During the course of doing research on the topic of teen room culture, I’ve read quite a few parenting guides and other works that purport to instruct moms and dads on how to deal with surly teens. Most of these books—as well as their authors—can be best described as “benign” or even “boring.” One book I stumbled across, however, can only be described by using another phrase featuring the letter ‘B’: “batshit crazy.”
The book in question is called What’s A Parent To Do? It was written in 1971 by an evangelical minister from California named C.S. Lovett. As his website explains, Lovett has been presiding over a non-denominational Christian organization called Personal Christianity since 1951. In that time, he’s published numerous books on a wide array of topics, including weight loss (Help Lord, the Devil Wants Me Fat! and Jogging With Jesus), apostasy (What to Do When Your Friends Reject Christ), and how to manage your personal finances in the afterlife (Will You Be Poor In Heaven?).
Though What’s A Parent To Do? doesn’t have a particularly punchy title, the actual contents of the book are a bit too “punchy” for my tastes. Lovett, after all, uses the teachings of Christ to rationalize his support for corporal punishment, oftentimes citing the value of violence in bringing rebellious teens back in line. “God’s way,” Lovett explains, “is clearly the ‘rod of correction.’”
Lovett refers to his system of discipline as “The Nutcracker.” A two-pronged approach designed for use by both moms and dads, “The Nutcracker” relies just as much on psychologically terrorizing teens as it does on cowing them with brute force. For example, Lovett believes that teens should sit alone in their room shortly before they’re attacked, so that they can take a few minutes to dwell on their upcoming assault. “You want him to sit alone in his room for a few minutes before you come in,” Lovett explains. “This way he can be alone with his thoughts. It gives him a little time to determine how far he wants to carry this rebellion. Also his emotional buildup will be greater. Your words, ‘I’ll be along in a few minutes,’ have a familiar ring. He knows what’s coming.”
The act of assaulting teenagers is presented without any amount of shame, as Lovett seems to employ the same inane jargon commentators on the Golf Network might use to describe a particularly accurate drive: “That was the sound of your open palm striking him full across the cheek. It was a good blow. His skin reddens where your fingers landed. He’s surprised. Shocked is a better word.”
It is worth noting, however, that even child abuse has a code that must be followed. As the illustration below suggests, Lovett feels that punching teenagers with a closed-fist is simply beyond the pale.
Though the use of fists is forbidden—the author must be a fan of professional wrestling—Lovett thinks it’s entirely permissible to use a belt if slapping doesn’t have the intended effect: “Whap! Whap! Whap! Whap! Whap! Those were good blows,” Lovett exclaims, perhaps channeling the Marquis de Sade. “They hurt. He felt them, but good.”
Now, I imagine some of you are probably wondering what the teen pictured above (his name is Jerry, by the way) did to deserve being slapped and whipped with a belt? As it turns out, Jerry wasn’t doing drugs or performing home invasions or hanging around with loose women. No, Jerry was being beaten because he failed to keep a clean room. Lovett, moreover, encourages mothers to whip their teen daughters with a switch for something as inconsequential as lying about attending a slumber party at a friend’s house. Girls who lie to their mothers, the author suggests, “must pay the price.” At one point, Lovett even encourages parents to use the strap on boys who forget to rake the leaves.
Let me reiterate: C.S. Lovett feels that keeping a messy room, lying about a slumber party, and forgetting to rake the leaves necessitates using force against teenagers (and, I suspect, younger children as well). Even if you, dear reader, are in favor of corporal punishment, you have to admit that this is quite possibly the most terrifying piece of parenting advice ever. And if that doesn’t send chills down your spine, consider that Lovett is also willing to use starvation as a tool: “Don’t plan on Jerry for dinner. Until he submits to cleaning his room he should get NO FOOD at your house. You’re not going to feed a rebel.”
Lest I be accused of being anti-Christian, let me just say that I’ve read several other parenting guides that were written by prominent Christian leaders, and none of them come even close to approaching Lovett’s level of craziness. For example, Rupert Hoover, a Methodist minister from Michigan, published a book in 1962 entitled Enjoy Your Teenager that features (so far as I can tell) exactly zero acts of violence against teens. Even James Dobson, one of the most powerful (and conservative) evangelical leaders of the 1980s and 1990s, wrote advice books for parents (most notably, Hide and Seek and The Strong-Willed Child) that offer no support for the idea of whipping children with belts. C.S. Lovett, in other words, is extreme even by evangelical standards.
Lovett sums up his views on disciplining teens by pointing out how well “The Nutcracker” supposedly worked on his no doubt terrified hypothetical son. “Jerry goes to his room,” Lovett brags. “He makes his bed and puts things away. He’s not exactly happy. It’s a grudging service… His shell has cracked.” Unfortunately, Jerry can expect to be on the receiving end of even more beatings in the coming weeks and months. Lovett not only sees corporal punishment as a means of bringing teens back in line, but also in keeping them there. “Being in submission is a new role for him,” Lovett warns. “Even so, it’s a wonderful start. You’ve gained the upper hand—plan to keep it.”
All of the quotes and pictures in this entry can be found in C.S. Lovett, What’s A Parent To Do? (Baldwin Park, CA: Personal Christianity, 1971), 91-3, 109-11, 113-14, 129-31,156-57, 181.