Cheryl A. Tyler
Master of Education in Special Education
George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University
In 1984 Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo began a small parenting class at Sun Valley’s Grace Community Church. Today, Ezzo claims that his books and child rearing methods have reached over a million homes. He uses words and phrases to sway the reading audience to follow his rigid method of feeding and discipline without question even though he has no education or experience in pediatrics, child development, neurology or lactation. The result has been dozens of children whose conditions have been associated with failure to thrive or low weight gain. The long-term emotional damage has yet to surface as Ezzo babies are under the age of twenty.
(Please note that references to the Ezzo & Bucknam On Becoming series are made by the title rather than the reference of Ezzo & Bucknam, 2001.)
How Ezzo’s Child-Rearing Philosophy Impacts
Psychosocial and Physical Development
Gary Ezzo claims that his childrearing method has reached over a million homes. Borders, Inc., the bookstore chain, states the Ezzos are joining the ranks of the top-selling baby authors such as Dr. Sears and Penelope Leach (Carton, 1998). The methods are packaged for two audiences: On Becoming books are sold to the general public; however the bulk of his support comes from the Christian community. Growing Kids God’s Way is laced in legalism and heavy discipline for sinful children. On Becoming Babywise I and II presents a rigid feeding schedule. All Ezzo materials pressure parents to keep from bonding naturally with their infant. This paper is a look at Ezzo’s philosophy and how it fails to meet the developmental needs of children.
On Becoming An Ezzo Product: An Introduction
The Books and Video Tapes
Gary Ezzo and his wife Anne Marie began a small parenting class in 1984 after church members commented on how well behaved their two daughters were. By 1989 Ezzo’s Growing Families International (GFI) became a for-profit corporation. The original book was Preparation for Parenting. That book became On Becoming Babywise I and On Becoming Babywise II, with religious references removed (Webb, January 2000). In his On Becoming books, Ezzo uses phrases to set a mental tone and sway the reader (words in parenthesis are used in Growing Kids God’s Way): For a child-centered (humanistic) home Ezzo uses the adjectives “strive” and “yearn”; for the parent-centered (Godly) home, the adjectives are “understand” and “compliance” (On Becoming Babywise I, p. 25).
The Growing Kids God’s Way series comes with videotapes. On the original tapes, as well as in the seminars, parents are told to not question what they are being taught, nor are the participants allowed to discuss this parenting method outside of class. In these older materials parents are not to discuss this with health professionals (Babywise Concerns, 2003: Prewett, 1994). Since these original materials were produced, the Ezzos have made changes. However, Ezzo boasts that his readership numbers are not only those materials sold directly, but books passed around from parent to parent, and because of this many will never see the revised material. Churches who invested in the earlier materials may not have this new information either.
Many parents will not change the feeding program even when health professionals warn that children must have increased feedings. In some cases it is only after children are diagnosed with serious weight loss that parents will come forth with the source of their parenting method (Webb, January 2000). Behavior like this has caused the Christian Research Institute to state that “GFI has provoked unprecedented public censure from Christian leaders because, although it is not a cult, it has consistently exhibited a pattern of cultic behavior, including Scripture twisting, authoritarianism, exclusivism, isolationism, and physical and emotional endangerment” (Terner & Miller, 2004).
Dr. T. Berry Brazelton says, “I’m horrified. I’m absolutely horrified . . .” (Krantz, 1999). Author William Sears says “Babywise is probably the most dangerous program of teaching about babies and children that I have seen in my 25 years of being a pediatrician.” Dr. James Dobson has issued a statement of nonsupport for Ezzo’s child rearing methods (Webb, January 2000). What are Gary Ezzo’s credentials that cause physicians and therapists to speak out against him?
Ezzo, the Man
The core theme of the On Becoming books is the moral child. Yet, Gary Ezzo displays anything but a moral man. The cover of On Becoming books states his authorship: Gary Ezzo, M.A. However, he has only earned a high school diploma and masters of arts in ministry for persons who get life-experience credit (Aney, 2001). Ezzo once claimed to have a business degree from Mohawk Community College, and in that claim stated a major and grade point average. The school says he never graduated. Once, Ezzo permitted persons to call him “Dr. Gary Ezzo” on radio advertisements without correction (Terner, 2000). Parents expect Ezzo to be a professional whose credentials are truthful.
