What is Tough love and When to Use it

You may have heard of the expression Tough Love, but you probably want to know exactly what is it, and how you can use it with your teenagers. A man named Bill Milliken wrote a book in 1968 called Tough Love, and since then, it’s been a common word or phrase to use when we want to be tough on someone but loving at the same time. The most important word here is, of course, Love.

As parents, we love our children deeply, and sometimes we can engage in enabling behaviors without meaning to. For instance, in the case of a child who is using drugs, or drinking alcohol. Some parents, rather than practice any sort of discipline, when confronted with an out of control child who makes conditions on the relationship, make excuses for the child. Some parents are so afraid that their child will run away, or somehow separate themselves from the parent that they give in to this kind of behavior.

Another way that a parent can enable a child is by simply pretending it’s not happening or couldn’t possibly happen to “their child.” How many times have you heard someone say “Not MY child” when you know, in fact, the child is practicing behaviors and actions that may lead them to serious trouble. The parents bury their head in the sand and just pretends it’s not happening.

Unfortunately, neither of these reactions will help the child. In a strange way the parent might feel better, at least temporarily, by giving in to the child, or ignoring the behavior, but the fact is, the result will only be temporary and is dangerous for the child. In fact, in some cases this behavior from parents boarders on neglect. As a parent of a teenager you have a huge responsibility not only to your child, but to the world at large, to do your best to turn out a functioning, contributing, adult who is an addition to society not a pull on society.

One way in which you can realize that it’s okay to be tough, and you need to be tough on your teenager, is that you’re doing it for them, because you love them. The truth is, if you start when they are little you’ll have a lot better results, but even a teenager can learn by implementing tough love measures. Tough love is simply refusing to enable your child to practice dangerous or bad behavior. Now, this doesn’t mean your child has to be a clone of you.

It simply means that if your child decides to do anything that can harm him/herself or others that you have to love your child enough to take a stand against that behavior. If this means that you have to report your child to the authorities, whether the law or teachers, then you need to do it. It also means that if you find that you need help with your child for whatever reason, that you should ask for it. There is nothing shameful about having a child who is out of control. It happens to the best of parents. What would be shameful is not to do anything.

The fastest and best way to implement tough love techniques with your child is to simply start making them fully responsible for their own actions. Don’t pay for legal representation, don’t bail them out with teachers, don’t interfere in the natural consequences that may happen. Sometimes, you may even need to go further in the case of a child putting others in danger via drinking or drugging and driving.

Take the car, take the money, take the phone, remove all privileges, and if that doesn’t work, you may have to call the police on your child who is practicing illegal behaviors. Don’t give multiple warnings and threats. Teenagers just stop believing you, if you don’t back up your words with actions. Giving natural consequences a push in the right direction can go far in helping your child, while you’re still there for emotional support as long as they’re doing the right thing, can help a child straighten their life out before they are on their own. 

About Aurelia Williams (27 Posts)

Aurelia Williams is a Certified Life Coach, Parenting Expert, Internet Marketer and Podcaster. Aurelia is passionate about helping women and is always looking for ways to lend a supportive hand to others in order to make their lives a little less hectic and a lot more enjoyable. She is the owner of Parenting My Teen which is a resource site and podcast. Her site is jammed packed with anything you as a parent of a teen are dealing with on a daily basis. She offers a fresh perspective on the parent-teen relationship and also offers wonderful tools, resources and advice.


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  1. 1

    Parents of young children can minimize their odds of having to implement tough love by reading the book ” Have a new Kid by Friday by Dr Kevin Lehman. Brilliant book! My wife and I read it recently and use it to develop our childrens’ attitude, behavior and character.

  2. 2
    Mary Nurse clarke says:

    children are a gift from god let us cherish them