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What is Tough Love Parenting

What is tough love parenting

Tough love parenting involves parents adopting a strict style, often referred to by psychologists as authoritarian parenting. In this approach, parents are characterized by their high demands yet low responsiveness. Tough parents often set high standards but they are cold and aloof to the child’s emotional needs.

Tough love parenting is prevalent in many countries, especially among the older generation. The newer generation of parents start to recognize the harm authoritarianism can do. However, those who still want to use this approach to parenting try to portray it as an effective parenting method by calling it old-school parenting.

Some parents practice tough love parenting because they want to toughen up the child. They mistakenly believe that being harsh and mean to a child will make them strong.

Others use this strict parenting style because they believe that being tough will instill discipline in the child, teaching the child how to obey authorities, and preventing them from making mistakes in the future and “ending up in jail”.

Some are also worried that if they are not being strict, their children might “walk all over them”.

These uncompromising views are caused by the fact that authoritarian parents have more rigid views of the world​1​.

They often think in either-or terms and there’s no middle ground.

Other tough love examples include believing that either they have complete control over their kids or the kids will completely rule the house and dominate them.

Parents who allow their kids to walk all over them are permissive parents. They are warm and nurturing, but they have no boundaries or do not consistently enforce them.

Permissive parenting does have its issues. But the opposite of permissive is not authoritarian.

The opposite of high-responsiveness and low demanding (permissive) is not low-responsiveness and high demanding (authoritarian).

The opposite of permissive is non-permissive! 

Being permissive is not that the parents are warm and responsive. Research shows that responsive parents actually help children form a secure attachment, which is beneficial.

The actual problem with permissive parenting is not setting limits or not enforcing them consistently.

The authoritative parenting style is a non-permissive parenting style that is both nurturing and has high standards and is a much better parenting approach than authoritarian parenting.

Does Tough Love Work

On the surface, it seems logical that practicing tough love parenting will prepare kids to face tough situations. But this has been proven wrong in scientific research:

A study was performed in Israel where 18-year-old men have to serve in mandatory military service. It was found that male adolescents who grew up in a non-nurturing environment coped and adapted worse in the tough military scenery than those who grew up in a nurturing household (Mayseless, et al., 2003).

~ Turning Tantrums Into Triumphs

Related: Difference Between Authoritative and Authoritarian Parenting

Tiger parent carries her cub in mouth - symbolizing tough "tiger mom parenting"

Tiger Parenting style

Tiger parenting style is among examples of authoritarian parenting.

Although a large number of studies conducted in western societies indicate that authoritarian parenting has negative effects on children, some studies have found contradictory results in school performance among other cultures such as African American, Hispanic, or Asian communities.

In fact, a 2011 Wall Street Journal article sparked a huge debate across America on this exact topic.

In the article, the author claimed that “Tiger Mom parenting” in the Chinese culture was superior to the “western” parenting style. She later retracted that claim citing it was a Wall Street Journal’s marketing tactic and supported the notion that tiger parenting was not a good parenting style. However, at that point, authoritarian parents were already convinced that was the best parenting style.

Unfortunately, a study at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (1998) supported this claim. That study showed that in Hong Kong, kids with authoritarian parents had better academic success than those with authoritative parents​2​.

So, is it possible that the authoritarian, rather than authoritative style, parenting style is indeed a better choice in certain cultures?

Not really.

There are inconsistent results among different studies even in those cultures.

Some researchers have found that even in Asia, authoritarian parenting is linked to worse academic performance while authoritative parenting produces better academic outcomes​3​.

One Chinese present study on second graders shows that children with authoritarian parents are not only worse in academic achievement, but are also rated as poorer in social competence by their teachers. These children often show more aggression and are less accepted by peers.

The mental health issue is another problem that children raised by Asian authoritarian parents face.

Harsh discipline, a common authoritarian practice, is linked to more depressive symptoms among Chinese American adolescents​4​.

In Hong Kong, 54% of students aged 15 to 19 years old report suicidal ideation, compared to 36% of junior high and high school students in the United States​5,6​. This suicidal ideation is significantly associated with perceived authoritarian parenting, low parental warmth, high maternal over-control, negative child-rearing practices, and a negative family climate.

Need more proof?

Between 1996 and 2004, more than half of the suicides (11 of the 20) at Cornell University were committed by students of Asian descent. During that period, only 14% of enrolled students were Asian or Asian American​7​.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also found that among women aged 15-24, Asian American females have the highest suicide rates across all racial or ethnic groups​8​ in the US.

No research is known to link the suicides at Cornell or the female suicidal rate directly to parenting style. But from the overwhelming amount of testimonials, you can imagine the damage this type of upbringing has done to many Asian and Asian American children.

Final Thoughts on Authoritarian Parenting

Child abuse by physical maltreatment is highly associated with an authoritarian parenting style​9​. This type of child maltreatment has a high risk of transferring from one generation to the next​10​. Although it’s not easy, the cycle of harsh parenting can be broken if the parent is determined to do so.

Check out:

How to Deal with An Authoritarian Parent as a Teenager and
How to Recover from Authoritarian Parenting in Adulthood.


  1. 1.
    Williams KE, Ciarrochi J, Heaven PCL. Inflexible Parents, Inflexible Kids: A 6-Year Longitudinal Study of Parenting Style and the Development of Psychological Flexibility in Adolescents. J Youth Adolescence. Published online February 7, 2012:1053-1066. doi:10.1007/s10964-012-9744-0
  2. 2.
    Leung K, Lau S, Lam WL. Parenting Styles and Academic Achievement: A Cross-Cultural Study. Wayne State University. Press; 1998:p157-72.
  3. 3.
    McBride-Chang C, Chang L. Adolescent-parent relations in Hong Kong: parenting styles, emotional autonomy, and school achievement. J Genet Psychol. 1998;159(4):421-436.
  4. 4.
    Kim S, Ge X. Parenting practices and adolescent depressive symptoms in Chinese American families. J Fam Psychol. 2000;14(3):420-435.
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    Dubow EF, Kausch DF, Blum MC, Reed J, Bush E. Correlates of Suicidal Ideation and Attempts in a Community Sample of Junior High and High School Students. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology. Published online June 1989:158-166. doi:10.1207/s15374424jccp1802_7
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    Lai KW, McBride-Chang C. Suicidal ideation, parenting style, and family climate among Hong Kong adolescents. International Journal of Psychology. Published online April 2001:81-87. doi:10.1080/00207590042000065
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    Zhao Y, Qiu W. How Good are the Asians? Refuting Four Myths about Asian-American Academic Achievement. Phi Delta Kappan. Published online January 2009:338-344. doi:10.1177/003172170909000507
  8. 8.
    Leung FTL, Arpana G. I, Ebreo A, Yang LH, Kinoshita L, Fu M. Handbook of Asian American Psychology. 2nd ed. SAGE Publications, Inc; 2006.
  9. 9.
    Rodriguez CM. Parent–Child Aggression: Association With Child Abuse Potential and Parenting Styles. Violence Vict. Published online December 2010:728-741. doi:10.1891/0886-6708.25.6.728
  10. 10.
    Valentino K, Nuttall AK, Comas M, Borkowski JG, Akai CE. Intergenerational Continuity of Child Abuse Among Adolescent Mothers. Child Maltreat. Published online January 27, 2012:172-181. doi:10.1177/1077559511434945


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