The second author, Robert Bucknam is a pediatrician whose name was added to Babywise I and II after they were written (Aney, et al., 2001). Anne Marie Ezzo claims to background in pediatric nursing, but in fact she spent only two years in pediatrics at Concord Hospital in Concord, NH over twenty-five years ago (Carton, et al., 1998). While Ezzo states he has a review board of physicians and specialists, he will not give their names because “they are busy people who do not want to be bothered” (Aney, et al., 2001; Terner, et al., 2000). Aney (et al, 2001) also suggests that the research in On Becoming Babywise I (p. 51) is not a random sample, but one of convenience for Ezzo to prove his child-rearing method is successful.
In August 1999, an accounting firm established that Ezzo’s son-in-law, Robert Garcia, a GFI officer, embezzled an estimated $500,000. Ezzo had called auditors, but when it came to light how much money was actually involved, Ezzo changed his story and said he loaned Garcia the money. Church officials at Living Hope Evangelical Fellowship suggested that he take a leave of absence due to the stress from the money-issue, and allow time for the rumors to subside. Ezzo began spreading lies about the leadership to the point he was excommunicated on April 30, 2000, due to failure to “repent of former sins which we confronted, and even sadder still we have learned that he continues to widen the circle of his lies, slander, gossip and false accusations…Gary readily sets aside integrity and seeks to protect himself and the financial viability of GFI by lying…Gary has manifested a lack of Christian character essential to leadership in the church…In the end it was his impenitence that caused him to be put out of the church” (Living Hope Statement, 2000).
Gary Ezzo has also been in trouble at two other churches over the last twenty years. At Sun Valley’s Grace Community Church, pastored by author John MacArthur where the ministry originated. Ezzo served as a staff member and elder at this church. He was undergoing a disciplinary process at this church when he left. The church leadership publicly rebuked him in October 1997 due to “divisiveness.” They stated that the Ezzo method of child rearing was “fraught with danger…it obscures what is Biblical” (Terner, et al., 2000), and he confuses “biblical standards with personal preference” (Rosin, 1999). More than fifteen years ago, Ezzo was asked to step down as pastor-teacher from his church, His Vantage Point Church, in Laconia, New Hampshire (Terner, et al., 2000). The church is now called Lakes Region Bible Church, and firsthand testimony states “our experience…paralleled the problems that subsequently have been experienced by many others, such as (Gary’s) authoritarianism, exclusivity, and division” (Terner & Miller, et al, 2004).
In February 2001 Multnomah began investigating the controversy to defend Ezzo. Multnomah had no medical editors to review the books’ medical claims such as children who are fed on Ezzo’s schedule “rarely suffer from colic” (Cutrer, 2001). The editor assigned to the books declared Ezzo’s methods as dangerous. Integrity concerns were heightened when the editor found that Robert Bucknam had lied about being a faculty member at Colorado’s Medical School; the truth is medical students have only toured his facility and nothing more. As well, when Bucknam became a “co-author,” he had been in practice as a pediatrician for less than a year and was first introduced to Ezzo’s methods while attending a local course for new parents. One reference listed on the On Becoming Preteen Wise was a marriage and family counselor who had an expired license that was not renewable. Ezzo began to self-publish in 2001 (Cutrer, et al., 2001).
Ezzo’s response to media critics has been to: concoct a disparaging interview transcript and demand that a reporter be fired; ask that a critic of his materials be criminally prosecuted. Another time he wanted to obtain legal information to report Grace Community’s John MacArthur to the IRS. Professional critics are called “anti-God.” Christians who come against Ezzo are called “wicked” and “humanistic” (Terner, et al., 2000). Obviously, Ezzo is an example of “do as I say, not as I do!” Yet, parents and thousands of churches submit to Ezzo’s legalism without question-like the followers of David Koresh and Jim Jones.
