Families in turmoil: A teen-age daughter steals money from her parents to buy "speed" pills; a 15-year-old son drinks himself into violent states and beats up his mother; a pregnant daughter runs away from home . . .
Throughout the country, parent-child dilemmas abound, ranging from the minor to the chronic, giving rise to unlimited advice on raising emotionally healthy children. And the approaches to solving the age-old dilemma run the gamut: A spectrum of psychologists, pediatricians, social workers, family therapists and how-to authors are drawing from Spock, Freud, the Testaments Old and New, Alfred Adler, Rudolf Dreikurs, the Victorian Era, horse sense, Japanese management techniques and the psychological and social sciences.
As conscientious and/or desperate parents consider the options to their particular problems, they are deluged with buzzwords and phrases from would-be gurus -- permissive, autocratic, control, respect, firm and friendly, democratic and communications skills. The underlying premises seem to range from Armed Against Them mentality to If They're on Death Row, It's Our Fault. One group's Utopia is another's nightmare.
Among the leading parental adviser groups:
*Toughlove. Established by David York, 56, and Phyllis York, 48, in Doylestown, Pa., in 1978, as "a solution to the problem of unacceptable behavior among young people." It advocates -- in extreme circumstances -- rigorous tactics, such as placing wayward children in detention centers or even prison. A television special, "Toughlove," will be aired on ABC Sunday night at 9.
*Associates in Adolescent Psychiatry, with locations in Illinois and New Mexico. Founded in 1968, it describes itself as the country's largest private child psychiatric clinic. "It's really a very classical approach," says Marvin Schwarz, 57, president and chairman of the board of AAP. "But we're more behavioral, more interactional than other practitioners, while still employing psychoanalytical techniques.
"We are dealing with children whose behavior is out of control. The parents must be prepared to exercise control. The parent needs to feel comfortable about saying, 'No'. . . rather than saying 'Yes' as a sign of love . . ."
*Focus on the Family. Formed in 1977, it stresses positive family interaction. It purchases time on television, has a nationally syndicated radio show on 800 stations in 17 countries every day and publishes inspirational books on family issues. "I receive approximately 100,000 letters a month," says founder Dr. James Dobson, a former pediatrics professor. "I had 115,000 last month.
"In one word," Dobson, 49, says about his child-rearing philosophy, "it would be 'traditional.' I believe in the wisdom that has been passed down from generation to generation for several thousand years."
*Parent Effectiveness Training (PET). Formed in 1962 in California by Dr. Thomas Gordon, it is a teacher-training course marketed in approximately 20 countries, which then sends its graduates to form autonomous groups of their own in their respective communities.
"About 800,000 have taken the PET course," says Gordon, 67, "and they range from all religions, and from low economy groups to wealthy families. All of our courses have to be taught by authorized instructors.
"We're teaching parents how to be more democratic leaders in the family. Instead of parents setting limits and making rules, we teach them how to involve the children. As to which jobs are alloted to which kids, they all decide as a group. We show parents there are far more effective ways to get children to behave. We teach them communications skills and problem-solving skills; learning how to listen better. It's quite different from these dare-to-discipline books."
*Active Parenting. Based in Georgia, it was founded in 1983 by Dr. Michael Popkin and calls itself "The first video-based parenting education program." The program is a "democratic model for parenting," says Popkin, 35. "We prepare children to go out and succeed in the kind of society they're going to live in. And that's democracy, not a permissive society, not autocratic. What really moves the world forward is learning that we're all in this together."
*Parent Encouragement Program (PEP), based in Silver Spring, was founded by Linda Jessup, 44, in 1982. A supporter of Adler- and Dreikurs-derived techniques, which, among other things, call for a respect for the child, she is also a certified leader of the Active Parenting program. The group offers both the Active Parenting curriculum and the PEP, which is a 28-week course of "Dreikursian parenting," which advocates a balance between "firm and friendly":
" 'Everybody is people' is the idea," she says. "The parents are in charge, but with respect. Children are not allowed to tyrannize parents and parents the same." The solution, she says, is to be "firm and friendly at the same time. We don't praise but we do encourage . . . You're teaching parents to set limits and stay firm enforcing them. You're too firm if you hit them, but if you give in and do the task for the child, you're too friendly . . . "
"A problem for parents," says pediatrician and author Dr. Benjamin Spock, 82, "is the incursion, the invasion of the child-rearing sphere by professionals of all kinds -- pediatricians like myself, psychologists, psychiatrists -- all eager to tell parents the latest about child development.
