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Civilization and its Discontented Babies: How Growing Families International , "Babywise" and the Ezzos May Be Making Psychological History

by Laura Bassi Zaff, Ph. D.

Parenting is a huge responsibility and a wonderful part of life. Of course, most parents want to do what is best for their families. Sometimes, in our culture, the way we were parented or the way that others tell us we should parent our children is inconsistent with what comes if we parent from the heart. When this happens, people sometimes begin to question their instincts, and instead of going with what is in their hearts, they might read a book or two, or turn to the "experts". As long as the "experts" aren't saying anything that is going to harm the children, most people think nothing of getting some parenting information from someone who claims to know something about children. The problems with reading books or with following a "parenting program" arise when the children's mental and physical health is jeopardized when a particular regimen is instituted. Many "experts" agree that the parenting methods espoused by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo do pose such a threat to the children's health and well-being.

Background on the Ezzos and Growing Families International

Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo are the founders of Growing Families International (GFI). GFI is a large profit-making "parenting ministry" based in Simi Valley, California. The parenting curricula put out by GFI is estimated to be in use by over 500,000 parents in 3,500 churches in 34 countries, according to GFI sources. The curricula contains four teaching modules: "Preparation for Parenting" for ages 0-4 months, "Preparation for the Toddler Years" for ages 5-15 months, "Growing Kids God's Way" for toddler aged- through elementary school aged children, and "Reflections of Moral Innocence", the sex education module for all ages. In addition to these volumes, the Ezzos, along with their co-author Dr.Robert Bucknam, a pediatrician, also offer secular versions titled On Becoming 'Babywise' and Babywise II. In the latter books, all references to the Bible and to theology have been removed; therefore, many readers are unaware of the link to the GFI modules and the Ezzo's religious foundations. Approximately 250,000 of these books, which are often on the Top Ten list in Christian booksellers lists, but are also found in mainstream bookstores, have been sold.

While many parents turn to the "experts", when they turn to the Ezzos, they are turning to people who are certainly not experts in child development or psychology. The Ezzos started out by giving parenting classes to people in their congregation. They claim to have credentials which would render them experts, but research turns up no credentials to support this claim. It seems Gary Ezzo has studied theology and his wife had briefly served in a hospital pediatric unit during nurses' training. They have two grown children, but little is known about them. In the GFI curricula, most of the rationale for the parenting methods they recommend supposedly are based upon biblical scriptures and the belief that one must ensure that one's baby never "manipulates" him or her. However, the Ezzos are hard-pressed of late to find supporters, either within the Christian community or within the pediatric community. In fact, Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, the Ezzos' church from which they began GFI, has publicly withdrawn its support. The evangelical Christian church, with approximately 10,000 members, issued a statement which indicates their position and concern with Ezzo's integrity and theological interpretations (for the complete statement please visit

Most new parents want to do their best for their child and some parents also want to do the right thing for God. The Ezzos claim to provide them with guidance for doing just that. However, upon close inspection of the Ezzo's methods, we find many harmful and inconsistent practices. For example, in Preparation for Parenting (p. 142), it is written that "following your 'maternal instincts' is incompatible with scripture". One can ask, "Did God design humans who have 'instincts' that are inherently flawed and incompatible with His will?" Gary Ezzo, however, writes that humans do not have instincts. Ezzo writes from a position of cultural ethnocentricity and often states that the peoples from less developed countries are somehow less attuned to what it is that a Christian God would want of His people. Many within the Christian community have stated that the Ezzos' interpretation of the Holy Scripture is not an interpretation to which others adhere (cf. Prewett, R., 1998). The Grace Community Church has stated that "we see no biblical basis for the stance GFI takes on infant feeding methods." Additionally, when reviewing the GFI information for "right" behavior, we find that children are supposed to adhere to one standard while adults adhere to another. For instance:

      "Babies are taught from the day of  birth not to be demanding, and yet the parents are
      encouraged to be extremely demanding of their child's behavior. Children are not allowed
      immediate gratification (even as newborns), yet parents are given the right to have
      immediate gratification of every request ('first time, every time'). Babies are implicitly the
      bearers of the sin nature, while parents seem to embody the attributes of God's image
      bearers. Time after time, babies and children are expected to behave in ways that are
      inconsistent with their God-designed level of development in order to satisfy the (often-
      arbitrary) comfort of the parents."  (Francis, B., 1998).