Due to the massive amount of information, this paper is limited to parenting issues in the first two years of life, with only a few comments on the teen years. The lines between physical and psychosocial are sometimes almost blurred. For example bonding is a physical attachment as well as mental. Ezzo’s methods in these critical first months of a baby’s life have implications for life-long physical and mental disorders, and potentially could even lead to death. The long-term emotional damage has yet to surface as Ezzo babies are under the age of twenty.
The Development of a Child
From birth to age one, developmental theorists generally agree that infants learn to trust their caregivers. Both Freud and Erikson concur that responsive parenting is critical to the infant’s development. During the second year of life, the toddler’s need is to assert their will and learn to be autonomous (Sigelman & Rider, et al., 2003, p. 29). Dreikurs (1990, p. 14) states that the child is a social being and its “strongest motivation is the desire to belong.” He writes that much has been said about shaping a child’s character, but a child is “an active and dynamic entity” (p. 32).
The Ezzo method of child rearing goes against all theories of development, and beyond parental support to parental control. There is behavior control in the area of responsibilities, and then there is psychological control where the parent takes control over “feelings, verbal expressions, identity, and attachment bonds” (Barber, 2001, p. 4). This psychological control counters healthy child development (p. 15). It is defined as “patterns of family interaction that intrude upon or impede the child’s individualism process, or the relative degree of psychological distance a child experiences from his or her parents and family” (p. 18). In his writings, Ezzo does not recognize a child as an individual, and his method is full of psychological control.
Physical Concerns for the Ezzo Child
In 1998, the Santa Clara Valley Breastfeeding Task Force issued a statement that said Ezzo’s parent-directed feeding (PDF) was “likely to contribute to serious health problems for the infant-most likely dehydration and poor weight, leading to malnutrition, learning difficulties and other developmental problems” (Stewart, 2000). Aney (et al., 2001) states that: lactation professionals and other healthcare providers have “noted an unprecedented increase
of . . . failure to thrive (among infants) on the Ezzo program.” Infants who receive inadequate nutrition show growth retardation (Sigelman & Rider, 2003, p. 117).
Ezzo writes in On Becoming Babywise I (p. 47) that babies do not know how to regulate their hunger patterns, so the parent must do that. When infants are fed on his parent-directed feeding (PDF) program the hunger patterns will stabilize. Ezzo asserts that the absence of a routine (i.e. feeding on demand) will “confuse the baby” and (make him) “insecure” (p. 48). He also states: “the quality of breast milk is inadequate in five percent of women, and that controlled feeding in the first weeks of life won’t lead to dehydration” (Stewart, et al., 2000).
The Ezzo feeding schedule for the early weeks is every 2 1/2 to 3 hours for the breast-fed infant (p 74). While Ezzo speaks of flexibility in the schedule, he spends a greater amount of time reminding the parents of the infant’s me-ism demands and need for the security of a schedule; “erratic feeding periods confuse an infant’s young memory” (p. 48). The schedule listed in the book as an example is 7:00 am, 10:00 am, 1:00 pm, 4:00 pm, 7:00 pm, and finally 10:00 pm. (p. 48). Children are to nurse no more than fifteen to twenty minutes on each side (p. 171) .
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that a newborn should be nursed whenever “they show signs of hunger, such as increased alertness or activity, mouthing, or rooting. Crying is a late indicator of hunger. “Breastfed babies tend to fee more often than formula-fed babies, usually 8-12 times a day. The main reason for this is that their stomachs empty much more quickly because human milk is so easy to digest” (AAP, 2004).
By the age of six months an Ezzo baby is expected to be on three meals a day with a bedtime bottle/nursing and with no snacks or in-between fluids (Stewart, et al., 2000; On Becoming Babywise II; Ezzo & Ezzo, 1993). For babies who become dehydrated or need hospitalization and intensive feeding, the Ezzos say that their feeding schedule is not the problem. Instead, it must be something else such as improper nursing techniques or failure (on the part of the parent) to keep tabs on how much the infant is eating (Carton, et al., 1998).