"Certainly there is a string, a wave of conservatism and authoritarianism, not only in politics, but in schooling and among certain parents," says Spock. "But this business of being afraid to be firm with children is, I think, the commonest problem in child-rearing in this century."
The trend toward increased parental authority seems to be reflected in the growth of Toughlove groups -- today an estimated 1,500 centers across the country. Still, Toughlove and like-minded groups are not without their critics.
Says Dr. Lee Salk, 60, a professor of psychology and pediatrics at The New York Hospital -- Cornell Medical Center: "Where the child has no freedom whatsoever, is blindly obedient to authority . . . that child never learns how to make decisions."
Salk, an outspoken critic of Toughlove, adds, "The issue is concerning the parent's possible feelings of guilt in turning the kids away. I dislike the whole concept."
"It's pretty evenly indicated in the TV show that Toughlove works for some and not for others," says Charles Fries, executive producer of the "Toughlove" TV show. "It works for children who are totally incorrigible and who want to destroy their own family . . . But it's not the panacea."
Jerome Miller, president of The National Center on Institutions and Alternatives based in Washington, D.C., is critical of involuntarily institutionalization of children -- part of Toughlove's philosophy. "I don't see how anyone well trained in family and psychiatric issues," says Miller, "could subscribe to it. There's a certain ethic -- I guess it goes with yuppiedom -- that if kids give you trouble, dump 'em. I think Toughlove logically has emerged from this ethos . . . It gets the family off the hook."
Others, however, rally behind Toughlove's tenets.
"All three of our kids are doing well," says Toughlove founder David York of his two daughters and son. One of the daughters (the Yorks prefer not to name her), who previously had a drug habit and was arrested for armed robbery, was the impetus that led to the forming of the group.
"She stuck up a cocaine dealer," says York. She was "sleazy," during that period, he explains. "She was staying out days at a time. She was doing dope, doing everything . . . LSD, uppers and downers . . . She had a couple of car accidents. Each time we tried to make a solution -- we started out with family counseling, then psychiatrists, then psychologists; we'd see them, she'd see them. None of it made a difference . . ."
When the police finally located and booked her, York decided it was better for the family and the daughter not to bail her out of jail.
"Toughlove? I think it's outstanding," says Dr. James Dobson. "What's needed most is a support group that understands that kind of a conflict . . . Toughlove is not for those who want to throw in the towel, but who need the support of other parents with the same problem. It's simplistic to lay everything at the parents' feet."
Another supporter is Marvin Schwarz. Schwarz, who advocates a tough hand in his own family, says his children have benefitted from his technique. "Certainly they don't have a fantasy that their father's permissive . . ."
Back to the critics:
"Toughlove breaks my heart," says Linda Jessup. "It makes me sad that anybody gets to that point. What we do [at PEP] is put in place all the mechanisms that make coming to that kind of an end unlikely."
Teaching the child the consequences of actions is stressed at PEP she says. If a child must be punished, it should be relevant to the infraction: " 'If you leave the car without gas,' " she says she would tell a hypothetical 16-year son who had borrowed her car and then dumped it home empty-tanked, " 'I'm not likely to let you use the car.' "
But Gordon recommends direct communication before even minor consequential reactions. "Suppose a child is playing the radio loud. Instead of 'Turn that radio down,' or 'You're being thoughtless,' we tell parents to say exactly how they feel and how that radio is affecting them: 'Hey Bobby, when the radio is on, it's so loud your mother and I can't talk.' That doesn't blame the child, put him down or threaten him . . . We call that an 'I message,' rather than a 'You message.' "
What if the child says you-know-what to that?
"If the child does not change his behavior, there's a good reason: [You would say] 'Could you tell me why we have a conflict? We have to solve this in some way.' We call that the No Lose Method of Conflict Resolution . . ."
Counters David York: "I tried to sit down, saying, 'What are the problems? Are you having difficulty with school, boyfriends?' "I'd be one of these reasonable talkers. And she'd sit and talk and I'd feel like, 'Wow, we've solved this problem.' But it was all just talk. She'd cool off awhile but then start to go back into trouble.
"This is who our kid was. She was not this sweet little troubled youth."
"The parents represent the first form of authority a child encounters," says Dobson. "If he develops a lack of respect, that will lead to a lack of respect with policemen, teachers, and the military."
"Raising children is a tough, difficult thing," says Schwarz. "Especially in our culture, which is dangerous. Kids can die in this culture where everyone is smoking dope and snorting cocaine. They have to be protected from this."
"Love is the greatest force in the world to influence human behavior. We don't need the threat of brutality," says Lee Salk.