Remember the Christian Alamo

I think I’ve already played the “if you only read one story about Christian reform homes, it should be this” card, so I won’t say it again. But, if you only read two stories about Christian reform homes, this should be the other one. Pamela Coloff’s 2001 article captures the history of the Roloff homes, as well as the contemporary situation. You’ll need to read this as background for the post I have planned for this Monday, which I think will shock even longtime readers of this blog.

It’s long, so here are some excerpts (though I do think the whole thing is worth reading). Be warned, it features descriptions of extreme punishments used on children. For space reasons I’ve edited out the stuff about how George W. Bush aided and abetted the Roloff homes on their mission, but those of you who already love Bush for the great legacy left by his presidency will find more to appreciate here. In short, Bush passed a law that allowed places like the Roloff homes to operate in Texas without state accreditation.

The Rebekah Home for Girls sits on a lonely stretch of south Texas farmland, a solitary spot where, amid the switchgrass and sagebrush and fields of cotton, young sinners are sent to get right with God. On a warm Saturday in May 1999, a sixteen-year-old named DeAnne Dawsey unexpectedly found herself at its doors. Her mother had said only that their family trip to Corpus Christi would last the day, and DeAnne had no reason to doubt her. Summer felt within reach, and DeAnne was relieved that her sophomore year of high school, which she was in danger of failing, was about to end. She was a slight girl with blue-gray eyes and dark brown hair who always wore a diamond-studded heart necklace. An inveterate flirt—”All she thought about was boys,” her mother would later lament—DeAnne never ignored an admiring glance. Normally she was too restless to stay still for long, but that morning she was in a dark mood: She and her boyfriend had quarreled the night before, and she sat brooding in the back seat of her mother’s car, lost in thought.

She was so preoccupied that she shrugged off a telling remark that her grandfather, who was traveling with them, had made after leaving Houston. Like DeAnne’s mother, he did not know much about the Rebekah Home for Girls or its history: that it was the most famous, and infamous, of the homes for troubled teenagers founded by the late evangelist Lester Roloff; or that punitive “Bible discipline” was the method used to chasten girls who had fallen from grace; or that the home had been the center of an epic, twelve-year battle between church and state—culminating in a standoff that Roloff called the Christian Alamo—in which the maverick preacher and his successors fought to avoid regulation by the State of Texas. But DeAnne’s grandfather felt guilty enough for lying to her about the purpose of the day’s trip that he turned in his seat to face her. “I’m sorry we’re doing this to you,” he said softly. “I’m so sorry.”

At the heart of Lester Roloff’s battle with the state of texas were his homes for troubled teenagers: reformatories where “parent-hating, Satan-worshiping, dope-taking immoral boys and girls,” as Roloff described his charges, were turned into “faithful servants of the Lord.” Roloff’s method of Bible discipline, which he said was rooted in Scripture, meant kneeling for hours on hardwood floors, licks meted out with a pine paddle or a leather strap, and the dreaded “lockup,” an isolation room where Roloff’s sermons were played for days on end. The state spent much of the seventies and early eighties fighting Roloff in court, insisting that he obtain a license for his youth homes and submit to state oversight. The preacher countered that he answered to a higher power and that his homes were licensed by God.

Discipline at [Roloff's] Rebekah Home was rooted in a verse from Proverbs: “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.” The dictum was liberally applied. Local authorities first investigated possible abuse at the Rebekah Home in 1973, when parents who were visiting their daughter reported seeing a girl being whipped. When welfare workers attempted to inspect the home, Roloff refused them entry on the grounds that it would infringe on the separation between church and state. Attorney General John Hill promptly filed suit against Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises, introducing affidavits from sixteen Rebekah girls who said they had been whipped with leather straps, beaten with paddles, handcuffed to drainpipes, and locked in isolation cells—sometimes for such minor infractions as failing to memorize a Bible passage or forgetting to make a bed. Roloff defended these methods as good old-fashioned discipline, solidly supported by Scripture, and denied that any treatment at Rebekah constituted abuse. During an evidentiary hearing, he made his position clear by declaring, “Better a pink bottom than a black soul.” Attorney General Hill bluntly replied that it wasn’t pink bottoms he objected to, but ones that were blue, black, and bloody.

In 1974 a state district judge found Roloff in contempt of court, sentencing the preacher to five days behind bars. Roloff headed off to jail—as he would two more times during the state’s long-running case against him—wearing a smile, his well-worn Bible tucked under his arm.

