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Tough Love

In life, the more coping tools a person has to deal with different types of people and situations, the more successful that person will be. Different people respond to different things. Some people will shape up if all you do for them is empathize and lend an ear without judgment. Others need only autonomy and trust to go out and do the right thing. Still others respond very well to regimented guidelines and rules about how to behave. Occasionally, there are few who need a dose of physical discipline or its emotional twin—tough love. The world is witnessing a large percentage of a generation of adults now entering society whose parents did not exact any physical discipline or use much tough love. Studies have shown the number of parents who spank their children have been steadily declining since 1985. My own personal observation and life experience corroborate this for me. In fact, an even larger percentage of today’s children are headed down the exact same path as their undisciplined elders. I recently attended a wedding where I watched one of these kids walk all over the parents, misbehave, run into people, pout, knock things over and was just in general, a terrible little child. For a moment I could see into the future and see the adult-him. He reeked of a future bully who was still a brat that nobody liked. He was still running around misbehaving, pouting and knocking things over without care or fear of consequences. It seems people who were raised without any discipline are everywhere. They grew up in a world where everyone got a trophy, they never learned how to compromise, and their parents took their side, even when they were wrong. Moreover, they almost always get their way, believe the world owes them something, never learned how to listen, and don't respond well to any type of authority. They are usually the ones living at home in their late 20’s or 30’s who haven’t accomplished much and are still waiting for what they believe they deserve to just magically fall into their laps. Life hasn’t taught them much either, because they’ve typically been so sheltered and spoiled, they haven’t logged much time out there on their own in the real world. I honestly believe parents who subscribe to beliefs about not using tough love or physical discipline actually have honorable intentions. They are doing everything in their power to try to stop their children from having to experience anything uncomfortable. And while that goal is sweet and loving, it's unrealistic—no person can protect another from the uncomfortable parts of life. We all get our turn to experience failure, loss, sadness, rejection and grief. It’s an important part of life and it also happens to be the time when people experience the most growth and change. It’s going through these negative experiences that make victory, love, success, fulfillment and acceptance so wonderful. It follows then that parents who subscribe to this “protect my child from anything negative” goal don’t want spank their kids, don’t discipline them, and don’t ever use the tool of tough love. But here’s the important part of tough love—many people need it. Many people respond to it. Many people will grow and change because of it. It’s a very important method to incorporate into your toolbox.

When I was in middle school, there was a day I was standing outside the band room when I got this wild (and stupid) idea that I was going to embarrass one of the kids in the school that nobody really liked. As a big group of us stood in the hallway chatting and laughing, I noticed my target getting ready to exit the classroom. As he came out, I jump-kicked the door shut. I was just trying to get a laugh out of everyone at this boy’s expense. When I did this, the door hit him in the head and he fell backwards on the floor. Although that was not my intention, I felt I had no choice but to pretend that it was and laugh at him as he lay on the floor. After a few moments when this boy got his bearings back and saw who had done that to him, he came charging straight at me. He punched me so hard in the face that the entire row of braces on my bottom front teeth lodged into my lip. As I bled into the bathroom sink with the water running, slowly dislodging one brace after another from behind my now punctured inside lip, I thought to myself, “Boy, did I have that comin’!” When I told my parents what had happened to my swollen, bloody lip, they both said, “Well, you had that comin’ didn’t you?” They didn’t call the school and demand the other boy be disciplined. They didn’t sue. They didn’t yell and scream and blame the school staff for allowing violence in the halls. My parents realized it was an unpleasant experience, but they also understood I learned a very valuable lesson that day. That dose of humility has always stayed with me. I now understand my actions have consequences. When I became a police officer, I quickly found out one of the main job descriptions for a cop is “Parenting-For-Adults.” Police officers find themselves in the role of a parent for grownups who are acting like children. And, like real parents, police have much of the same powers. Officers can put grownups in timeout (jail), they can take away their allowance (fine), and they can even spank them (use of physical force). This country's trend of abatement of tough love and physical discipline has transferred over to the expected police response when dealing with citizens. Sadly, officers are facing more and more products of this trend, most who have little or no experience of being humbled, disciplined, or told no. We have turned loose into the world a large portion of the population who is spoiled, ungrateful and entitled. Life will (as life always does) humble people eventually as they make their way out of their parents’ basements and gain more and more life experience. Unfortunately for the police, it is the cops who most often find themselves in the role of doling out some of these life lessons. It’s up to the rest of us watching this unfold, to make sure we don’t take away tough love and physical discipline from the proverbial police toolbox. It’s up to the rest of us when we see instances of people finally receiving their slice of humility, to not rise up in anger and offense, but rather to exercise a little tough love of our own by understanding, “Boy, they had that comin’ didn’t they?”

**Steve Warneke is a writer, speaker, consultant, police expert and author of From Boy To Blue. Find more from Steve at


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