Although David and Phyllis York were professional drug and alcohol counselors, "we weren't that good with our own two kids," admits David York. Several years of family therapy, he says, didn't help.
"Then one day the police came to my house with shotguns and an arrest warrant for my 18-year-old daughter," he recalls. "They said she stuck up a cocaine dealer. It hit me that my kids were really going bonkers on us and there had to be something better we could do.
So the Sellersville, Pa., couple formed "Tough Love," a program that works, he says, "for kids who are creating a crisis within their family. We mobilize parents to get together, support and help each other."
The group's "philosophy in a nutshell," he says, "is to get parents to act like people. They wouldn't take abusive, violent behavior from someone else, so why should they take it from their kids?
"Parents today feel like they have to respond to kids with tender loving care, openness and honesty. But if your kid is acting like a little bastard, all that stuff doesn't work. So many parents today feel like failures. Our message is you've got to be tough, because you love them."
Parents who join the group, says York, 52, start by identifying "one small behavior they'll no longer tolerate, then they set a bottom line.The group develops a support system around that rule.
"For example, say you decide you won't tolerate your kid coming in past midnight any more. Your bottom line is that if they get home past midnight, they won't be able to get into the house.
"You lock the door and put a card on it with the names of parents in the group who've agreed to take them in until they decide whether they want to live at home by your rules or not.
"It usually happens that when they are in someone else's home they're model kids -- cleaning the dishes, vacuuming their room. Then the group gets together for a negotiating session. They assign an advocate for the kid and an advocate for the parent, and they work out the problem."
There are now 12 "Tough Love" groups in Pennsylvania, notes York, whose recent appearance on a nationwide talk show has swamped him with mail. "We're just amazed," he says. "But we've really struck this chord with parents."
A major attraction of the group, he says, "is that kids have to accept the fact that they are dependent on the parent. They need their family for three hots and a cot. In return they have to act like decent human beings.
"I think it's tougher on the parent than it is on the kids. It's fun to act like Santa, give your kid things and say 'yes' to them. But you have to accept the fact that sometimes, for their own good, you've got to act like Scrooge. It feels awful.
"But my daughter is in really good shape now. She said if we hadn't done what we did, she would still be in trouble. And hearing that feels great."