Is tough love parenting ok?

Tough love can have serious long-term repercussions.
Kids tough love parenting

If you believe being strict with your children is the best way of keeping them out of trouble, you may want to rethink your parenting.

Being extremely tough on your children can make them more likely to rebel, and end up turning to drink and drugs, according to recent research.

Children of “authoritarian” parents, who are good at laying down the law but not so great when it comes to showing affection, are more likely to abuse substances. A study carried out in six European countries and published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that while children of permissive parents who don’t set boundaries are more likely to drink and use drugs, so too are those whose parents are extremely strict.

Dr Amador Calafat, of the European Institute of Studies on Prevention in Spain, says, “Our results support the idea that extremes are not effective.” Finding the middle ground – setting guidelines that are reasonable – is the best way to raise well-rounded children, say the experts.

The findings back research from the UK that showed parenting style is one of the strongest influences when it comes to how a child drinks as a young adult. A study of 15,000 Britons born in the last 40 years found that being firm yet fair was the best way to make sure people drink more responsibly between the ages of 16 and 34.

That research also found being too strict with your kids could be as ineffectual as being too casual.

There are several reasons why very strict parenting causes behavioural problems in kids, say experts.

It deprives them of the chance to learn self-discipline and responsibility. Authoritarian parenting is based on fear, and kids who are raised that way are more likely to copy that behaviour and bully others.

Young people who are constantly punished believe there is something very wrong with them, which can lead to a tendency to be angry and depressed. This may make them turn to drink and drugs to cope.

Children raised with strict discipline can come to believe those in power are always right and can find it difficult to make decisions for themselves. They are more likely to follow their peer group, and if their friends are drinking and doing drugs, they may not have the strength to say no.

Harsh discipline also tends to lead to kids who may overreact when they are told what to do. Drinking to excess and taking illegal substances is one of the best ways to rebel against parents.

The constant pressure to “be good” and “do well” can lead some children of strict parents to become accomplished liars.

Are you too strict?

Signs you could be too tough include:

  • Feeling as if all you ever do is nag your kids and tell them off. Does all their behaviour really warrant being punished?

  • Setting so many rules it’s hard to enforce them all.

  • Having to impose tougher and tougher punishments all the time.

Take a look at how to teach your teen good hygiene here.

Image: Dave Wheeler/

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