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To Train Up A Child


About the book

In March 2015 members of the public raised concerns regarding the availability of the book To Train Up A Child in an Auckland Library.

Under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 books are not required to be classified before they are supplied to the public. However, members of the public can seek the leave of the Chief Censor to have a book examined and classified. This is what happened in the case of To Train Up a Child.

Seeking leave to have something classified

To Train Up A Child book cover

Date registered: 31/08/2015

How books are classified

Books are classified using the legal criteria set out in the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. This is the same criteria applied to films, games and other publications.

New Zealand's classification criteria

Classification criteria: Crime

[The police] view any allegation that a child has been assaulted with a weapon (instrument) very seriously. If substantiated a prosecution is the likely outcome.

New Zealand Police

There is no doubt that To Train Up A Child advocates the use of physical force for the purposes of correction. Training is modelled off classical operant conditioning, where a negative stimulus produces an avoidance response.  Pain is the stimulus applied to reinforce commands. Complete obedience and submission to the adult’s will is expected and enforce. All disobedience, rebellion, displays of self-willed indulgence, or even the “bad” attitude expressed in whining, call for correction by use of “the rod”.

Classification criteria: Cruelty and violence

The submission from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner considers that some of the methods in the book constitute “severe cruelty” – such as setting up an appealing object in reach of the child, but striking the child with a switch when they reach for it – and “promotes significant violence against children”.

The book gives detailed instruction in a method of “training” children that aims at producing complete submission by inflicting pain. While it is necessary that the child feels pain, words such as “forceful” are used in surprisingly few of the many examples. The word “beat” appears in the Biblical quotes: the author does not himself suggest “beating” children. It is a misreading to suggest that the adult’s objective is to cause severe pain. Calm and control are emphasised, with regular pauses for reproof if the child does not immediately submit. There are numerous points in the text where the author cautions against using the rod in anger, or using a hand to smack a child, usually at the end of a parent’s tether.

Examples of cruelty are not difficult to find, but a judgment that any particular behaviour constitutes cruelty is inevitably subjective; many people would consider that the entire text of To Train Up A Child is no more than a collection of examples of cruelty. There is little doubt that setting up artificial opportunities for training a child into submissive obedience is a form of cruelty. Nonetheless a reading of the behaviours described in the book as “extreme violence or extreme cruelty” would unreasonably stretch the meaning of that phrase. 

Furthermore, the Classification Office is not aware of any correlation between cases of child abuse in New Zealand and consumption of the 21-year-old book. The New Zealand Police were asked about the likelihood of New Zealand parents following the methods outlined by a fundamentalist Christian pastor. They responded with the comment that such an assessment would be difficult.

On occasions there have been examples of extremism within the fundamentalist Christian faith in NZ that have resulted in the alleged abuse of children but these have been rare events.

New Zealand Police

Decision summary

After reading the book in its entirety, consulting with experts, and applying the legal classification criteria, the Classification Office classified To Train Up A Child as Unrestricted. This classification means that the book can legally be made available to any person.

From the conclusion:

It is quite clear that To Train Up A Child promotes and encourages the use of physical force for the purposes of correction, which is illegal in New Zealand. However, in the framework set by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, classification decisions are required to be reasonable and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. The book is problematic in the high extent and degree to which it promotes and encourages such criminal acts.

However, with the prominence of the “anti-smacking” debate over recent years, few New Zealand parents would be in any doubt that the methods advocated for are against the law and that their use would invite prosecution. Recent survey trends that indicate a lessening of support for smacking children appear to suggest that the majority of New Zealanders would not attempt to follow the methods outlines in the book.

People who are just looking for advice on parenting (or who access the book out of curiosity) are likely to be put off by its fundamentalist religious ideology and patriarchal views. In any event the book does not appear to be available for sale in book store and no libraries apart from Auckland seem to have it available for borrowing.

The Classification Office concludes that to ban the book would be neither reasonable nor justified. A restriction in any other manner would also not be appropriate. There is no particular purpose or specified class of persons that the book could be limited to that would practically limit any harm. An age restriction would not be appropriate because adult parents are the target audience and restricting it to them would serve little purpose.

Classification Office's Notice of Decision for To Train Up A Child (PDF, 685KB)

Contact the Information Unit if you require further information on a classification decision.