April 28, 2015 3:00 pm

How to talk to your kids about the rioting in Baltimore


WATCH ABOVE: One Baltimore mom saw her son throwing rocks at police on television and that didn’t sit well with her. Video shows the mother repeatedly striking her boy, chasing him as he tries to walk away. Her shouts of anger could be heard as she led him away from the scene.

She’s seen chasing him across a parking lot, pulling at his clothes, and smacking her son. A Baltimore mom is garnering mixed reaction after video captured her scolding her boy for taking part in riots in the city Monday afternoon.

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The mother saw her son throwing rocks at police as chaos erupted in the streets of downtown Baltimore, according to U.S. reports. National Guard troops and police bearing shields and weapons have taken to the streets as riots followed the funeral of a black man who died in police custody.

Parenting experts say the mother and son are a symbol for what many people on the ground may be feeling in the city. How outsiders perceive the family’s interaction could be pointing to their own feelings about the riots.

READ MORE: Baltimore mother caught on video slapping, scolding rioting son

“These two are a metaphor for people’s anger, their frustration and shock towards what’s going on. Some people are seeing this as a purely abusive act while others say that every parent, neighbour and adult should be intervening to stop the violent protests,” Dr. Oren Amitay, a Toronto-based registered psychologist and university lecturer, said.

“For the people who focus on the frustration that the residents of Baltimore feel, they won’t side with the mom because they’ll think her son should do what he feels is acting righteously. Others would say this isn’t protesting but criminal activity,” he said.

READ MORE: National Guard troops brought in to quell Baltimore riots

Alyson Schafer, a parenting expert and author of a handful of books, says that the pair also illustrate differences of opinion when it comes to parenting.

“We have a cultural tradition of parenting as an autocratic style – using corporal punishment, shaming and power to control kids and make them obedient. When we learned from research that’s not a healthy way, the pendulum went too far the other way and kids were raised in a very permissive fashion,” Schafer told Global News.

“Those celebrating [the mom’s actions] are saying someone is finally getting kids in line again. But this speaks to the dichotomous split between permissive and autocratic. Really, you can be a disciplinarian without getting walked on and without using punishment, though,” she said.

How should parents talk to their kids about the riots?

There has been a string of protests and riots in the wake of police-involved violence across the United States in recent months. Last summer, Ferguson, Missouri, made international headlines after days of nasty protests following the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man who was shot and killed during a confrontation with a white police officer.

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Now is a good time to set up a time to talk with your kids about what’s going on, to listen to their thoughts and walk them through where you stand, the experts say.

“Parents need to talk to their kids about injustice. What’s happening here is coming to a head and it’s an important time,” Schafer advises.

Kids could believe that what’s happening in these U.S. states is wrong and that they want to join the cause to make sure their voice is heard. Don’t stifle those thoughts, but help your kids make careful, thoughtful steps.

“One of the most frustrating aspects is a sense of powerlessness. Many people have that sense and they may want so desperately to be part of something that will have an impact, especially young black men wondering what they can do,” Amitay explained.

READ MORE: Are smart phones to blame for distracted parenting?

“To tell your child, ‘No, you can’t protest’ – you’re only fuelling that feeling of powerlessness, impotence and resentment…As a parent I would talk to my child about this, hear them out and not dismiss them,” he said.

Explain to your child the difference between riots, catching cars on fire and throwing rocks at police, and sparking change through cooperative protest. There’s a difference between peaceful protests and criminal behaviour, Amitay notes.

Show them videos – the Vancouver hockey riots in 2010, for example – that show rioters looting shops. These business owners were innocent bystanders who got pulled into the fray. This provides your child with perspective, a reminder of how their actions affect those around them.

Your child may be caught up in a mob mentality – he or she could feel invincible and shrouded in anonymity. But remind them, their safety and security could be at risk. They could be arrested or seriously harmed. Amitay says kids better understand an immediate threat over worrying about how a heated protest today could mar their future later on.

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But relay your message in a calm, collected way, the experts say. Parents are the prime authoritative figures and symbols of structure in their kids’ lives – you don’t want to perpetuate the feeling that authority maintains all power and control. They should know that their thoughts and values are important to you, too.

Finally, cut the mom some slack, the experts say. What outsiders are seeing is a glimpse into the parent and child’s lives – we don’t know her motives for pulling her son out of the fray. She could be angry, disappointed, or worried about his safety. We also don’t know if she explained to him afterwards why she pulled him away.

But the experts are hoping she provides some context. Simply dragging him away from the protests won’t teach him that throwing rocks at police is wrong. If anything, it’ll tell him that getting caught was his mistake, Amitay warned.


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