Understanding How Tough Love Helps in Parenting Troubled Teens

Does Your Troubled Teen Need Tough Love?

Tough love often means saying no to your teen.
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Tough Love is an approach to parenting that many parents have found helpful in raising a troubled teen. It was originally developed to help avoid the tension and arguments that often come in dealing with a teen who is acting out. It's effective for a variety of behavior problems, including juvenile delinquency, substance abuse issues, and repeat rule violations.

What is Tough Love?

Tough love is a philosophy for helping parents deal with a troubled teen by setting and enforcing firm limits, in a loving manner.

The term also refers to numerous parent support groups developed around the principles of tough love in order to actively support parents in following through on the plan they develop for dealing with a teen who is creating chaos within their family.

How Does Tough Love Help in Raising a Troubled Teen?

When correctly understood and consistently implemented, the tough love approach is designed to help positively shift power and responsibility in families negatively impacted by out of control teenagers. The overall goal of the tough love approach is to shift power back to where it belongs - with the parents, while at the same time holding the teen accountable for the consequences of their behavior.

Tough love often involves making a conscious effort to stop enabling your teen. That may mean refusing to hand over money if you know your teen uses drugs or alcohol. Or, it might mean refusing to bail a troubled teen out of jail because you want him to learn his lesson.

How Did Tough Love Get Started?

Phyllis and David York originally developed tough love in 1979, both were trained family therapists and substance abuse counselors experiencing difficulties in raising their own teenage daughters. The basic idea behind using their approach was 'helping teens with unconditional love.'

In other words, to love a troubled teen enough to firmly and consistently set firm, clear limits and boundaries with them. The founders of tough love have helped parents by establishing the importance of loving your teen unconditionally, while at the same time not liking the way they act or behave.

Unfortunately, the original principles of tough love have often been misinterpreted over the years and are sometimes presented in ways that were not intended by its founders. In its original form tough love was never intended to describe the drill sergeant type of discipline seen in some programs, such as boot camps for troubled teens.

These tough approaches are not the same as this original approach that was based on loving your teen enough to take a firm, consistent stance while expecting them to be responsible for the decisions they make.

How Do Parents Learn More About the Tough Love Approach?

For parents struggling to raise a troubled teen there are numerous ways to learn more about the tough love approach to include:

If you're a parent who has reached the point where you can't stand living with your troubled teen, or constantly fear for your teen's safety or your family's well-being, it may be time to learn more about how to deal with your troubled teen using a tough love approach.

Updated by Amy Morin, LCSW.

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