DEANNE REALIZED SOMETHING WAS AMISS that spring day in 1999 when, outside Corpus Christi, they turned off the empty two-lane highway and stopped abruptly at a guardhouse. Their family day trip was not, to DeAnne’s knowledge, supposed to include this detour. Stark farmland stretched in all directions, and beyond the guardhouse stood a large, white brick church—”Christ is the Answer” its sign proclaimed—that dominated the landscape. Off to the right, DeAnne could see a vast two-story dormitory that looked incongruous against the wide-open sky, its facade bearing the words “Rebekah Home for Girls” in black script. In that moment, DeAnne knew she had been lied to. For months her mother had been threatening to send her away to boarding school: DeAnne had been running wild, in her mother’s eyes, skipping school and spending too much time with her boyfriend, who her mother felt certain was using drugs. High-spirited and restless, DeAnne resented her mother’s scrutiny. She had run away from home once, and she wanted nothing more than to escape the seemingly repressive rules that her mother had laid out at home. But in that moment, as DeAnne went pale in the back seat of the car, she knew she was trapped. “Don’t do this to me,” she pleaded with her mother as two guards approached the car. “Please don’t leave me here.”

In 1973 the Texas Legislature held hearings on the practices of the Rebekah Home and other unlicensed homes for youth. One Rebekah girl recounted how a whipping she had received for smoking a cigarette left welts on her body that were an inch high. The revelations led the Legislature to pass the Child Care Licensing Act, which required all child-care facilities to be licensed by the state. Roloff refused to abide by it on the grounds that it conflicted with his free exercise of religion. “I have no right to go by the Welfare Department’s little brown book,” he quipped, “so long as I have the big black Book.”

In need of a political ally, Roloff found one in Governor Bill Clements, whom he affectionately called Brother Bill. … With the governor on his side, the preacher continued to flagrantly flout the law—most memorably when he explained why he had not reported an attempted murder at the Rebekah Home to local authorities. “We had a prayer meeting the night it happened,” he explained. “We reported it to Him.”

A series of defeats in the courtroom would soon set the stage for the Christian Alamo. Roloff had kept his homes open by appealing a state district court’s order to close them—but an appellate court upheld this order in 1977, describing Roloff’s claim that state regulation would conflict with his free exercise of religion as “nothing more than a bald conclusion entirely unsupported by any factual evidence.” The Supreme Court of Texas agreed, and in 1979 another state district judge ordered Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises to obtain licenses for its homes or close them. Still Roloff did not yield. “They’ll hang black crepe on Heaven’s gate if they close these homes,” fumed Roloff. Hundreds of his supporters massed around the Rebekah Home, on Roloff’s 557-acre compound south of Corpus Christi, linking arms and forming a human barricade to prevent state officials from moving in.

LONG BEFORE DEANNE DAWSEY CAME to the Rebekah Home, a succession of girls had stared out of its dormitory windows at a world that lay just beyond reach and dreamed of running. Only a few got away, tearing through the tall grass to Farm Road 665 and thumbing rides to Corpus Christi. So many girls tried to run from the home over the years that its caretakers took precautions—putting up a six-foot fence, rigging the windows with alarms, and wiring the girls’ bedrooms with intercoms so they could listen for any plans of escape. Punishment for even talking about running was so severe that most girls learned to accept their lot, turning away from the windows that looked out onto Farm Road 665 and allowing only their thoughts to roam.

Jo Ann Edwards was brought to the Rebekah Home in 1982, after running away from home at the age of thirteen. “I was an acolyte at my church before I went there, and God was very close to me in my heart,” she said in a phone interview from her home in Victoria, where she is the mother of five children. “But that place turned me against Him for a while and made me very hard. I thought that even He had left me.” As a new girl, she was scrutinized by “helpers,” the saved girls who handed out demerits for misbehavior. Demerits were given for an endless host of wrongdoings: talking about “worldly” things, singing songs other than gospel songs, speaking too loudly, doodling, nail biting, looking at boys in church, failing to snitch on other sinners. Each demerit earned her a lick, which the Rebekah Home’s housemother administered with a wood paddle. The beatings left her black and blue. “I got twenty licks my first time, and I was hit hard—so hard that I couldn’t sit for days,” Jo Ann said. “I begged [the housemother] to stop. When she was done, she hugged me and said, ‘God loves you.’ She told me to go back to the living room and read Scripture and sing ‘Amazing Grace’ with the other girls.”

