There are plenty of tips for parents on how to prevent raising a troubled teenager. However, even some of the “best” parents can find themselves with a rebellious, resentful, and disrespectful teen. One way to handle a troubled teenager is with tough love.
What is tough love?
Tough love is a concept that is hard to pin down to a definite definition. In a basic sense, it is harsh or strict behavior towards another individual that is meant to get positive results in the long run.
The word is often used to describe an approach someone may take with their loved one’s addiction. It can also apply in other situations such as parenting a troubled teen—or even just parenting in general.
One way to understand tough love is to look at its opposite—enabling. When someone is acting as an enabler, they allow their loved one to engage in unhealthy behaviors simply because they are worried about destroying the relationship.
If a mother thinks her son will run away and live on the streets if she says he needs to get rid of his marijuana habit, she may allow him to stay and even engage in behaviors she is not comfortable with—like smoking in the house. Enabling, like tough love, doesn’t only apply to addiction. Tough love means drawing strict boundaries with clear consequences, and sticking to them no matter what.
When is tough love appropriate?
Tough love is appropriate any time your teenager exhibits a behavior that you are not OK with. Some parents use tough love as a last resort for their child, and wait until the situation is nearly out of control. Here are some signs that your trouble need could benefit from tough love.
- They are getting in trouble at school or their grades are suffering.
- The people they surround them with are not good influences.
- They are getting in trouble with the law*.
- They show complete disregard for your authority or for your family rules.
- Their personality has completely changed.
*Note: If your child is running in to the law, you’ll need more than tough love. You will also need a criminal defence lawyer like one from a firm such as The Defence Lawyer.
How does one implement tough love?
The tricky part of implementing a tough love approach is balancing the “tough” and the “love.” You need to set clear rules for your child, but still make it clear that your motivations, although the child may not believe you, are purely out of love.
Being strict in your dealings with your troubled teen starts with your refusal to put up with their negative behavior. Explain your reasoning for the rules you set. Your teenager will probably resent them, but if you are clear about why you are setting the boundaries, they will at least not be able to reasonably claim that you don’t love them.
Here are some actions that are considered tough love.
- Refuse to provide any kind of financial support while an undesired behavior is present.
- Ask the child to leave home if they are a danger to the other family members.
- Involve the authorities in matters that deal with violating the law.
- Take away privileges such as access to a vehicle if an undesired behavior is present.
- Follow through with the pre-assigned consequences to any previously-set family rule violations no matter what.
What are the benefits of tough love?
While tough love may certainly be a difficult approach for a parent to take—especially if the child rebels against it initially—the point is that it will be better for everyone in the long run. If the teen chooses to continue down their current path, they won’t be able to hurt you, your spouse, or your other children. If they realize they need to get their act together if they want to keep their family, even better.
For more advice on how to use tough love to handle your troubled teen, talk to a child psychologist. If the law is involved, find a lawyer who can help you deal with the situation firmly yet carefully. The most important part of the process is consistency, so find a support system to help you stay strong when things get hard.