Highly educated people have believed they were following Ezzo’s feeding program to the letter and their children have been hospitalized for dehydration and failure to thrive. Appendix A is an open letter from Michael and Michelle Hsieh whose son became anorexic and spent months on a feeding tube after following Ezzo’s feeding program and highchair manners.
Bowlby defines attachment is the emotional bond that develops between a parent and child (Woodward, Fergusson, & Belsky, 2000). Ezzo says “research does not confirm the importance of bonding right after birth” (On Becoming Baby Wise I, p. 192) and that too much cuddling will spoil the child. In Growing Kids God’s Way, Ezzo says that children are born self-oriented (p. 24) and that moral training of children includes self-control from the very beginning. The child whose parents give continual feedback and stimulation are considered child-centered and this leads to the moral decline of the child by “fostering me-ism” (p. 65). Ezzo states in On Becoming Babywise I, that me-ism is “emotionally crippling” (p. 23). He suggests that: “in addition to feeding, changing, and bathing your baby, you might have at least one playtime a day when the baby has your full attention for fifteen minutes or so” (p. 130, emphasis mine). However, Dr. Grace Ketterman, a nationally recognized pediatrician, child psychiatrist and author believes the Ezzo program will “lead to a lot more rebellion, a lot more hurt and angry children…the lack of trust that emerges (from the program) is a foundation for family problems” (Terner & Miller, et al, 2004).
Early intervention of the parent with the child sets the stage for later life attachments. The warm, responsive parent forms a secure attachment that will become increasingly stable and resistant to change over time. The parent who is rejecting or inconsistent gives rise to a child who is avoidant of parental contact. The lifelong development of secure attachment of the child depends on the stability of the childrearing environment over time (Woodward, et al., 2000). A significant number of children who experience early attachment deprivation fail to develop normally, and they need therapeutic intervention (Goldberg, 2000).
In a study of individual differences, researchers have found that sensitivity to infant signals establishes the nature of infant attachment. Parental sensitivity is considered to be a key element in the development of security in the child. Secure attachment is thought to come from “consistent and appropriate responsiveness to infant signals” (Goldberg, et al., 2000, p. 58).
Studies prove that mothers of secure infants were “flexible and emotionally expressive,” while mothers of “future avoidant infants were more rigid and less expressive” (p. 63), described as “rejecting-slow to respond to distress and uncomfortable with close body contact” (p. 24). Avoidant infants are defined by behavior where the infant seems unconcerned with the mother’s presence or absence (p. 10). Research has further verified that mothers who use a cloth carrier or sling, “promotes greater maternal awareness and response to infant signals.” Babies from study groups assessed at one year showed that 68% of infants of responsive mothers were secure as compared to 28% of the control group (p. 61).
Appendix B is the testimony of a family who did not attend to their son’s cries, once again believing they followed the Ezzo plan exactly as written. By age four the child had an attachment and anxiety disorder. This mother states that an attachment disorder (with autism ruled out) is not fully curable because it is a “function of brain change.” The DSM-IV TR states that the general medical conditions for a child age five or under to have an attachment disorder is “associated with extreme neglect” (p. 128).
The Child Abuse Prevention Council of Orange County, California report that Ezzo programs “failed to promote self-esteem, aren’t age appropriate and don’t provide a healthy balance to love and discipline” (Carton, et al., 1998). An Ezzo child is considered to be healthy to the degree that (s)he is compliant without question and obedient to parental demands. By the age of two, children are expected to obey the first time or they are chastised (On Becoming Babywise II, p 129). There are documented cases where children under the age of four receive constant corporal punishment for behaviors that were developmentally healthy (Francis, 1998).
The information on spanking is very limited in the On Becoming books. However, in Growing Kid’s God’s Way, three chapters are devoted to spanking with Biblical passages to support Ezzo’s theory. The type instrument to use is described as: “a somewhat flexible instrument (that) stings without inflicting bone or muscle damage…if there is no pain, then the instrument is probably too light or too flexible” (p. 217). Children as young as 14 months are spanked with three to five swats (per incident); older children receive more (an ambiguous term that could result in abuse). Ezzo writes: “75 to 80 percent of all spankings will take place between 14 and 40 months. The last 20 percent will come sporadically over the next ten years” (i.e. when a child is around 13 1/2 years of age) (Ezzo & Ezzo, 1997, p. 218). Ezzo claims that pain (of spanking) “plays a part in the developmental process.” He explains that pain is the “natural outcome of wrong behavior,” and it needs to be “artificially created” (p. 199).