We can leave the theological arguments to the theologians, and it is still easy to see why many people in the pediatric and the child advocacy communities are alarmed about much of the information presented Babywise and the other Ezzo methods. The majority of the opposition comes from the fact that the Ezzos are not experts in child development, medicine or nutrition, yet they give definitive-sounding advice about everything from breastfeeding, getting one's child to sleep, "crying it out", punitive discipline and spanking, and sex education. Yet, in Babywise, there are only three citations to medical data; the most recent study cited is from 1986. In an attempt to "beef up" the references, the newest edition of Babywise contains citations from persons who are in actuality critics of Babywise such as Kathleen Huggins, author of "The Nursing Mother's Companion". Additionally, Ezzo cites internal GFI studies, yet none of these are peer-reviewed, nor is there a listing of any of the "experts" who allegedly reviewed the book. Before we discuss the controversial topics of infant feeding and discipline in detail, it is necessary to point out here that members of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have expressed their concern about the Ezzo parenting modules and Babywise (for a free information packet which includes the AAP's concerns, send email to Dr. Matthew T. Aney at

This critique of the GFI methods is by no means exhaustive. There are many aspects of the GFI parenting modules that have been more fully explored elsewhere (see reference section). Because you may be wondering why and how Ezzo finds parents who practice and advocates for his programs, or because you may be considering adopting some or all of his practices, this essay will, in places, touch on the cloak of secrecy and exclusivity that encompasses the Ezzos and GFI, which leaves members fearful of questioning the Ezzos' authority and leaves "outsiders" with little power and the idea that something sinister lurks within the GFI organization. For example, some parents who have been involved in the GFI program reported that they are taught to be distrustful of pediatricians, lactation consultants, and other professionals. The rest of this essay will focus mainly on the feeding schedules, which have caused the most stir in the medical community, as well as on the discipline methods, which are the overarching theme in the GFI literature, and will conclude with a hypothesis regarding the risks of psychological damage that some of the Ezzos' practices may cause for some children.

Ezzo's "Parent Directed Feedings"

The scheduled feedings of breastfed babies recommended by the Ezzo materials has caused the medical community and the lactation scientists to react strongly against the Ezzos' parenting plan. Within the current literature, there are no references or suggestions to schedule-feed breastfed infants; in fact, one will find the opposite suggestion. Yet, the Ezzos' schedule, called "Parent Directed Feeding" (PDF) is touted in Babywise as being the latest in infant feeding information. Sadly, not only is this information wrong, it has led to babies being hospitalized for dehydration and "failure to thrive".

Katherine Trevino, a La Leche League International (LLLI; a breastfeeding support group) leader and LLL Assistant Area Professional Liaison, states: "As a LLL leader, I have been instructed by our Professional Liaison folks to treat any suspected Ezzo babies the exact same way as 'failure to thrive' babies or low/slow weight gain babies. The babies don't gain weight on a schedule because they are not feeding enough! Some babies may do fine on such a schedule, most don't."

Dr. Matthew Aney, a California pediatrician, has seen babies whose parents are using PDF with low weight gain, dehydration, and even symptoms of depression (see section above on how to receive free information from Dr. Aney). In 1997, 100 healthcare providers including well-known experts and 20 fellows of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) sent a letter of concern to the AAP ( cited in Granju, K. A., 1998). The Wall Street Journal reported in February of 1998 that the AAP's District IV Chapter convention announced a resolution to investigate PDF as well as other GFI parenting practices.

When presented with cases about babies who are dehydrated, or not gaining weight, or suffer from depression, Ezzo and his colleagues state that the parents should not follow their program to the letter, but instead meld it to fit their individual circumstance. However, upon reviewing the GFI information, it is apparent to the reader that it is written in such legalistic terms that a parent would have a difficult time deciding that Ezzo wanted her to adjust the program to her baby's individual needs. In fact, one would be construed as a failure as a parent (and in God's eyes) if he or she let the baby's cries "manipulate" him or her.

