thoughts on “tough love”

It is said that families are the basic human social units.  Thus, society can be thought of as the aggregate of all its family units.  Strong, stable families help to promote social harmony in society.  (If you doubt this, consider the break down of the traditional family since the mid 1960s.)

What are parents to do when one (or more) of their children have become so unruly in their behavior that they present serious risks to the other children and the parents in the household?



One approach used to break the cycle of abusive and harmful behaviors is the so-called “tough love” approach.  Basically, without going into the dynamics of enablers and co-dependents, let us say that tough love is employed to force the issue, force a decision point (sooner rather than later) for the offenders or ungovernable teenagers.  Parents do have a responsibility to protect their other children and themselves from a violent teenager in the home.  The violence is often worsened or even largely driven by drug abuse.  Yes, teenagers have mood swings, both males and females with their “raging” hormones.  But, if your teenage child cycles regularly between lethargy or euphoria and anger, that is a sign he or she may be abusing drugs.  As their body starts a mini withdrawal process from whatever drug(s) they are using, they get very irritable.

You love your troubled teenager but conventional methods and attempts at shall we say “rehab” have failed.  Your family is in crisis and a constant state of tension with frequent outbursts of violent arguments and some physical abuse occurring to family members.  You take a tough love approach and set your bottom line at what behavior modification you require of your offending child.  What minimum of rules he or she must comply with to remain in the household is communicated to him/her.  The penalty for failure to comply is showing the teenager the door and saying good-bye.  Here is the rationale.  When confronted with having to survive out in the real world and fend for themselves (i.e. they get a reality check), many teens will rather quickly come around and be willing to more seriously attempt to behave themselves.  Many teens put through a tough love process do amend their ways and begin to move away from destructive patterns of behavior.  Sadly, some troubled children cannot be reached through this process and they may remain stuck in self-destructive patterns for years once removed from the home.  Some will become statistics and meet an early death from drugs, alcohol, violent crime, etc.  Some may do time in prison.  Others may and some do learn the “hard way” and by their mid to late 20s begin to live a constructive life.

It is a difficult approach for parents to try as there is usually cognitive dissonance during and after the tough medicine is given to the offending child.  But, parents do have to consider the tough love approach when other methods at behavior modification have failed.  Allowing a cycle of violence to continue in the home is putting your family members at serious risk.  It is suggested that you as a parent discuss this with your spouse and with a family counselor.  Support may also be found with your relatives and close friends and the minister(s) at your church (if you are associated with a church).

If your child reforms his/her ways, as a loving parent offer both forgiveness and acceptance of him/her back into the family.  Positive reinforcement is appropriate here.  Do not tear you child down for past sins, but encourage him/her on the path to more constructive living.  That is a good parenting example for the troubled child, and for the other children in your family.

copyright 2017 –

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