A photo of the Duggar family.

How the Infamous Duggar Family Fell from Public Grace

The Duggars entered the public eye in 2008 through the reality TV show '19 Kids and Counting' and were loved by thousands, but resurfacing controversies led to the family's downfall.
July 13, 2021
11 mins read

When the Duggar family first entered the public eye, they were perceived as a wholesome, somewhat odd, large family. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, the patriarch and matriarch of the family respectively, subscribe to the Quiverfull philosophy within their Christian faith, meaning that they leave it “up to God” to determine the number of children they will have. This is how they ended up with their bevy of famous J-named kids. They later became known for their bounty of 19 children, entertaining antics and frequent weddings and births.

The family first attracted attention in 2004 with their TV special “14 Children and Pregnant Again!” on the Discovery Health channel. The show followed the birth of their 15th child, Jackson. It also started the tradition of Duggar births airing on TV; every subsequent birth was given its own TV special. As YouTuber and fundamentalist commentator Jen quipped on her channel Fundie Fridays, “Network executives must have figured out that it was just cheaper to leave the camera crew there instead of coming back every year between specials.”

From 2008-2015, cameras followed the family for their show titled “19 Kids and Counting.” The show was canceled after Josh Duggar’s 2015 sexual assault controversy but was later picked up again in late 2015 under the title “Jill and Jessa: Counting On,” a show focused on the eldest Duggar daughters in their first years of marriage. As the show progressed, however, the rest of the family began to be featured on the show again. Ever since “Counting On” started airing, the Duggar family has lost much of their previous public support due to the increasing unpopularity of their beliefs and their son Josh’s controversies.

Discipline Practices

Recently, many of the Duggars’ parenting practices have been reexamined by the public, and they have found several issues. These problems originate from the Duggars’ support of the book “To Train Up a Child” by Michael and Debi Pearl. The problematic book teaches parents how to raise and discipline their children, with the use of physical punishment and authoritarian parenting. The Pearls’ views focus on the concept of training, which they describe as “the conditioning of the child’s mind before the crisis arises; it is preparation for future, instant, unquestioning obedience.” They also advocate for parents to “use whatever force is necessary to bring him to bay.”

Aside from the use of physical force, a practice becoming less accepted by the general public, the Duggars have also discussed their use of blanket training. Michelle Duggar says that she would force her toddlers to sit “quiet and still” on a blanket to encourage obedience. These practices are considered cruel by most modern-day parents, and have even been condemned by Jim Bob’s niece, Amy Duggar King, who said she doesn’t “believe in that crap!”

Women’s Rights Issues

Though they have a Constitutional right to protest and be politically active, the Duggars have learned that, as public figures, there can be consequences for supporting certain issues. The Duggar family’s views on women’s rights specifically have received backlash. Firstly, their treatment of their daughters has been called into question. The girls’ wardrobe is dictated by their father, they have been forced to raise their younger siblings and the daughters are considered to be “owned” by their father until they get married.

The Duggars are particularly outspoken about abortion politics, even winning a Defender of Life award from the Students for Life of America in 2013. When their show first aired in 2009, under 50% of the American public supported a woman’s right to choose. This year, however, around 60% of people do. As the public has become more supportive of women’s rights, the Duggars remain behind the times and — as many people think — continue to champion “wrong” beliefs.

LGBTQ+ Issues

Recently, a robocall Michelle Duggar recorded in 2014 resurfaced. The call, made in response to Fayetteville, Arkansas’ proposed anti-discrimination laws, used scare tactics to decrease support for the bill. Duggar’s main argument was that transgender people should not be allowed to use private areas, such as public restrooms, that align with their identity. She said, “The Fayetteville City Council is voting on an ordinance this Tuesday night that would allow men — yes I said men — to use women’s and girls’ restrooms, locker rooms … and other areas that are designated for females only.”

When Michelle and Jim Bob were asked about the call in a 2015 Megyn Kelly interview, they continued to defend it. Michelle claimed that “not allowing young men, and men in general, to go into a girl’s locker room is just common sense.” This sentiment completely disregards transgender peoples’ identities and shows the Duggar family’s anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs. More recently, Jedidiah Duggar ran for Arkansas state representative in 2020 touting conservative, anti-LGBTQ+ views. These beliefs are becoming outdated; polling data shows that LGBTQ+ rights have been gaining more and more support. Once again, the Duggar family’s views are becoming more and more unpopular.

Josh Duggar’s Teenage Controversies

The final nail in the Duggar family’s coffin can be attributed to one Duggar in particular: their eldest son Josh. While the show was airing, Josh was portrayed as a responsible brother, devoted husband and loving father. Since “19 Kids and Counting” ended, however, Josh has been involved in a hurricane of controversies and accusations. The beginning of his downfall came in 2015 when it was revealed that he sexually assaulted four of his sisters and an unidentified babysitter and viewed pornography when he was a teenager. Later that same year, media outlets also reported that Josh used online dating sites to cheat on his wife.

Many feel that Josh’s punishments for his teenage indecencies were insufficient. As YouTube commentator Fundie Fridays described, Josh was sent “to help a church elder build a house and let a cop give him a stern talking to.” This trend of sweeping the issue under the rug continued in the 2015 Megyn Kelly interview about Josh, in which Jim Bob and Michelle — along with two of Josh’s sisters and victims — defend Josh and minimize the assault incidents. Jim Bob’s main points throughout the interview are that it was done “over the clothes,” that “the girls didn’t even know it happened” and “it was only a few seconds” — all attempts to downplay what Josh did to save face. These strategies backfired and the family lost much of their fanbase.

Josh Duggar’s Arrest

This lack of accountability likely contributed to Josh’s most grievous crime. In April of 2021, Josh was arrested for possession of child pornography. Despite this incredibly serious charge, the Duggar family continually deflects blame and accountability. For example, Jim Bob asked to host Josh while he awaits trial. Given Jim Bob’s insufficient handling of Josh’s sexual assault incidents, this seems to be yet another attempt for the family to protect Josh at all costs. Even more unnerving is Josh’s wife Anna’s thoughts about his arrest; she believes that Josh is innocent and is being targeted by the Biden family (yes, as in the current president).

Josh’s case is being followed diligently by many commentators and news reporters, such as Without a Crystal Ball, a YouTube channel that follows and reports on the Duggar family. In following the case, Without a Crystal Ball commentator Katie also reports on hopes for justice. Katie has shared her research about the judge in Josh’s pending court case; Judge Brooks is familiar with the Duggars and tends to be tough on cases such as Josh’s. So, while it may seem like Josh Duggar has successfully avoided punishment due to his family’s deflections, there is hope that justice will come sooner rather than later.


While some of the Duggar family’s downfall is simply due to their political beliefs becoming less popular, the main catalysts remain in the hands of the adult family members, such as their disciplinary practices and Josh’s controversies. And while it is interesting to follow the family’s fall from public graces and comment on it, it is important to remember that most of the Duggar family members are still young children. Although the Duggars have done harm in raising their children and spread hateful ideology, many of them still don’t understand the repercussions of their actions. Therefore, while accountability is important, remember that the youngest of the Duggars truly don’t know better.

Jenna Nelson, Scripps College

Writer Profile

Jenna Nelson

Scripps College
Psychology and Legal Studies

Jenna Nelson is a student at Scripps College studying psychology and law and how the two interact. Her hobbies include dancing, cooking and playing tabletop games.

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