While the Ezzos promise that one's baby will "sleep through the night" at 8 weeks of age if placed on their PDF schedule, such an occurrence may lead to nutritional deficiencies. "It is generally considered poor advice to put breastfed infants on a feeding schedule. You will be hard-pressed to find a baby care book which states anything other than to feed the baby when she is hungry", states Dawn L. Gray, a Registered Dietitian at New York Hospital's Cornell Medical Center. Gray continues, "Breastfed infants should be fed on demand in order to provide the proper nutrition for the baby and to keep the mother's milk supply growing and stabilizing."

Additionally, when a baby is hungry, she is going to cry. Crying is the only way that babies have to communicate with their parents. Yet, in the case of scheduling a neonate's feedings, the parents are going to have to ignore the baby's cries or try to distract the baby until the clock, and not the baby's tummy, says it is time to eat again. Unfortunately, this sets up a pattern where the baby's cues are not responded to properly and the parents get out of synch with the baby's needs, while the baby learns to ignore his own bodily cues as well. However, nowhere in the GFI materials will the reader find mention of meeting a baby's needs. Instead, it is the parents' needs that should be met by the "manipulative" baby. Nowhere will the reader of the Ezzo materials find pain and discomfort as a reason for the baby's cries.

"Crying it out"

In order to put the baby on a feeding schedule or to teach him to sleep through the night, the parents must be willing to let the baby "cry it out". Crying it out is not advised by many parenting experts, and those that do advocate its use do not advise using the method with babies younger than 6 months old. In fact, the person considered the "cry it out" sleep training method expert, Dr. Richard Ferber, advises techniques that are in opposition to those of Ezzo's program. Yet, the baby whose parents are using Babywise methods, will try to have a baby sleeping through the night and on scheduled feedings by 8 weeks of age. In order to accomplish this huge feat, crying it out is almost a given.

In "Preparation for Parenting" Ezzo states, "crying for 15-20 even 30 minutes is not going to hurt your baby physically or emotionally. Especially if the cry is a continual start-stop cry. He will not lose brain cells, experience a drop in IQ or have feelings of rejection that will leave him manic-depressive at age 30" (page 134). Not only does this statement have no basis in data provided in the psychological literature, there is in fact evidence that directly contradicts these statements. We will explore those issues in another section of this paper.

Why parents "Grow Kids God's Way" and why Babywise is unwise

Unfortunately, for the parents that ascribe to these methods, and find that it feels wrong to them, there is little support. Part of the problem lies in the fact that they are discouraged from discussing the methods with others who are not practicing this program. The website discussion board is only open to members. However, it has been "leaked" that whenever someone posts a "horror story" (e.g., a baby that was crying for so long that s/he had blood in his/her throat), those posts are quickly removed from the board. In a "Growing Kids God's Way" single parenting supplement, parents are told not to chastise their children in public, to try to ascertain that neighbors do not overhear babies crying, and to teach older children not to tell anyone, including the non-custodial parent, to what types of punitive measures they are subjected (cited in Francis, B., 1998). The Christian Research Institute magazine has gone as far as proposing that GFI exhibits "cultic tendencies", citing just this type of secrecy wherein the GFI parents are not allowed to discuss the materials and practices, nor are they allowed to question the course materials presented in the classes (cited in Granju, K. A., 1998). However, there are many proponents of the Ezzo methods because, sadly, by and large, they "work".

Yet, this type of rigid parenting has "worked" in producing compliant and "seen but not heard" babies and children at other times in the history of parenting. However, one does not usually get this kind of obedience from children, especially babies, without a heavy price. Consider the effects of depriving babies of the emotional bonds and stability necessary for growing psychologically and emotionally stable adults. Most people are aware of the horrible effects upon the children, who, in orphanages were not held or responded to appropriately.