A 1998 volume of Marriage & Family: A Christian Journal from the American Association of Christian Counselors devoted a section to spanking. Larzelere (1998) provides research to show that in exclusive spanking parents of 12-to-15-month-old children, the children were more aggressive. In 25-to-38-month old children that a combination of reasoning and spanking brought longer lasting results. He states that spanking of 6-to-9-year-olds is counter-productive and increases anti-social behavior. The spanking of teenagers shows detrimental outcomes.
In the same journal Lowe (1998) reviews spanking from a Biblical perspective, and presents the problems when parents spank and are abusive. The ambiguity of “a few swats” might be interpreted as a swat on a clothed bottom, or with a belt exerting extreme force on a naked bottom.
Ezzo (1998) responds to the Larzelere and Lowe articles with a four-page commentary citing only one reference; he provides no research to support his claims that spanking is the most effective form of discipline for children. Instead he starts with a scenario of a child running toward a busy street, and then begins an emotional tirade of saying that non-spanking advocates are anti-God because spanking is linked to the Bible. He ends by saying that discipline (i.e. spanking) is the process for training that leads to moral development, and to not spank is “an act of surrender to secularists.”
Sigelman & Rider (et al., 2003) write that 80% of American adults believe that children occasionally need a spanking. However, research shows that it is best to use more positive punishment before administering a spanking. On page 36 of Sigelman & Rider (et al., 2003) is a list of what is necessary for spanking to be effective. One is “administered by an otherwise affectionate parent.” The Ezzo parent’s lack of bonding might have an adverse reaction here, and the parent will be further seen as an adversary. There is also a warning that spanking might make children “resentful and anxious.”
Free Exploration of the Child’s World
Sigelman & Rider (et al., 2003, p. 259) state that infants desire to master their environment. The term the authors use is “mastery motivation” when children struggle to open cabinets and figure out how toys work. From birth to age two the cognitive development stage is sensorimotor. Piaget said children construct new understandings of their environment and should be permitted to explore their world. Erikson says this period in a child’s life is when they learn to trust or doubt their abilities as they explore and become autonomous.
Ezzo is against giving a child the opportunity to freely explore. His term “developmental confusion” means: “what happens when a child gets more freedom than he or she is ready for” (Webb, February 2000). “Developmental deprivation” is another Ezzo term used to describe a child’s “best opportunities to learn.” Ezzo believes that a child becomes learning deprived when (s)he is permitted to have “impetuous and momentary desires to be their prime source of learning.” The nonrestrictive theory or trial-and-error, Ezzo says, is inferior to proactive teaching. For example, to generalize a concept, a child must have a parent there saying: “don’t touch the stereo” (On Becoming Babywise II, p. 70). He believes that structured alone time in the playpen, time alone in their room, and time with the family is far superior to autonomous investigation.
Ezzo suggests that a one-month-old child needs to begin spending daily awake time, including a nap, in the playpen (p. 130). In On Becoming Babywise II (p. 73), Ezzo says that playpen time benefits a child by: developing mental focusing skills, sustaining attention span, creativity (“creativity is the product of boundaries”), self-play adeptness, and orderliness. However, according to Sigelman & Rider (et al., 2003, p. 140) infants who are presented a stimulus over and over again will lose interest.
It appears Ezzo has his own developmental theory. In the Foreword of On Becoming Babywise II, Bucknam writes: “we base this book on a moral model of child development” (p. 9). For Ezzo, though, a moral issue is a child who drops his food on the floor, runs in the hall, or does not say please. This is found throughout the Ezzo and Bucknam books.
