Several years ago my nephew got into drugs, and as a result became defiant and almost impossible to live with. My sister introduced me to a term I had never heard before…’Tough Love.” Out of desperation, she and her husband started studying anything and everything they could find on how to help their wayward child. They discovered the “Tough Love” approach. The movement, “Tough Love” began back in the 1980’s. David and Phyllis York developed a set of strategies to deal with their out-of-control teenage daughter and tough-love parenting was born.
In a nutshell, their mantra became, “stop enabling your child.” When your teen does something wrong, don’t stand in the way of his consequences. Some parents enable their teen by making excuses for the bad behavior. “Well, his girlfriend just broke up with him.” Or “He doesn’t feel like anyone at school likes him.” What children need to understand is that there is a consequence to their actions. And the sooner our children suffer the consequences of their actions the sooner they will choose to continue or discontinue their actions.
One of the most popular boys in our high school was a crazy and out of control macho egotist. (I say that now, but as a teenager I thought he was daring, exciting and self confident. How mature was I!?!) I well remember the Sunday afternoon when this young man was speeding down a mountain pass near town. He took a turn way too fast and ended up driving a car off the road and into a gully. Several people were hospitalized. The young man who caused the accident showed little remorse. His father was devastated. Before days end all four tires were off his son’s car, and the car was not to be driven for months. I was surprised, however, to see him driving his car within a week! We all soon learned that the mother of this young man was the one who insisted that his car be returned to working order. The arguments that must have taken place in that family! That was just one of the many stories I could relate and how he always got out of a sticky predicament Scott free. When this young teenage boy grew into an adult he continued to act like a spoiled teenager who expected the world to cater to his needs and desires.
Are we really doing our children any favors when we smooth over their mistakes? I always said, “I would rather my children experience the consequences of their actions while they are still in our home. Then I can be there to council, guide, and love them through those difficult learning opportunities.
Tough Love also includes being respectful of our teenagers, but letting them know that we expect the same in return. As long as they are living under our roof, we need to let them know that we will do everything in our power to prevent them from engaging in behaviors that jeopardize the well-being of the family.
As I have written before, “parenting is not for the faint hearted.” We must stand strong. If our teenagers are in danger of destroying their lives, sometimes the most loving thing we can do is to be firm. Being tough doesn’t have to mean being cruel. Cruelty is also taking no action in the face of our teenager’s impending self-destruction. Although it quite possibly could have been our inaction that helped create our teen’s sense of entitlement or open rebellion in the first place, we have a chance to help him turn things around. Doing this in a way that shows we mean business, but also lets them know that loving someone means getting them to take responsibility for their lives.