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Baltimore Mom: Abusive Or Responsible?

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There was some water cooler talk here in the office the other day as the video of the Baltimore mom went viral. That’s the mother who recognized her son as one of the rioters, and slapped him about the head with some degree of ferocity, then put him in the car and took him home.

The mother has since been identified as Toya Graham, who happened upon her son, brick in hand, when she realized school had let out early due to the riots. Graham had forbidden her son the night before from going to the area where the riots were taking place, and he promised he would not. When she realized he was not at home, she went looking for him.

Some of the coffee klatsch questions raised:

  • Was the mom being abusive?
  • If mom was abusive, and the son was raised in an abusive atmosphere, did that lead him to being a willing participant in a violent protest?
  • If that were your kid, what would you have done?

Social media is split: Mom was abusive, and in a different setting would likely be brought up on charges. Others hail her as “mom of the year.” From USA Today:

“Hypocrisy of the law, she should be arrested for assault, battery and child abuse,” said one tweet by a user identified as @cotrial.

Others questioned why anyone would condone or celebrate her actions.

“Tired of hearing about this Baltimore ‘Mom of the Year,’ ” said a tweet under the handle @DaAnGrYASiAN. “If she raised her son better, she wouldn’t have needed to do that.”

Was the mother justified in her reaction? Should she have first attempted to reason with her son, telling him to put the brick down, join her at the local coffee shop and they could discuss his feelings regarding the situation?

Corporal punishment of children is, of course, a subject on debate. What was once considered “normal” is now considered abusive (and much of what once passed as “discipline” certainly should be considered abusive.) Does a swift slap to a diapered bottom constitute abuse, however? More to the point here, if your child were in a dangerous situation (say, a riot) would you, as a parent, not do anything in your power to remove that kid from said situation?

I’m sure a lot of office break rooms were buzzing this week about the same thing. I can only speak for myself: I would have done the same thing as the mom in Baltimore. Graham and her son spoke to CNN’s Anderson Cooper:

I said, ‘You weren’t brought up like this,’ ” Graham said.

He’s not a perfect child, but he’s also not a thug, she said.

The 16-year-old boy said he understood that his mother was there looking out for him.

“She didn’t want me to get in trouble (with the) law. She didn’t want me to be like another Freddie Gray,” he said, referring to the 25-year-old man who died of a severe spinal injury after being arrested by Baltimore police.

According to the best science available, teens’ brains are not fully developed, and don’t typically develop completely until they are in their mid-twenties. (We need to take into account individual differences, cultures and many other factors, but this statement holds true in most cases.) While teens can be very smart, they also tend to act much more emotionally and impulsively than adults. Their brains are often under hormonal “assault,” and the teen brain simply does not process the link between personal behavior and likely consequences/outcomes very well.

If my toddler wandered out into the path of a car, would I yank him back to safety? Of course. If I walked in on a boy sexually assaulting my daughter would I pull him off in a manner that could be interpreted as violent? You bet. If my teen were in the middle of a riot, brick in hand, would I get him out of there, forcefully if necessary? Yup.

I do not justify abuse towards a child (and it was clear from the video that, at least in this instance, the boy was not hurt), but sometimes parenting is by “any means necessary,” and in this case, I side with the mom.

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Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.

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