Moral development studies tend to look at children ages 6-16, implying that experts regard a 5-to-15-month-old child is not developmentally ready for such rigid training as Ezzo suggests. Studies have shown that parents are of greater influence than peers in moral development, but parental responsiveness was directly related to moral development (Walker & Hennig, 1999). A parent who has not bonded properly with their child is then is at a disadvantage for moral training.
When my children were babies, our very old pediatrician told me that when they were ready to potty train, it would happen overnight. Indeed, my older daughter was two when she decided she was ready, and in a few days she was totally trained. Our second child was close to three when she was potty trained; we tried to force her around her second birthday to no avail. It was within her personality to move slower than her older sister whose goal was to wear “big girl panties” to daycare.
Ezzo suggests that training begin between 18 and 24 months. However, the training is as rigid as his feeding schedule, even though he states to be relaxed and give your child a chance. Children are expected to sit on the potty, and obey the first time. Any child over 30 months is held accountable for their accidents and should clean themselves and their clothing, without (it is implied) parental assistance (On Becoming Babywise II, pg 127).
How can a child clean itself after an accident, when dressing is still developmentally inappropriate? At the age of 30 months a child does not have fluid, rhythmic strides nor is his eye-hand coordination developed (Sigelman & Rider, et al., 2003). A child of this age is just entering the preoperational stage of cognitive development and sees things from a single dimension. This development period is “driven by how things look rather than from logical reasoning.” Children combine unrelated facts, and this leads them to faulty cause-effect conclusions. If children are reprimanded for soiling themselves at an age when they might not be ready for toilet training, they may develop a distorted self-concept.
The Psychosocial Concerns for the Ezzo Child
A parent’s response to his or her child is developmentally critical for an emotionally healthy child. The Ezzos believe children are born with a predisposition for “moral waywardness” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 19). One mother posted on Ezzo’s website: “to her ‘astonishment’, her six-month-old began arching his back and fussing when she put him in a highchair. ‘It’s so sad to see that they’re really sinners'” (Rosin, et al., 1999). Thinking your baby is a ‘sinner’ or “morally wayward’ sets the tone for the way parents respond to their children. (See Appendix C).
Responding to Infant Cries
Ezzo claims that permissive parenting leads to “many learning disorders, including difficulty in sitting and concentrating” (On Becoming Baby Wise I, p. 54). “Emotional mothering,” Ezzo claims, sets the stage for “child abuse,” which he defines as the “tendency to direct thoughtless, impassioned responses toward innocent children . . . and a child trained to be demanding” (On Becoming Baby Wise I, p. 151). Ezzo teaches that responding to a baby’s cries may be at odds with scripture (Ezzo & Ezzo, et al, 1993, p. 146).
Ezzo tries to calm the worried parent to not respond to an infant’s cries through various situations that a responsive parent would eventually learn through trial and error. He writes that an over-stimulated child will fight off sleep through crying. He claims that crying is a normal part of the baby’s day, but by not responding to cries the future will bring a baby who “goes down for a nap without fussing and wakes up cooing” (On Becoming Babywise I, p. 130).
A child who wakes up crying, according to Ezzo, is one who is not getting enough sleep, and the parent should not go pick up their baby. (What about a sick child or one who had a mobile fall on him, for example?) Instead they should wait for the child to go back to sleep in another ten minutes (p. 134). Reportedly one family left a four-week-old baby to cry for three hours, and in another family a baby cried for 45 minutes and his mother was disturbed to find blood in his throat. (Rosin, et al., 1999).
Since infants cannot access their parent’s cognitions, the parent-infant relationship must be mediated through the parent’s interactions. Researchers have observed that: “infants whose mothers were responsive to their crying in the first six months, had a higher rating of communication competence by twelve months” (Pederson, Gleason, Moran & Bento, 1998). Older women with larger families state they cannot stand to hear their infant cry and respond because they do not want to “become hardened,” but remain “tender and protective” (Prewett, et al., 1994). The result of parent non-responsiveness is babies who no longer make eye contact with their parents and act fearful rather than trusting in their presence (Auerbach, 1998).