Ezzo's "Discipline" is Punishment

Discipline means "to teach", yet for the Ezzos it is apparently misunderstood to be more about punishment and spanking than guiding the child to a sense of self-discipline. Apparently, though, Ezzo and his proponents do not believe that their practices are harmful; in fact, they believe quite the opposite. For instance, Ezzo claims that babies scheduled and responded to according to his rigid guidelines will cry less and have a decreased risk of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He also claims in "Preparation for the Toddler Years" that forcing a baby to comply with what he calls "High Chair Manners" will result in the promotion of cognitive development. The baby is not allowed to play with his food or he must be hit on the hand with a rubber spatula. Also in the same module, Ezzo tells the parents to force the 2 1/2 year old child clean up his own urine and excrement if he has a potty-learning "accident". Ezzo states that confining children to playpens is "necessary to help parents optimize a child's development". He advocates spanking for any transgression, as the "primary and exclusively 'godly' tool" (Francis, B., 1998). In fact, six-month-olds are thought to be old enough to endure punishments and 14- to 19-month-old babies can be given "one to three swats", are taught to sign (and must do so!) to say things like "please" and "I love you", and can be spanked at 18 months of age. The Ezzos state that they used a wood paint stirrer for "swatting" their children, but that parents can also use a rubber spatula to "swat" their own children (cited in Carton, B., 1998). Parents are taught to use all of these methods, even though the prevailing literature in child psychology and human development advise against them and/or find them developmentally inappropriate.

Looking at each of the aforementioned punitive measures, we see that there is either no evidence to substantiate Ezzo's claims or there is evidence that points to the exact opposite conclusion. For instance, there is no evidence that letting a baby cry in a crib will cause the child to cry less (although some children do have their spirit broken and resign themselves to their situation) or that it will lessen the chances of ADHD. As far as having "High Chair Manners" and not exploring objects and food, there is direct evidence from eminent psychologists like Jean Piaget which show that the lack of exploration will in fact lead to cognitive developmental difficulties. There is evidence that controlling the food intake of a child in such a rigid way as espoused by the Ezzos leads to problems like obesity or eating disorders. A child who is not ready for being completely dry or "potty-trained" (which most children are not at age 2 1/2) who is left to clean up his own toileting messes is bound to feel ashamed and helpless. Ezzo advises this practice while the well-known psychologist Erik Erikson found that at this age the child is in a crucial stage wherein she either becomes autonomous or falls into a pattern of shame and doubt. Spanking and "swatting" has been found to be detrimental to emotional and psychological development, to cause the child to exhibit "acting out" in various ways or to become depressed and sullen. Most child care experts from Dr. Benjamin Spock to Drs. William Sears and T. Berry Brazelton have come out against the use of spanking and physical punishments for children. Babies and toddlers have a limited understanding of the cause and effect between being left to cry, being "swatted" with an instrument, or being spanked and then having their parents at other times play with and cuddle with them. These practices send a harmful and mixed message to the babies; they simply do not have the cognitive capacity to understand the nuances in interaction that Ezzo seems to think they can grasp. The potential harm and inconsistent cognitive and emotional messages sent to the preverbal toddler who must sign "please" in order to get fed (and if he does not he can go hungry) and who must sign "I love you" to person who has just "swatted" him with a paint stirrer is a psychologist's nightmare. Yet, to the Ezzos, their colleagues, and the many parents for whom this program of having a "convenient" child "works", this is all part of what must be done in the name of preserving the parents' pre-baby lifestyle and/or in the name of "growing kids God's way".

Modern thought on parenting styles

The Ezzos are quick to dismiss the fact that much of the current research points to "Authoritative" parenting (see Baumrind, D., 1967) to be the "gold standard" in parenting. Additionally, the Ezzos deride the "attachment parenting" advocates and practices that also have been shown to produce healthy adults. They should find it harder to dismiss the fact that "Focus on the Family", a conservative Christian right group that advocates spanking, has stated that the Ezzos' methods are "too strict".

Baumrind identified three types of parenting styles: Authoritarian, Permissive, and Authoritative. The Ezzos' method definitely falls into the Authoritarian category. The Attachment Parenting style can also be identified as Authoritative, while the Permissive style is also called "Laissez-Faire". Authoritative parents are characterized as being nurturant, responsive, less punitive, firm in setting limits, and not easily manipulated; yet they are flexible in their attitudes and encouraging of their child's independence. Permissive parents are characterized as somewhat nurturant, but completely fail to set firm limits or to require developmentally appropriate behavior, thus hindering their child's development of self control. Authoritarian parents are inflexible, unresponsive to the child's wishes and harsh in controlling behavior (Sroufe et al., 1992).

The children of Authoritative parents are energetic, emotionally positive, curious, self-reliant, and exhibit self-control. The children of Permissive parents are impulsive, have little self control and self-reliance but are somewhat cheerful and resilient. The children of Authoritarian parents are moody, apprehensive, easily upset, passively hostile, and either negative in their interactions or socially withdrawn (Sroufe et al., 1992).

