Tough Love Can Translate into Tough and Tragic Endings

Have you ever heard of that controversial group known as Tough LoveTough love is an expression used when someone treats another person harshly or s40396694-woman-cryingternly with the intent to help them in the long run (cruel to be kind). The phrase was evidently coined by Bill Milliken when he wrote the book Tough Love in 1968 and has been used by numerous authors since then. Genuinely concerned parents refusing to support their drug-addicted child financially until he or she enters drug rehabilitation are said to be practicing tough love. However “Tough love” boot camps for teenagers have been described as child abuse, and the National Institutes of Health noted that “get tough treatments do not work and there is some evidence that they may make the problem worse”. This is not Milliken’s vision of tough love.

What the British call tough love can be beneficial in the development of preferred character traits in children up to five years old. However, the British adhere to the concept of “authoritative” parenting, whereas American ideas about tough love are closer to the notion of “authoritarian” parenting,  usually with positive outcomes. Tough Love advocates auangry-woman-Manasthoritatarian parenting, not authoritative parenting. The latter tends to widen the gap between troubled teens and parents, resulting in behaviour that becomes progressively negative. Authoritative parenting, also called ‘assertive democratic’or ‘balanced’ parenting, is characterized by a child-centered approachthat holds high expectations of maturity. Authoritative parents can understand how their children are feeling and teach them how to regulate feelings. They often help their children to find appropriate outlets to solve problems. Authoritative parents encourage children to be independent but still place controls and limits on their actions. Authoritarian parenting, also called strict parenting, is characterized by high expectations of conformity and compliance to parental rules and directions, while allowing little open dialogue between parent and child. Authoritarian parenting is a restrictive, punitive parenting style in which parents make their children follow their directions and respect their work and effort. Authoritarian parents expect much of their child, but generally do not explain the reasoning for the rules or boundaries.

Sometimes, regardless of parenting styles, children and teens develop severe behavioural problems. Thespanic disorder pice are not neurological issues, but rather making bad choices and simply defying family rules. Enter Tough Love, a group for parents  raising difficult teens and adolescents. Facilitators are volunteers who organize the program. Members are parents who need answers and guidance from these armchair psychologists who have no credentials, simply a licence to allow the group to meet. Sometimes Tough Love makes sense. There are success stories, as there are in all groups, including that of a well-known celebrity.

Erin Brockovich, the woman portrayed by Julia Roberts in the film Erin Brockovich, faced her own family crisis with her 16-year-old drug-addicted daughter, Elizabeth. Erin didn’t want to believe that Elizabeth financed her $500.00 a week drug habit by stealing from her family, but finally she took action and cut off Elizabeth’s finances. This was financial tough love.  In tough love terms, it means n”o money, no car, no food, no shelter because ultimately those are the things that can be converted to drugs.” Erin put a lock on her door and permitted Elizabeth to re-enter the family house when she stopped coming home high on drugs. Elizabeth also had to accept a $20 a week allowance, rather than her previous $500.00. Ultimately, Elizabeth claimed her mother’s tough love saved her life.

Elizabeth’s “life-saving” experience was lucky.  There have been children who lost their lives due to Tough LovLeslie-Mahaffy150e’s perimeters. One famous case is that of 15-year-old Burlington, Ontario schoolgirl Leslie Mahaffay, who became Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka’s third torture-rape victim. Among other issues, Leslie frequently broke curfew and finally after a session or two with Tough Love, her parents locked the door after Leslie stayed out too late one night.  It was the worst decision of their lives.  Leslie’s body was found approximately one week later, dismembered and encased in cement in Lake Gibson, near St Catherine’s, Ontario. Two years after their daughter’s murder, the Mahaffays divorced.

Tough Love can’t be entirely blamed for tragic endings, nor can it be entirely lauded for success stories. But any alternative parenting style taken to extremes is something that needs to be tempered, balanced with the individual dynamics within a family. TL is not a one-size-fits-all model for struggling families. Sometimes there are no answers, easy or otherwise and that’s just how it is. Parenting groups, especially those facilitated by non-professionals, must be approached with caution…or not at all.

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