Only Rebekah girls who had proven their devotion by repeatedly testifying to God’s grace could avoid Bible discipline. Some girls were genuinely troubled teenagers who had gotten mixed up with drugs or prostitution; others had been caught having sex; many were guilty of nothing more than growing up in abusive homes. Tara Cummings, now 31 and a mortgage consultant in Chicago, was sent there by her father, a preacher, whose beatings had left her badly bruised. Even she was not immune to judgment. “I was told that I was a reprobate, that I was beyond help and was going to hell,” she said. She was treated to the full range of the Rebekah Home’s punishments, which were not limited to lickings. “Confinement” meant spending weeks hanging her head without speaking. “Sitting on the wall” required sitting with her back against a wall and without the support of a chair, even as her legs buckled beneath her. But kneeling was what she most dreaded. Kneeling could last for as long as five hours at a time; she might have to kneel while holding a Bible on each outstretched palm or with pencils wedged beneath her knees. Only girls seen as inveterate sinners received the full brunt of the home’s crueler punishments. “You had to be saved,” Tara said. “It didn’t matter if you didn’t feel moved to do that—you did it to survive.”

The worst form of punishment, the lockup, was reserved for girls who had not yet been saved—who had talked of running away or who had proven to be particularly intractable. The lockup was a dorm room devoid of furniture or natural light where girls spent days, or weeks, alone. Taped Roloff sermons were piped into the room, and the near-constant sound of his voice was the girls’ only companionship. Former Rebekah resident Tamra Sipes, now 34 and working in advertising for a newspaper in Oak Harbor, Washington, remembers one girl who was relegated to the lockup for an entire month. “The smell had become so bad from her not being able to shower or bathe that it reeked in the hallway,” she said. “We could do nothing to help her. I remember standing in roll call one day waiting for my name to be called off, and I was directly across from the door. She was singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to herself in such a pitiful voice that I couldn’t help but cry for her.”

Lester Roloff never attempted to hide that he used Bible discipline and all that it entailed; “We whip ‘em with love and we weep with ‘em and they love us for it,” he once said. But he also knew what the State of Texas would have to say about his methods, so when he reopened his homes in the fall of 1979 under the auspices of the People’s Baptist Church, he again refused to apply for a state license. “I’ll never sacrifice my girls on the altar of an unrighteous decree,” Roloff vowed. Attorney General Mark White responded by filing suit and prosecuting the preacher anew, contending that his youth homes were still subject to state licensure. Roloff enjoyed an early victory in 1981, when a district court judge ruled in his favor, but the decision was overturned on appeal. In 1984 the Supreme Court of Texas sided with the state, holding that the licensing of church-run child-care facilities violated no First Amendment religious freedoms. The following year, the United States Supreme Court let that decision stand. The Rebekah Home would have to be licensed or shut down.

DEANNE DAWSEY REFUSED TO MEET HER MOTHER’S GLANCE as she was escorted inside the Rebekah Home by two guards who walked on either side of her to prevent her from running. Once inside, she was plunged into a monastic existence that left her cut off from the outside world. “It didn’t take long to figure out that this was not an ordinary boarding school,” said DeAnne. She was ordered to strip down and told to put on the home’s required clothing: a long skirt that covered her legs—no pants were allowed—and a loose-fitting shirt. Then she was taken to the living quarters, where she met many of the 25 or so residents. Some of the girls had been sent there for being in gangs or on drugs, and as they greeted her, they gave her the rundown of how things worked at the Rebekah Home: there were no televisions, no radios, no magazines. Speaking of anything worldly was forbidden, as was singing worldly songs. Meeting eyes with boys in church was barred. Letters going both in and out of the home were read first by the staff and censored. Phone calls, which could be placed only to family members, were monitored. No conversations were private, since staff listened in on the intercoms that were installed in each bedroom. “Just give in and do whatever they want,” her roommate told her.

