It seems to me that too many people aren't letting children be children any longer. They're expected to grow up fast, handle things like a grown up and are not allowed to express their emotions. There's a fine line between allowing a child to be taught and disciplined, forced to grow up and only be punished, and allowed to act however they would like and get away with everything.
I don't think this is a topic that everyone will agree on. I teach my children. They aren't punished, they are disciplined so that they learn from their actions. Everything is explained out to them so that they understand what they did wrong and are more likely to not do it again because they understand the reason.
They are given the chance to explain their feelings and tell me why they are upset for whatever reason. Children have feelings and sometimes it's hard for them to understand how to deal with them. They have the right to feel and should be given the chance to express their feelings. Trying to make a child 'tough' often results in a person who has a difficult time with their emotions and can become depressed and angry. This isn't the case for everyone, but allowing a child to express their feelings gives them more of an opportunity to learn from them and deal with their emotions better later in life.
I have three daughters, they each are their own person and it's my job to help them to develop into beautiful women who know how to handle themselves in a mature and respectable manner. That starts now. Giving them room to be who they are while still instructing them to understand the difference between right and wrong is going to help them learn how to deal with anything that life throws their way.
My children get scratches and bumps and bruises. They might cry for a second because it hurts, but they also know that all they have to do, is brush themselves off and get a hug and kiss from Mommy and it's all better. They know that they can depend on me whenever they need, but they also have the ability to move forward. They understand that words can hurt, and fighting back will only result in negative things. I'm teaching my daughters that people aren't always going to be nice to them, but it doesn't give them a reason to seek revenge. That might seem like they're soft, but I think it makes them understand the way life works much more. People aren't always going to be nice, we can't control what others do. We are only responsible for ourselves and our own actions and it's our job to be respectful people, no matter how others treat us.
It's not always a matter of being 'soft', a lot of times it's a matter of understanding and expression. My children will probably be picked on, most kids are. But they are equipped with the tools that help them understand that they can be confident in themselves despite what others might say.
I'm not a perfect parent, but my children are highly praised from strangers and family alike for their respect, manners, attitudes, and helpfulness. They are confident children who are genuinely 'good'. They know right from wrong, and though they aren't perfect and make mistakes, they have been given the tools to learn from it.
My children know that they can come to me and talk to me about anything. Sometimes there will be a consequence for their behavior, but more times than not, it's easily resolved by discussing the issue and figuring out a way to resolve it. Punishment doesn't teach anything other than fear of authorities; but discipline teaches that there's a positive and negative way to handle things, and the outcome will either be positive or negative based on the way they've handled themselves.
Adults, I see it far too often. Parents aren't teaching their children anything because it's easier to give in than to instruct them on how to handle an issue. It makes me sad because in the long run, their children are going to be negatively effected as a result of that behavior. It's the parent's job to effectively teach their child how to deal with life, not to allow them to do and act however they want because it's easier. To me, it's not so much about the parent being 'soft' as it is the parent being 'lazy'.
These are just my thoughts and how I do things. I'm not saying that I get everything right, this is just my experience.