Ezzo's methods are clearly Authoritarian, while Attachment Parenting practices are clearly Authoritative. Yet, Ezzo dismisses the data and attachment parenting advocates like Dr. William Sears, a Christian pediatrician by stating that Attachment Parenting (AP) is a "fad", that proponents of such parenting styles tend to be emotionally disturbed and that "AP" is the hallmark of permissiveness and "ungodly parenting".

While the Ezzos advocate Authoritarian parenting, many people question whether their methods are in fact classified as "child abuse" or, at least, do the practices that leave parent and baby unattached predispose the parent to engage in abuse. Many Ezzo opponents would classify letting an infant cry when hungry, or cry for up to 45 minutes, as "abusive". In fact, "an Orange County (Calif.) child abuse task force recently recommended that parents not use any of the programs developed by the Ezzos for child- rearing. The task force concluded that the Ezzo parenting approach could harm a child's psychological and emotional development" (Patterson, E., 1997).

In addition, studies have shown that strict, authoritarian parenting has detrimental effects on the child and the adult that the child becomes. Unfortunately, the type of parenting that the Ezzo programs teach parents is nothing new. Methods such as these were always used, and in the 1700's many parenting books came out and clearly delineated how to spank, punish and otherwise "control" one's children. Alice Miller (1990) explores these practices and the types of individuals that were often produced from their implementation. These "parenting methods", much like the Ezzos' methods, break the will and spirit of the child. The children are taught that they must deny their own bodily cues such as hunger. They must not fully experience emotions either, for expressions of anger, frustration, joy or sadness are met with spankings or abandonment. Miller outlined the childhood of several people and describes how the seeds of violence are sown in the children as they became adults. She showcased those who ranged from drug addicted, to a murderer, to Adolf Hitler. Of course, Miller has chosen extreme examples to illustrate her point. But, self-destructive and violent individuals were often "grown" from the use of the authoritarian, Ezzo-esque methods.

One must wonder about the adjustment that adults raised as children under this kind of controlling, unresponsive environment will be able to attain in healthy, fulfilling social relationships. Further, the question of what types of psychological disorder may occur to children raised in this way. While Ezzo and his proponents, even some of the "Ezzo parents", point to their well-behaved, silent children, one must wonder what effect will be seen in later childhood, adolescence or adulthood. It is already known that some of the babies that are being parenting using "Babywise" have presented with clinical childhood depression. Debby Kearney, president of the Florida Lactation Consultant Association, stated in an interview with a Florida paper, the Bradenton Herald, her experiences with parents who were feeding their babies according to the Ezzo program. All the babies were slow to gain weight and were exhibiting signs of depression. It has been documented that severe discipline and emotional neglect by parents increase the risk of depression (Cicchetti & Carlson, 1989). Hence, the type of control by the parents espoused by the Ezzo program is potentially dangerous for mental health. In fact, the Orange County child abuse task force members wrote: "The issues of control and authority seem to override the elements of compassion, child advocacy and real developmental needs." (cited in Patterson, E., 1997).

What is "attachment"?

All but the most severely neglected and abused children develop some form of attachment to their caregiver. However, Ainsworth has identified different types of attachment: secure, anxious resistant, and anxious avoidant. Proponents of Attachment Parenting recommend that steps be taken to ensure the child develops a secure attachment. Sensitive care leads to secure attachment. This means responding to the child's cues. "Crying is a signal - sensitive care involves responding promptly and effectively to this and to more subtle signals that infants exhibit" (Sroufe, et al., 1992). Anxious resistant and anxious avoidant attachments seem associated with levels of less responsiveness by the caregiver. These types of attachments leave the child somewhat ambivalent about seeking out comfort and closeness to his caregiver. Sometimes the attachment categories can be predicted by physical neglect (usually resistant attachment) or by physical abuse or emotional unavailability (usually avoidant attachment). For instance, Egeland and Sroufe (1981) found that for a group of infants experiencing emotionally nonresponsive care, all had avoidant attachment by the age of 18 months; a very striking result.

Some background on the etiology of schizophrenia

We have seen many concerns with Ezzo program. Unfortunately, there are many more as quick search of the periodicals at the library or the articles on the internet attest. However, a mention of a predisposition for schizophrenia coupled with this method of parenting leading to schizophrenic onset has not been mentioned previously.