DeAnne looked out the dormitory windows, which were still wired with alarms to prevent escape, and tried to picture spending the next year of her life at the Rebekah Home. Her mind reeled. “I cried all night long,” she said. “I don’t think I fell asleep until about an hour before I had to wake up. I was freaked out.” Her anxiety only grew in the days to come. Each morning, she and the other girls were required to listen to a taped Lester Roloff sermon while they did their chores. Each afternoon, they were required to attend a Bible memorization session, where they had to read Bible verses out loud, in unison, in what sounded like a chant. What troubled her was not the sentiment behind these exercises, for she considered herself to be deeply faithful: Raised in an Assembly of God church, she had stepped forward at a revival when she was twelve years old to be baptized and to accept Jesus Christ as her personal savior. What disturbed her was her growing suspicion that this was “a cult,” whose methods had left some of the girls in her midst brainwashed. “Everyone talked about Roloff like he was God,” she said. “The majority of every sermon was talking about how Roloff did this and Roloff did that, instead of testifying to how God did this and God did that. It was just totally mixed up. People were really worshiping him instead of God.”

DeAnne hated many things about life at the Rebekah Home—the isolation, the constant surveillance, the joyless view of faith. She took pity on a dim-witted girl whom, she says, Fay Cameron slapped for not doing her homework; DeAnne would have her own run-in with Mrs. Cameron as well. DeAnne had written a letter to her boyfriend, whom she had not been able to communicate with since leaving Houston. As was the custom, Mrs. Cameron read the letter to see if it needed any alterations before being mailed. She soon handed it back to DeAnne and told her that she would have to rewrite it entirely because it painted too negative a portrait of the Rebekah Home. When DeAnne refused, Mrs. Cameron told her the letter would not be sent. “I lost my temper, and I called her a nasty word—I called her a bitch,” DeAnne said. “I was furious because everything in that letter was true, but I wasn’t allowed to write it.” In return, she says, Mrs. Cameron delivered a stinging slap to DeAnne’s face.

The two would have another confrontation several weeks later: DeAnne had been caught talking in class, and when she was told to write “I will not talk in class” one hundred times, she refused. (“I was tired of playing by their rules,” she said.) Mrs. Cameron grabbed her by the arm and marched her to the lockup. “You’ll stay here until you write your sentences,” she said, bolting the door behind her.

Inside the lockup, Lester Roloff’s voice began to play over the intercom, his rich baritone echoing off the walls—sermonizing, singing gospel songs, and exhorting all who listened to come to Jesus. His voice droned on as morning turned into afternoon and afternoon into evening. DeAnne stuck her fingers in her ears, but his voice seemed to have lodged in her brain. She began yelling rap songs at the top of her lungs—anything to drown out the sound—but Roloff’s voice was only turned up louder. “You people are crazy!” she screamed at one point, beating her fists against the wall. “Get me the hell out of here!” She began kicking the wall that night, and by morning a hole had formed in the Sheetrock. (“I felt like I was losing my mind,” she said.) Mrs. Cameron warned her that if she did not stop, she would be restrained. When DeAnne persisted, she was wrestled to the ground by three male guards, who pinned her arms behind her back while Mrs. Cameron bound her wrists with duct tape. Her ankles were then bound as well, and once she was immobilized, someone—DeAnne is unsure who—gave her a hard kick to the ribs. She was left alone to writhe on the floor, gasping for air. Having worked herself into a sweat trying to fight off the guards, she was able to squirm out of the tape within a few minutes. She has no idea how long she would have been left restrained.

After 32 hours in the lockup, DeAnne finally relented and wrote her sentences. The following day, when she complained that her ribs were hurting, Wiley Cameron called her mother to say that he was sending DeAnne home. “The only reason they put me on that plane is because they knew that if they called a doctor, they were going to have to answer a lot of questions,” DeAnne said. She had lasted only three weeks at the Rebekah Home. As soon as she returned to Houston, she called Child Protective Services, which launched an investigation into the Rebekah Home. Since Texas law forbids child-care facilities to seclude their residents in locked rooms or bind them with restraints like duct tape, the agency issued the home one finding each of physical abuse, medical neglect, and neglectful supervision—and ultimately banned Fay Cameron from working with children in the state of Texas ever again. The home was not given so much as a warning by the TACCCA [Texas Association of Christian Child-Care Agencies], even though it had violated state law; in fact, it was reaccredited the following year.

Read the rest at Texas Monthly.

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About Jonny Scaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on November 28, 2013, in Accelerated Christian Education, Atheism, Christianity, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Disturbing. Heartbreaking.

