Growing up, my parents provided me with an equal amount of coddling and tough love. Whenever I was sick, my mom would intensely care for me from the moment I developed a fever until that fever finally broke. My dad stood guard as my protector whenever I found myself in dire trouble. I have been so blessed with parents who care for me and work so hard to ensure that I live a comfortable life.

Despite their love and affection, my parents never stopped me from learning certain things the hard way. When I scraped my knee learning to ride a bike, they waited until I finished crying and forced me to try again no matter how terrified I was of falling. When I failed a test, they did not coddle me and blame it on my teacher's lack of skill but instead advised me to study harder for the next one. They did not defend my failures or mistakes. And they never should have. I had made my own choices and performed my own actions willingly. My parents taught me to accept responsibility for the things that I do, whether they are good or bad.

While they let me grow accustomed to overcoming obstacles on my own, my parents also made sure that I understood that I was completely capable of personal success. My endlessly-optimistic mother would repeatedly inform me that there was always a light at the end of the tunnel. My dad loyally attended all of my sports games, even when I should not have been allowed on the field with my terrifying lack of athleticism. From their constant support and encouragement, I learned that hard times would always pass. I would only grow from them, but first I would have to work my own way out of them. My parents made sure that I knew that the mistakes I made throughout my life did not define who I was or who I could become.

One of the most important times in which I learned to be tough was when faced with the unwanted opinions of others. I come from a family where people jokingly poke fun at one another constantly. It is all lighthearted fun; never once does it turn vicious. As a child, I did not understand how beneficial this would be for my future self. My dad teasing me for loving to read did not seem explicitly valuable, but now I am able to marvel at that unusual childhood characteristic and acknowledge both how strange and how advantageous it was. I am easily able to recognize and accept my own flaws because I know that the people around me accept them wholeheartedly. I can laugh at myself, which in turn has given me a deeper appreciation for the unique attributes I possess that make me who I am today. Imperfection no longer scares me. It amuses me.

When I was in the second grade, one of my current friends told me that my family lived in a garbage dump. I knew this was a lie, and yet I still sobbed for thirty minutes after he announced it to the entire class. The opinion of this eight-year-old clearly mattered more to me at that time than the truth. It was not until middle school that I finally learned to see myself without outside opinions obstructing my view. I observed that insults were only thrown out by insecure individuals who felt the instinctual need to tear others down in order to raise themselves up. Unbeknownst to them, they were exactly the type of people who helped me grow. I came to the realization that trivial comments meant to upset me were only as true as long as I let myself believe that they were. Thus, they began to bother me less and less as my own opinion of myself began to matter to me more and more. This mantra got me through middle school and high school and continues to empower me throughout my college career.

Absolutely no one has the right to put others down, but, unfortunately, the reality is that hate and ignorance have thrived for thousands of years and will continue to exist long after we have left this earth. We can do our best to extinguish the forest fire of prejudice that seems to burn throughout the world, but another flame will just be ignited in some other aspect of life. That is why it is so important for us to learn to embrace constructive criticism and deflect needless hatred. We must learn to love one another and ourselves unflinchingly and to be prepared for those who may not.

All of the moments in my life in which I have been forced to be tough have contributed to the optimism, stability, and persistence that I attempt to retain today. Society is currently trending toward a time in which kids are watched, protected, and coddled far more than they used to be. What people fail to realize is that there is a balance between the extremes of complete nurture and total neglect. Every child should be cared for yet allowed to make their own mistakes and face their own fears. If not, the next generation will never learn to fight relentlessly for what they believe in, pursue their goals unabashedly, and persevere in the face of adversity. Where would that leave us then?