Full disclosure, so as to not get in trouble with my former counseling colleagues. I spent years as a “mandated reporter”; I don’t endorse (and never used) corporal punishment. I truly believe that the best way to get a young person to fully understand a bad decision, is through a thoughtful dialogue; so that they can see and understand, the error of their ways. Your objective with this approach is to have the young person make a better decision, the next time, particularly when you are not around to stop or correct them. This in many ways is the big learning objective in high schools; and can in no way be taught through the use of physical force. And so after spending years of having discussions with young people about good decision-making, making sensible and safe choices, and giving them techniques for metacognitive practices (to think about their own thinking process). Helping them to comprehend the “after factor”; after you do this, then what can happen? Yes, as the song goes, young people are our future, but one of the hardest things to teach them is how a present decision can positively or negatively affect their future. But with all of my formal training, experience, certifications and knowledge of developmental psychology, etc.; I still can’t bring myself to condemn that Baltimore mom.
Several people are highly critical of her because she demonstrably removed her child from those dangerous Baltimore streets. And many of those same people, and the news media, conveniently missed the concept that motivated her actions: “I did not want him to become another Freddie Gray“. For sure, some of the concerns raised as to her technique are not without some merit. And then there is the issue of the national media exploiting this mother’s fears and public actions for their own twisted marketing purposes. Like the lack of concern shown for Mr. Gray and his family; let’s be clear, the national media care nothing about this mom and her son; except to make them tragic, dysfunctional cartoon figures on national display.
The ideal of course is that we elder men would be in charge of those young men; and they would move and act only on our direction and authority; and I hesitate to judge her from a distance because I don’t know if she saw herself as the only option in that particular moment. Parenting can’t always be planned out as a PR perfect event. I do believe (based on her comments) that she clearly did not feel that she could approach the police to help her. A reality that has gone undiscussed by the giddy talking news heads; where were her citizen’s: “serve and protect” options?
After ten years as an urban principal, I have learned to be less judgmental of parents who must take on the awesome task of parenting, while at the same time struggle with many difficult challenges in their own lives. But further, I am also careful in my criticism, due to the “hypocrisy factor”; because quite frankly I got my behind whipped in my youth. And with no cell phones invented then to record what took place in my house; my mother’s disciplinary actions went unnoticed, except for my publically improved behavior. Now, I did not like whippings as a child; and learned quickly, and early, unlike my brother, to avoid them by doing the right thing. But I find it very hard to believe that all of the many critics of this mom led a whipping free life!
Many can criticize this mom, because of social media, and the fact that she did not wait to get home. But looking at the video, to be honest; I would have been happy to trade one of my classic whippings for those few “glancing licks” that young gentleman was fortunate to receive. I got real Caribbean whippings; and so there were no misses (you made it worse if you moved, or engaged in “rope a dope” techniques); and no glancing off target licks. (Your behind, and not your head was the target; so that nothing would affect your getting good grades in school!)
But I can understand why this Baltimore mom is an easy target; after all maybe she did not take the course on Parent Effectiveness Training (PET) and therefore did not learn the techniques of correction through conversation; or maybe she was not exposed to the latest theories of dialogical discipline. I saw a mother (using her hands) who was passionately trying to save her son; from himself, and from a cruel racist world that is designed to destroy him and her. It’s nice that the young man saw himself as a type of political actor. But in these types of situation (and he lacking all of the necessary information as to what can happen) I think and trust that his mother should be the one to make the decision as to how he can safely engage in non-dangerous protest. We must all keep in mind that he is her minor child; and she (correctly and sensibly in my view) made a determination that his actions would put him in danger. Folks are cheering on somebody else’s child to go out into the street, throw rocks and engage the police in a highly volatile and dangerous situation. I guess it is very easy to be so sacrificing when it is not your child!
This mom is doing her best; with what she knows, to save her child, and if we want to see better, than we should all do a better job as a village, to collectively take on the task of helping her, and her child to move to a more empowering place of child rearing.
Working in education has taught me that there is nothing magical about parenting. Over the years I have found that most parents are struggling to do their best, in the best way they know how; and that most parents really do a better job than they think they are doing.
One of my mother’s favorite sayings comes to mind: “I don’t care what other parents are allowing their children to have and/or to do; you will learn to live with what you have, and you will definitely do as I tell you to do”. Those lessons of delayed gratification, respect for authority, and discipline, have served me well as an adult; and for that I am forever grateful. I think there is some sense making to have an adult guide a child through the developmental (and often conflicting-confusing) stages of childhood; or why are we not a fully independent acting species at birth?
I don’t like, but I really don’t care about the news media’s negative spin on this mom’s actions. And to be honest I really don’t care much about the young man’s hurt feelings. As a Blackman living in Baltimore (America for that matter) he faces many more serious and deadly dangers then being embarrassed by his mother. My fear is for those children in Baltimore who did not have any parent come out to look for them; or maybe the parent didn’t even know where they were, and perhaps maybe didn’t care. My concern is for the young people I saw as a principal, who showed up on Parent-Teacher conference day alone, to pick up their report cards; because as one young man told me: “Mr. Johnson, I am here, because nobody is going to come to the school”. The young people who I took to dinner after their high school graduation because no one from their family showed up. Yes, we should work with that Baltimore mom; but at least she showed up!