  2. “If they could just understand the good we do here,” ~Wiley Cameron

    Sigh. Reading the article (clearly seeing mind control techniques used – breaking their will) reminded me of a Texas based Christian academy (Honor Academy) run by Ron Luce (Teen Mania Ministries) where many kids that attended have been diagnosed with PTSD. Those who attended as well as cult experts and mental health professionals speak out.

    He’s been in business since 1986. His ‘ministry’ targets and exploits tens of thousands of vulnerable youth, worldwide. It is still operating and continues to get tax exempt status. MSMBC did an award winning documentary on it titled Mind over Mania.

    In 2002, George W. Bush appointed Luce to the White House Advisory Commission on Drug-Free Communities.

    Jonny, thank you for bringing the article to our attention. I’m so saddened by the actions of my country which continues to allow child abuse and mind control techniques on our children in the name of the religious freedom.

  3. As awful as these stories are and the abuses these children have suffered, I think what is even more disturbing to me is how many parents have failed to put into practice reasonable and responsible due diligence. Mind you, in my limited experience, difficult children offer the greatest challenge to parenting skills, and those who seem to have the least of these seem to be most prone to subjecting their children to means and methods least likely to be helpful and most likely to cause even greater difficulties. For this reason (unless there is fairly significant brain impairment in either the child or the parent ), show me a difficult pubescent child and I’ll show you long term poor parenting.

    So rather than go along with the charade that blames kids for their dysfunctional behaviours to justify punitive responses that lead to these kinds of abuses in the name of responding to the ‘need’ for stricter behavioural remediation, I think we need to recognize the call sign these children demonstrate of dysfunctional parenting in desperate need of skills training.

    I know my opinion is quite controversial but I think the evidence is overwhelming that the physical punishment of children is a clear demonstration of failed parenting, of turning to the least effective method of teaching there is and then trying to justify its use by blaming the child for causing it. If more people recognized what physical punishment really represented – a failure of the punisher to be a responsible and effective care giver – then I think there would be far fewer child victims of abuse.

    • “I think we need to recognize the call sign these children demonstrate of dysfunctional parenting in desperate need of skills training.

      Tildeb, you bring up a very good point. But rather than blaming the parents, we need to blame society for devaluing parental education. In America, a college education is required to educate children, but parents are not required to have any education. Zero. So instead, they (parents), use 2000+ year old religious traditions/doctrine as their guide which can cause brain atrophy and pons dysfunction. Numerous childhood development and neurological studies have clearly demonstrated that adverse childhood experiences cause significant societal problems.

      • Pons dysfunction! (I had to look it up.)

        A college education is not required to teach ACE, BTW.

        I am loathe to blame ‘society’ for anything because it’s just a word that encapsulates so many moving parts (I am no fan of sociology as a field of study). But parents are real and they are responsible for the raising of the children they produce. Behavioural difficulties are a very clear indication that some kind of effective and meaningful teaching is required to bring about change. But the assumption I find all too common is that this change belongs only to the child – the agent least able and the least powerful to accomplish this. Parents are ideally situated to act (regardless of what societal ‘forces’ may be in play) and they have developed cognitive functioning and legal powers to best accomplish this self-appointed task. No matter how poor the parenting skills may be, when they are equipped with skills that are easier on them (as well as the kids) and more effective (causing change) and work very well (improving the relationship), I have yet to find one that refuses to do this on principle or religious belief; instead, I find people asking why they weren’t taught this kind of stuff earlier! And this is where we come into agreement: teaching parenting skills is sorely lacking as anything of value in comparison to, say, plumbing. I would like to see these skills taught in public schools as part of family studies (mandated in high school here in Canada). But the push back from parents is rather remarkable considering that almost every parent sees themselves as above average!

      • Culture plays a huge role in the well being of children, and as I’ve already mentioned, there are numerous studies showing that adverse childhood experiences lead to societal problems on a grand scale. Google the ACE study (Adverse Childhood Experience) from the Center for Disease Control website ( cdc.gov/ace/ ) with over 17,000 participants.

        If you want more details of the study, you can find an excellent lecture on YouTube by childhood trauma expert Dr. Robert Anda, who was co-investigator of the Centers for Disease Control Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. Search “Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), featuring Dr. Robert Anda”

        The fact that Accelerated Christian Education doesn’t require their teachers to have a college education, plus they are allowed to hit children, is a clear example of a societal problem. If a child is abused (emotionally, physically, sexually) and/or experiences reoccurring stress, they are at a significant risk for brain atrophy, disease, mental illness including depression, cognitive and behavioral problems, addiction, early death, and as I mentioned, pons dysfunction, which can lead to attachment disorders.

