we believe to be true about children will inevitably shape the way we “train them up.” It concerned me to see that many people follow Michael Pearl’s technique even though they believe very different things from what he believes. It is for these people in particular that I write my review. I write it not to condemn you, but to provoke you to consider what Pearl really believes about children and how this has shaped his book and your children.
There are several key claims and teachings of this book that merit a closer look. I will move through them in what I hope is a logical and helpful way. Today I will do some background work and tomorrow I will try to bring it all to a helpful conclusion.
Training Versus Discipline
Critical to the book is a distinction between training and discipline. The book's title and purpose are derived from the well-known words of Proverbs 22:6: "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Pearl explains the importance and context of this word train: "Train up--not beat up. Train up--not discipline up. Train up--not educate up. Train up--not 'positive affirmation' up." Training is the most often missed element in child rearing. A child needs more than 'obedience training,' but without first training him, discipline is insufficient.”
This is not a book about the reactive discipline of disobedient children, though this is present as a related, secondary theme. Rather, it is a book about a kind of proactive training that heads off disobedience and thus negates the need for discipline. Pearl says, "Training is not discipline. Discipline is the 'damage control' part of training, but is insufficient in itself to effect proper behavior."