Tough Love

Tough love is an expression used when someone treats another person harshly or sternly with the intent to help them in the long run. The phrase was evidently coined by American politician Bill Milliken when he wrote the book ‘Tough Love’ in 1968 and has been used by numerous authors since then.

In most uses, there must be some actual love or feeling of affection behind the harsh or stern treatment to be defined as tough love. For example, genuinely concerned parents refusing to support their drug-addicted child financially until he or she enters drug rehabilitation would be said to be practicing tough love. Athletic coaches who maintain strict rules and highly demanding training regimens, but who care about their players, could also be said to be practicing tough love.

‘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.’ However, there is evidence to suggest that what the British call tough love can be beneficial in the development of preferred character traits in children up to five years old. The British definition is more similar to the concept of ‘authoritative’ parenting, whereas American ideas about tough love are closer to the notion of ‘authoritarian’ parenting, which has been linked with negative outcomes.

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