Schizophrenia is a relatively common psychological disorder in which clients present with bizarre behavior, social withdrawal and severely distorted thought, perception, and mood. Schizophrenia is often confused with a dissociative disorder called Multiple Personality Disorder (or "split" personality), but while "split" personality is very rare, schizophrenia is quite common. There are five perspectives within psychology from which to examine schizophrenia: the psychodynamic perspective, the behavioral perspective, the humanistic-existential perspective, the neuroscience perspective and the diathesis-stress model.

Within the psychodynamic perspective, Harry Stack Sullivan (1962) wrote that the cause of the schizophrenics anxiety is a damaging parent-child relationship. Schizophrenia represents a gradual withdrawal from others. When encountering anxious and hostile interactions with parents in early childhood, the child is frightened of intimacy. He retreats into a private world of fantasy. The more the child withdraws, the less chance he has for developing trust and other skills needed to establish bonds with people. Because fewer bonds lead to greater anxiety, a vicious cycle ensues. Finally, the spiral continues until early adulthood where the person is faced with many new and taxing social demands. The anxiety becomes so great the person withdraws completely; this is called the "schizophrenic break" (Bootzin & Acocella,1988).

Arieti (1974) sees the schizophrenic's family environment as one where the child is deprived of security and is living in an atmosphere of anxiety and hostility. In 1948, Frieda Fromm-Reichman coined the term "schizophrenic mother". This type of parent was thought to be capable of inducing schizophrenia. Schizophrenic episodes are triggered, in part, by environmental stresses. Stresses within the family, then, would be highly suspect (Leff, 1976). The schizophrenic mother is cold, domineering, rejecting and overprotective. Caputo (1968) found fathers also often act this way, and are just as responsible for the stresses that cause schizophrenic episodes. Studies (cf. Vaughn et al., 1984) have concluded that a negative and emotionally charged atmosphere have led to schizophrenic breakdowns. While they do not find this a "cause" of schizophrenia, if such an atmosphere is related to later breakdowns, it may have a relation to the onset of the disorder. Bateson (1956) found that "double-bind communication" may be a strong causative agent in schizophrenia. The parent gives the child messages that are mutually contradictory such as rejection and affection, while implicitly forbidding the child to point out the contraction. While no one thinks that it is family alone that causes schizophrenia, many researchers think that family, the person, and a third variable, perhaps genetics or parents acting differently toward a child who is already different or a "focal" child who is treated harshly, combine with the result of schizophrenia (Bootzin & Acocella, 1988).

Within the behavioral perspective, researchers look at schizophrenia as a learned behavior. Ullmann and Krasner (1975) have called this "learned inattention" and contend that schizophrenia consists mainly of attention problems. Schizophrenics, because of a disturbed family life, have not learned to respond, through reinforcement, to social stimuli. They stop attending to these stimuli and instead, attend to other idiosyncratically chosen stimuli and this is what leads others to view them as exhibiting "crazy" behaviors (see Bootzin & Acocella, 1988).

R. D. Laing, a British existential psychologist, views schizophrenia from within the human-existential perspective. Laing asserts that many people suppress their true feelings and adopt a "false self". Schizophrenics, because of psychological stress or stressful living situations, cannot keep up the false, socially acceptable self and retreat into their own minds.

The neuroscience perspective basically shows clearly that schizophrenia is at least in part genetically inherited. However, the diathesis-stress model shows that the genetic research does not discredit the environmental theories (Bootzin & Acocella, 1988). The data has led researchers to understand that what is genetically inherited is a predisposition to schizophrenia "but that this predisposition must be combined with environmental stress for the disorder to actually develop" (Bootzin & Acocella, 1988).

Conclusion: Can Ezzo "grow" schizophrenics?

We have examined the unsound feeding schedules that Ezzo's books, published curriculums and other parenting information recommend and how that leads to hunger cries to which the parents do not respond. We looked at the corporal punishment, spanking and swatting of babies, and the controlling, inflexible environments the Ezzos would have parents impose upon their babies and toddlers. We have seen how authoritarian parenting styles, like those espoused by the Ezzo writings, lead to problems with the child's social development. And, we have evaluated how unresponsive and under responsive caregiving leads to insecure attachments in infants. In fact, the type of emotional unavailability prescribed by the Ezzos' methods have been shown to interfere with secure attachment. Given all of these aspects of the GFI parenting modules, Babywise, and whatever other instruction the Ezzos lead and the perspectives outlined above regarding schizophrenia, it is not difficult to come to the conclusion that using this parenting method may, in cases where the child is predisposed to the disorder, "grow" a schizophrenic individual.

