Am I the Only One Who Thinks Smacking Your Kid Upside the Head Is Bad Parenting?

In a video that went viral this week, we saw Baltimore mom Toya Graham smacking her 16-year-old son upside the head when she caught him participating in the mayhem and rioting. She’s been almost universally hailed as a paragon of great parenting — even Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts praised Graham, saying: “I wish I had more parents who took charge of their kids tonight. Take control of your kids.” There’s a Twitter hashtag calling her #MomOfTheYear.

In the video we see the single mother of six grabbing her teenage son by the neck and smacking him several times in the head. He escapes her grasp momentarily, but she comes right back at him, collars him again and hits him. He shakes her loose and tries to walk away, but Toya follows him, screaming, “Get the f*** over here! Did you hear what I said?”

Folks, this is not #MomOfTheYear material.

I’m a huge fan of disciplining your kids — and even an advocate of spanking younger children if it’s not done in anger. In fact, the Bible teaches that if you don’t discipline your kids, you don’t really love them. The biblical concept of the word involves teaching and instruction, and while it certainly can involve punishment or chastisement, it should always be expressed in a calm, loving manner. One of the goals of discipline is to model for the child — or young adult — how to appropriately express feelings like anger, disappointment, or frustration. Screaming and wildly flailing your hands at your child’s head accomplishes none of these goals. Rather than teaching self-control and discipline, it teaches reactionary and impulsive behavior which will not serve children well later in life.

Don’t get me wrong. Children need discipline — and my children will attest to the fact that we were no slackers in this area. And they’ll also tell you that there were times that we failed miserably. I’m ashamed to say that there were times I totally lost it and looked way too much like Baltimore Mom. Good gravy, I’m thankful there were no cameras on me at the time! I’m ashamed of those moments and I’d be horrified if someone called me “Mom of the Year” for the times I lost my cool. Those were my worst parenting moments, the times I failed my kids and had to apologize to them and ask their forgiveness — certainly not anything I’m proud of.

When children are consistently disciplined in a compassionate, controlled manner and given consistent boundaries and appropriate consequences, those qualities spill over into their lives and as adults, they’ll find they’ve been given the tools to be self-disciplined, self-controlled, and compassionate to their own children and others around them. Moreover, they’ll get a glimpse of  God’s compassion for us:

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-11)

I realize that families are under siege in cities like Baltimore and there are few things harder than being a single mother raising a teenage boy in the inner city. Good parenting doesn’t come naturally and parents who didn’t have good role models growing up have few tools at their disposal. I suspect Toya Graham is doing the best she can in a really tough situation and she was probably terrified to see her son out in the street, knowing all too well what might happen to him. Her reaction is perfectly understandable. I’m not passing judgment on her — I haven’t walked in her shoes and I don’t know anything about her life save for a minute-long YouTube video. I’m just saying we shouldn’t be celebrating a parent losing her cool with her kid and the incident most certainly shouldn’t be propped up as the model of great parenting.

More from Michael Walsh:

Smacking Your Kids Around in Public Does Not Make You a Hero