        I agree with you regarding family studies in high school, but keep in mind that the prefrontal cortex is not fully develop at that age, so it is imperative that adults receive mandatory prevention training/education if they are going to bring children into the world, especially education about brain development. Raising children is the most important and hardest profession, and plays a significant role in contributing to the well being of our species. Parents should not be expected to ‘just know’.

      • I think we are on the same page minus a quibble or two. Thanks for the link. Of course adverse experiences have an effect but I find it a fascinating subject regarding the effect of a secure attachment that seems to directly support resiliency that has astonishing power to mitigates these effects – a very handy attribute for all of us meeting life’s challenges.

        My first quibble is about the power and influence of ‘culture’ to be reflective of ‘society'; the study of culture does exert such an influence, but in my mind this contribution falls into anthropology and not sociology. In fact, I have found that just about anything worth while in sociology comes from some other field (especially psychology)… leaving sociology bereft of any knowledge value save the field of linguistics, where creating new terms to facilitate becoming a graduate student seems to be its main product. Still, I accept your point that culture has an influence on child development because it influences parenting practices.

        My second quibble is about the development of prefrontal cortex and what this enlargement means. Many eminently qualified people assure me that until enlargement occurs, development of self-control and social interactions is adversely affected. But if this were true then I would expect to find equivalent underdevelopment in other areas of executive function. This assumed correlation we simply do not find in practice; we find all kinds of variances in specialization (expertise) in these ‘impaired’ individuals, which as you know is concentrated development. In common parlance, size isn’t everything in spite of experts telling us it is. I find the same behavioural range in adolescents, for example, as I do in adults even if the mean frequency and amplitude is slightly different. More importantly, I find learning enhanced in these younger subjects, so I suspect the age-related growth has much more to do with expanding capabilities than it does with impaired functioning. This is an important difference, which seems to me to affect the expectation not on age-related experience as the cause of this development (where I think it really matters most) but rather on age-related brain development as an effect. Again, I suspect parenting plays a much more deterministic role in promoting or retarding neural development in all areas of executive functioning than the genetic predisposition for age-related growth.

        The third quibble is about the notion of ‘mandatory’ training in adulthood. I simply don’t see this as workable. The cognitive skills required can be taught at a much younger age (to greater benefit) and I think to much greater effect. Having worked with children and adolescents at both ends of the learning spectrum but all with behavioural challenges, the trick I find is for these kids to find benefit and value in behaving differently. Exactly the same simple principle holds true for the exasperated parent: once the benefits of doing some other parenting skill is experienced, then a conversion is instantly made. The clue that too many parents miss that pretty well guarantees poor parenting is when finds one’s self responding all the time rather than implementing a plan. Getting through the day is a really shitty plan, and hoping kids will change their behaviour to avoid punishment is hoping for a different outcome by doing the same thing.

        Yes parenting can be very difficult but not nearly as difficult as hitting a golf ball consistently well or playing a musical instrument beautifully. We know practice is important for all three but few of us try whacking a ball or causing sound and assume we are failures if the goal isn’t instantly reached. Parenting is no different. Nor do we aid our own development by smacking the club in a fit of anger or whacking the instrument to express our frustration. There are better responses when problems are encountered and the first one is to assume that reaching the eventual goal will require practice, evaluation, and change. We can teach this stuff to kids not necessarily about parenting per se but have the principle taught so often and to such great effect that kids learn to translate these connections to their own later parenting skills. When we use a child’s behaviour as a guide to reveal how they have incorporated our teaching (which is the meaning of ‘discipline’ for those who may not know), then we gain valuable insight into how we’re doing and an indication of what we (and not society) need to change.

      • I appreciate your response, and I do hope that I can get my point across better in this post because my points are related to the OP. You said:

        “My second quibble is about the development of prefrontal cortex and what this enlargement means.”

        For clarification purposes, it’s not about enlargement. Its about maturity — synaptic connections and pruning. For teens, their ‘pleasure centers’ ( nucleus accumbens) which is in the prefrontal cortex is fairly well developed but other areas of the PC that have to do with delayed gratification, impulse control, decision making and risk taking are underdeveloped. This has been demonstrated in fMRI studies. Providing education to parents, teachers and society as a whole allows us to gain a better understanding of the developing brain and behaviors and hopefully refrain from ineffectual cultural disciplinary practices, i.e., negative reinforcement — corporal punishment, breaking a child’s will and dominance/control behavior from adults, as noted in the OP.