It is apparent that the Ezzos and Dr. Bucknam have adversaries among child experts and medical experts. Yet, many parents feel that Gary Ezzo is teaching how God would have one raise one's children, and follow his advice blindly and to the letter. Unfortunately, some babies are getting very ill from that practice. Ezzo and his colleagues take no responsibility for that, however, and blame the parent for following their legalistic advice "too closely". There is no data that shows that the Ezzo method is going to result in psychologically sound and happy adults. However, there is a lot of evidence pointing to the fact that the opposite may be true. In fact, it is possible that this type of environment may interact with genetics to produce schizophrenia. Even if these child rearing practices do not result in adulthood schizophrenia, it is easy to hypothesize that they will find that the children who were subjected to these procedures as children, will, as adults, have some kind of attachment disorder, or anxiety disorder, or crippling problems with self esteem and interpersonal relationships. The frightening part of this hypothesis is that we won't know for sure until it is too late.

Laura Bassi Zaff has a Ph. D. in Cognitive Developmental Psychology in Childhood from Lehigh University. She is the mother of one and currently resides in the New York Metropolitan area.

Back to Articles index


Arieti, S. (1974). Interpretation of schizophrenia. NY: Basic Books.

Bateson, G., Jackson, D., Haley, J. and Weakland, J. (1956). Toward a theory of schizophrenia. Behavioral Science, 1, 251-264.

Baumrind, D. (1967). Child care practices anteceding three patterns of preschool behavior. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 75, 43-88.

Bootzin, R. R. and Acocella, J. R. (1988). Abnormal psychology: Current perspectives. 5th ed. NY: Random House.

Caputo, D. V. (1968). The parents of the schizophrenic. In E. G. Mishler and N. E. Waxler (Eds.), Family processes and schizophrenia. NY: Science House.

Carton, B. (1998). Ezzos dispense strict advise but experts are crying foul. Wall Street Journal.

Cicchetti, D., and Carlson, V. (1989). Child maltreatment. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Egeland, B. and Sroufe, L. A. (1981). Developmental sequelae of maltreatment in infancy. In D. Cicchetti and R. Rizley (Eds.), New directions in child development: Developmental approaches to child maltreatment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Francis, B. (1998). "Growing Kids God's Way?: A critique of Growing Families International". Internet publication. (

Granju, K. A. (1998). Getting Wise to Babywise. Salon Magazine.

Laing, R. D. (1964). Is schizophrenia a disease? International Journal of Social Psychiatry. 10, 184- 193.

Leff, J. P. (1976). Schizophrenia and sensitivity to the family environment. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 2 (4).

Miller, A. (1990). For your own good: Hidden cruelty in child-rearing and the roots of violence. 3rd edition. Noonday Press.

Patterson, E. (1997). Wise advice for babies? Parenting book challenges standard medical practice. Boulder Weekly.

Pettit, G., and Bates, J. (1989). Family interaction patterns and children's behavior problems from infancy to 4 years. Developmental Psychology, 25, 413-420.

Rein, S. R. and Rein, K. A. (1997). "Concerns about the Ezzos' Preparation for Parenting class. Internet publication. (

Sroufe, L. A., Cooper, R. G., and DeHart, G. B. (1992). Child development: Its nature and course. 2nd Ed. NY: McGraw-Hill.

Sullivan, H. S. (1962). Schizophrenia as a human process. NY: Norton.

Ullmann, L. P. and Krasner, L. (1975). A psychological approach to abnormal behavior. 2nd ed. NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Vaughn, C.E., Snyder, K., Jones, S., Freeman, W. B., aand Falloon, I. R. H. (1984). Family factors in schizophrenic relapse: A replication in California of British research on expressed emotion. Archives of General Psychiatry. 41, 1169-1177.

Other internet resources

The Boulder Weekly article

The Salon Magazine article

Grace Church's statement

Some concerns about the Ezzo method

Bradenton Herald

Katherine Dettwyler's statement

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