“Tough” Love represents a firm, caring solution for families torn apart by completely unacceptable and “acting-out” behavior. They distinguish “tough” love from “soft love,” which is a non- helping, rescuing love that parents often provide their adolescent because they don’t trust their child to make mistakes. They either feel guilty about not spending time with them, or they don’t want their teen to make the same mistakes they did.

  • “Tough” love means giving teens clear-cut rules and reasonable limits and expecting them to abide by them.
  • “Tough” love means allowing adolescents to experience the consequences of their own behavior, no matter how much parents want to protect them.
  • “Tough” love means getting tough with yourself and not rescuing your teen when things don’t turn out the way you would like. When you help teenagers avoid consequences by rescuing them in the name of “helping” you are giving them “soft” love. “Soft” love then becomes part of the problem that keeps teenagers from experiencing the real consequences of unacceptable behavior.
  • “Tough” love means you as a parent have rights, and you need to insist on those rights as you live together as a family.
  • “Tough” love means taking a stand and setting rules about how you as a family will live together, and then sticking to your absolute limits. This does not mean that you stop loving or caring about your teenager. It does mean you stop treating your adolescent like a poor, helpless child. It means expecting the teen to be responsible for his actions, no matter how tough it seems to be on the parent or teen.

1. Give teenagers clear rules: Adolescents need help in setting limits on their behavior. They need to know what rules are acceptable for family members to follow. They need to know what parents expect and what their “bottom lines” are. Often, teenagers resent rules and test the absolute limits. But parents should not be afraid of “taking a stand” and insisting on certain behaviors that reflect their values. Parents can show respect for their teenager’s feelings and opinions, but should reserve the right to set a few absolute limits about their teen actions. Teenagers gain strength and self-respect from parents who are clear and consistent in their expectations and are willing to discuss the reasons for their decision.

2. Don’t overreact: The most important attribute a parent can have toward the teen is patience. And, it is often the most difficult attribute to give to teens. Patience means accepting the teenager’s feelings. It means “listening with your heart as well as your ear.” Listening, in a non- judgmental fashion, opens the door for understanding. Some parents are so anxious about the teen years that they react with severe punishment any time a teenager steps out of line. Usually, punishment does not help a teenager learn self- control. It is often more useful for parents to discuss their feelings about the problem behavior with their teenager and work out and enforce mutually acceptable standards.

3. Give lots of encouragement: Teens need to know their families care about them, especially when they get in trouble. Be sure they know that you care. Show interest in their friends, school, and activities. Stand by them, not over them.

4. Only battle over important matters: As long as teenagers don’t hurt themselves or others, ignore little things that irritate you. (Example: hair styles, clothes.) If parents battle with teens over everything they don’t like or disapprove, teens may decide to rebel by “dropping out” or using drugs. Save your influence for important matters!

5. Don’t treat teens like children: Don’t say, “You aren’t eating well enough” or, “You aren’t getting enough sleep. You’d better be in bed early tonight,” or “You can’t have the car anymore till you bring your grades up.” Treat your teens like responsible persons and they will act responsibly. Teenagers resent being treated like children. If you treat them like children, they will set out to prove they are not children, sometimes with delinquent, antisocial behavior.

6. Setting Rules and Limits: If you have been having particular difficulty with your teen lately, and you have tried to listen without judging or giving advice, and your relationship still seems to be deteriorating because of “major problems” which are occurring, you may wish to try this activity to examine your role and your teen’s role in creating and maintaining the crisis. Think about some of the major problems you have faced recently that were created by your teenager. Perhaps your daughter had an accident with the family car; or perhaps your son skipped school and you had to see the principal; or perhaps you received a summons from the court for your teenager’s drinking or shoplifting offense; or your teen is on the verge of being expelled from school because of insolent behavior.

6. “I Will Not…”: Look at the list of problems you checked as your absolute limits. For each item, write down one or more “I will not” statements. These “I will not” statements will provide the basis for your stand. There may be statements such as:

  1. I will not pay my teenager’s traffic fines.
  2. I will not fight with school officials about my teenager’s behavior.
  3. I will not tolerate disrespect/violence in my home.
  4. I will not give my teenager any more money for gas, movies, partying.
  5. I will not argue with my teenager about any of the above.

Persistence and consistency is very necessary for taking stand. Don’t say anything which you can not apply like “if you will not come till 8 I will not allow to enter my home”. Only say what you can do and be firm. Always be careful about the thin line difference between aggressiveness and firmness. Don’t be aggressive but be firm.