        Here’s a quote from a fundamentalist Christian book “To Train Up A Child”, which instructs parents on how they should parent a child deemed rebellious. Several children have died after parents heeded the instructions in that best selling book.

        “However, if you are just beginning to institute training on an already rebellious child, who runs from discipline and is too incoherent to listen, then use whatever force is necessary to bring him to bay. If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender. No compromise. You are to rule over him as a benevolent sovereign. Your word is final.”

        Notice the similarities to the ‘discipline’ used in the Roloff homes? To see more similarities, here’s a recent report from CNN interviewing the authors who’s book has been linked to yet another death of a child by Christian parents. Notice that he promotes corporal punishment from infancy on up, and states that the instructions on how to discipline a child comes from the Bible.

        http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/bestoftv/2013/11/26/ac-tuchman-on-to-train-up-a-child.cnn.html

      • “Yes parenting can be very difficult but not nearly as difficult as hitting a golf ball consistently well or playing a musical instrument beautifully.

        This comes across as if to say that parenting takes less time, dedication, work and training. As a parent, and one who has pretty much mastered a musical instrument, I’d have to disagree.

        “We can teach this stuff to kids not necessarily about parenting per se but have the principle taught so often and to such great effect that kids learn to translate these connections to their own later parenting skills.”

        This I agree with (neuroplasticity) but we shouldn’t stop educating after high school. Unfortunately, often the only education parents get come from the way they were parented and within the walls of religious institutions based on their ‘holy’ books. For example, corporal punishment is legal in homes and schools in nearly every Red state in the U.S. — states which tend to also be the most religious. Yet it is illegal to hit an adult. Abusing children in all its forms is a societal problem and will only change through education — teaching positive reinforcement skills rather than the antiquated religious doctrines that are about dominance and control.

        “The third quibble is about the notion of ‘mandatory’ training in adulthood. I simply don’t see this as workable.”

        Given our current technology, implementation is not difficult, but as a society, we have to give value to parenting. This short and informative video is from the Center on the Developing Child – Harvard University. http://youtu.be/urU-a_FsS5Y

        I think that if you can find time to watch the ACE lecture I shared with you previously, and/or read the comprehensive ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) study, you will have a different POV afterwords. As you pointed out, it’s mandatory for plumbers to get an education to clean out your sewer pipes. Yet when it comes to mandatory education for parents — zero training required. That’s about as illogical as is it gets given the profound impact it has not only on children but also society. It is a societal problem. Through education we, as a society, can prevent such horrible childhood experiences such as what took place at the Roloff homes.

      • I made the comment about golf and music to suggest that most of us understand that practice and training helps achieve difficult objectives. Parenting is easier in the sense that we come equipped from our own childhood to parent (unlike playing golf or a musical instrument). (Alos, please note that I do not call this good parenting.) This is the kind of parenting I see most often: reactionary, responsive, reflexive parenting rather than planned, directed, and well implemented parenting.

        In Jonny’s post we can safely assume that the mom sent the girl to such a ‘school’ without due diligence because of the assumption that anything labeled as ‘religious’ must be good by definition. This kind of assumption has to be indoctrinated, and is incredibly popular without merit. In fact, the parenting decisions based on assuming it to be true is actually an unthinking response.

        My comment was intended to show that GOOD parenting requires the same willingness to learn and change as we expect when setting out to learn to play golf or a musical instrument, but it’s easier in the sense that we see immediate benefits that reinforce the changes in upgrading the parenting skills. Good parenting is not an achievement to be obtained by shooting a low score or performing a difficult piece; it is a process rich with immediate rewards that incrementally takes far less time to learn and implement than my silly examples. Taken as a whole, successful parenting obtains the goal of producing an independent, responsible, healthy, well adjusted, compassionate and caring educated adult and, as you point out, is far more difficult than simply whacking a ball consistently well or regularly producing pleasant ordered sounds… as difficult as these actually are to achieve. Parenting in the analogy would be like playing not eighteen holes or eighteen pieces but a minimum of eighteen years per round, eighteen years of playing! And no do-overs or restarting allowed. But the skill set for good day-to-day parenting is actually much easier to learn and implement than the refined technique necessary for the same kind of reward in golf or music.

