(BALTIMORE) — When Baltimore mother-of-six Toya Graham went into the heart of the city’s violence Monday and pulled her teen son from the street — hitting him and yelling at him along the way — she grabbed the attention of not just her son but the entire nation.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts praised Graham, saying on Monday, “I wish I had more parents who took charge of their kids tonight.”
Graham, a single mother, told CBS News people took to her son’s Facebook page to voice support for her actions.
“Friends and everybody making comments and saying you know, you shouldn’t be mad at your mother, you should give her a hug,” Graham said of her son Michael, 16.
While the intent of Graham’s actions — saving her son from the violence and scolding him for taking part — was universally praised, some questioned her tactics: yelling, cursing at and hitting her son.
Parenting psychiatrist Dr. Janet Taylor calls Graham a “power mom” who was “saving her son.”
“So often as parents it’s all about discipline, which is teaching, and not punishment and she taught him a lesson he will never forget,” Taylor said Wednesday on ABC News’ Good Morning America. “She was taking control. She was desperate to show her son and save her son.”
“Teens crave limits and they crave boundaries,” Taylor said. “I’m sure there are a lot of kids who wish that their mother had the guts and love to come and extend a hand to save them.”
Graham told CBS News she left a doctor’s appointment with her daughter when she heard the news of rioting at the same location she says her son had told her about previously.
“To see my son come across the street with a rock in his hand, I think at that point I just lost it,” she said.
The riots began Monday afternoon shortly after the funeral for Freddie Gray, the Baltimore man who died with an unexplained spinal injury he suffered after police took him into custody.
More than 250 arrests and injuries to at least 20 police officers occurred Monday night into Tuesday.
“It’s one of those things where you need to make a big impact,” Lindsay Powers, editorial director of Yahoo Parenting, said of Graham’s actions. “It’s a really high-powered moment. It’s not like you can just say, ‘Oh, sorry honey, let’s stop and talk about this.’”
Both Powers and Taylor agreed that the violence in Baltimore — and earlier protests seen in towns like Ferguson, Missouri, and Charleston, South Carolina — can be powerful teachable moments for kids.
“I think it’s important to talk about race and injustice and inequality in this world to shine a light on it,” Powers said. “It’s the first step we can make in changing and making a difference.”
Taylor said she uses the moments to teach her four daughters about what to put out into the world.
“I really try to teach them, no matter what, it’s about extending love and kindness and just showing love because there are situations that happen but we really need to inject more love into this world,” Taylor said.
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