High Chair Manners
Ezzo states that: a highchair is where a child can sit for an extended period. While being fed an Ezzo child is not permitted to: “flip a plate; play with, drop or throw food; place messy hands in his hair; bang on the tray; stand, arch the back; spit food or scream” (On Becoming Babywise II, p. 61). If the child does not respond to verbal correction, the parents are instructed to isolate the child in a crib, and then returned him/her to the high chair to use correct highchair manners. In addition to those listed, children as old as eight months are expected to keep their hands away from the food and tray as well as use sign language when they are finished. One parent spent up to four hours taking a young child from the highchair to isolation without getting the proper signs or required Ezzo behavior (Webb, et al., February 2000).
For a two-year old the world is a wonderful place to explore. When a child as young as eight months is expected to keep their hands out of their food, it is developmentally inappropriate. The sensorimotor stage of development for this age is to shake a rattle and grasp an object to put it in their mouth. A baby would then naturally want to explore their food with their hands.
While in the high chair the eight-month-old baby is required to use sign language to say “please,” “thank you,” and “I love you.” The developmental age for this to occur is 18-24 months when a child is learning to solve problems mentally, and uses symbols to stand for objects and actions (Sigelman & Rider, et al., 2003).
A Brief Look At Adolescent and Teen Development
For the preteen and teenager, Ezzo states that the “nature of progressive development reveals” that children will “only choose peers over family if they have either accepted or rejected their family identity” (On Becoming Preteen Wise, p 138). That the hormones will affect the body, but not the “values you place in her heart” (p. 153). In Growing Kids God’s Way, he says: “peer pressure on a child is only as strong as family identity is weak” (p. 272). From this Ezzo tells parents that because of his childrearing methods parents will “have the same influence as peers have,” and teens will not rebel.
Barber (et al., 1990, p. 150) states that behavioral control that excludes adolescents from outside influences and restricts social interactions will limit the behavioral experience resulting in a dependency on the parents; there is limited or no self-expression unless it reflects the parent’s interests (p. 21). Research shows exclusion from peers lowers achievement and grades (p. 42). It is found to be positively related to “depression and withdrawn behavior” (p. 34).
Ezzo does not take into account the research that shows the influence of peer groups and over-abundance of risky behavior as part of adolescence and the chemical changes of the brain. Adolescent growth spurts change the pre-frontal cortex that controls emotions and decision-making (Sigelman & Rider, et al., 2003; Bradley, 2002). Ezzo children are just entering their teens, and how will they meet the challenges of the world?
Conclusion: A Final Thought
From the beginning of my experience with Ezzo parents, I have been concerned about the look on the children’s faces. The children have few smiles and are hypervigilant to their parent’s every request. This is more than just a child who obeys out of love and respect for their parent, but one who is a “Stepford” child. Ezzo parents coo at the idea of a well-behaved child, but fail to notice the obvious lack of natural attachment. They miss the pleasant surprises from a child who has been allowed to develop according to his temperament and personal style.
If there are indeed a million children being raised with the Ezzo rigidity, then therapists, pastors and physicians should be ready to deal with the myriad of psychological issues that will be presenting over the next century. They will see everything from anti-social behavior to a person who cannot trust God because they never came to trust their parents.
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Auerbach, K.G. (1998). Scheduled feedings . . . Is this “God’s order”? The Journal of Perinatal Education, 7(3), 1-5. Babywise Concerns. An open letter regarding the dangers of Preparation for Parenting (Babywise). Retrieved July 25, 2003, from http://www.ezzo.info/Aney/hseihtestimony.pdf
Babywise Concerns. (n.d.). John MacArthur comments on Gary Ezzo’s break with Living Hope Evangelical Fellowship. Retrieved July 25, 2003, from
Babywise Concerns. (n.d.). Living Hope Evangelical Fellowship’s statement about Gary Ezzo. Retrieved July 25, 2003, from http://www.ezzo.info/LHEF/lhef_nov_2000.htm.
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Carton, B. (1998, February 17). Striking behavior: The Ezzos sell parents some tough advice: Don’t spare the rod-couple’s spartan methods for feeding, discipline, nurture growing outcry-a rubber spatula is fine. Wall Street Journal, A1.
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