      • “In Jonny’s post we can safely assume that the mom sent the girl to such a ‘school’ without due diligence because of the assumption that anything labeled as ‘religious’ must be good by definition. This kind of assumption has to be indoctrinated, and is incredibly popular without merit. In fact, the parenting decisions based on assuming it to be true is actually an unthinking response.”

        I couldn’t agree more. Well said.

      • Any smart parent will constantly be seeking to learn because such a parent knows the investment pays so many dividends for the parents, the child, and the home environment. My quibble is about mandatory parental training. It’s a quibble because we share the same principle about needing better parenting; the difference lies in how best to achieve it.

        Coercion is never (in my mind) the best tool for teaching, nor the best method of achieving the desired results. (It’s almost always a final straw, a last ditch attempt, a demonstration of frustration and anger.) In my experience there are always better, more effective, longer lasting ways to achieve these goals that deal specifically with self- rather than imposed or coerced motivation.

        It starts with education and must be positively reinforced… hopefully by immediate and ongoing reward… not from anything ‘out there’ but from within. I have yet to meet a parent, for example, who doesn’t want to be considered a good parent if its easier and more rewarding than being a poor one! But without positive motivation and quick experience to enjoy this change one step at a time, I think mandatory requirements causes more problems than it solves. In the same way that a student who comes willingly to class equipped with enthusiasm and desire and finds the attendance rewarding doesn’t require mandatory rules or some coercive oversight, so too do parents who learn and then immediately benefit from implementing different parenting strategies need no coercion. In fact, the imposition degrades the experience altogether and actively works against exactly what is trying to be achieved: a rewarding class.

        Parenting IS rewarding in its own right when done well and I think this is what needs more support and advertising to attract those who don’t find it this way and who struggle mightily with finding it anything but hard, difficult work that is too often emotionally draining. Adding or imposing some kind of legislated licensing for parents I think only adds to the burden poor parenting already suffers from rather than supports a motivational change to improve and enjoy daily life with children.

      • “Parenting IS rewarding in its own right when done well and I think this is what needs more support and advertising to attract those who don’t find it this way and who struggle mightily with finding it anything but hard, difficult work that is too often emotionally draining.”

        Hopefully you will watch the short Harvard video I posted, because based on your response I don’t think you got the full picture of my reply. People who decide to become parents should be fully prepared that it is hard work and many times difficult and emotionally draining. They need to have the skills and support to help them. And yes, it also has its rewards. That’s one of the reasons why there’s dysfunction in parenting because they’re not prepared to meet the challenges and obstacles that face them and then resort to negative reinforcement practices, such as mentioned in “To Train Up a Child”. or send their children to homes such as the one mentioned in the OP. Also, in America, primary caregivers, usually woman, have a very difficult time getting back into the workforce after they’ve chosen to stay home with their children. What the research shows is that they are penalized for becoming the primary caregiver. That must change.

        I took two years off when my daughter was born, and even though I had an excellent resume, I had extreme difficulty finding a job when I had to go back to work. In this day and age, I know of few parents who can swing it on one income. As noted in the video, we need to change the paradigms.

        “I think mandatory requirements causes more problems than it solves.”

        It’s mandatory for children to go to school. For clarification, when I mentioned mandatory education, I was not suggesting a license to be a parent nor mandatory rules, with except to corporal punishment because there is abundant evidence that such practices have long term negative effects. I simply don’t see the logic in expecting parents to know it all then solely blame them when problems arise. It’s a societal problem that has historically devalued parenting and primary caregivers.

      • As someone who has worked with children, I think you will find this site from Harvard of interest. It has all the latest research on child development, parenting for brain development and the importance of societal support.
        http://developingchild.harvard.edu/

        If we don’t move forward using the abundance amount of research available to us, we will continue to move backwards, as is evident in the OP and in best selling Christian books like “To Train Up A Child”.

        Thank you for the discourse. =)

      • Truly a fantastic resource I’ve followed and used for years.

      • Tildeb, I need to make a clarification. My original reply was quite long so I divided it into 3 posts, and during the cut and paste, some words were left out. I wrote:

        “For teens, their ‘pleasure centers’ (nucleus accumbens) which is in the prefrontal cortex is fairly well developed “

        I meant to write: For teens their pleasure centers (nucleus accumbens) which is ‘modulated’ in the prefrontal cortex is fairly well developed.

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