When Joanne Collins was growing up in eastern Kentucky, there was never any question who was in charge. It was her parents, her teachers and the other grown-ups in her life.

Her teacher would take a green paddle down from the wall and walk around the classroom. But she says, "We had a healthy respect for her and I don't think she ever spanked anyone."

When there was a dance, her dad would be outside waiting to pick her up at 9:30.

Down at the sweetshop where they sold Cokes and sandwiches, a young woman could sit in the booth with her boyfriend and "hold his hand, you know, play footsie under the table--but the lady who ran it always kept an eye out."

That was the way kids used to grow up in eastern Kentucky. Today, Joanne Collins, a strong-willed widow who was reelected to the Whitesburg city council in November, says her daughter, Anne Leslie, 19, "drags me up and down like a yo-yo."

"I've let her do things knowing I ought to just say no, just to keep down trouble. It makes me ill. I mean, if she's giving me a hassle, I'm in the bathroom throwing up. I don't think she likes me much. I don't ever remember my mother and daddy guilt-tripping me, but I do it to Anne Leslie all the time . . . . It's almost automatic."

Isolated as Collins and her daughter may feel as they work through their private difficulties, they are caught up in a development that is affecting all of American society. Kids no longer automatically accept the authority of parents, teachers, bosses or adult institutions.

The permissive parenting and education of the 1960s is out of style. But attempts to revive the old mode, in which adults always "knew best," end up in anger and resentment. And so, young and old have been left to find their halting way to relationships that work.

Millions of parents can identify with Joanne Collins' feelings of frustration about raising children in the 1980s. But millions of kids can relate to her daughter's restlessness and sense of growing up in a world of blurry boundaries.

Anne Leslie admits she "can't stay home for 10 minutes." She fights with her mother over things such as use of the family car and has periodic brushes with the police.

Joanne Collins got "an excellent education from as good teachers as you'll find anywhere." Anne Leslie has nothing but contempt for Whitesburg High School and most of its teachers.

"I read in the paper where there was no drug problem," she says. "Actually we were gettin' high and skippin' classes six weeks at a time. Classes were a blur the last year. All I remember is the crazy stuff we did and they never did anythin' about it and I passed and made good grades when I should have flunked all four years."

Rebellion takes every conceivable form, from mild disagreements with parents to violence. An average of 5,200 teachers are assaulted by their students each month, and there were 14,000 fires set in the nation's schools in 1980.

To the adult world, the ubiquitous drug problem has become a symbol of the tension between the generations. Investigators of the House Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control reported in September that drug and alcohol abuse in the armed services are widespread. "The equivalent of about four U.S. combat infantry battalions 600 to 1,000 troops assigned to Europe are lost because of drug abuse," they reported.

A sergeant at Fort Hood, Tex., tells of soldiers objecting to being called off an overnight pass to participate in a military alert. "They have trouble understanding that the Army is not a democracy," said the sergeant.

A suburban Los Angeles police chief, asked by a reporter to discuss the youth problems in his community, unexpectedly starts complaining that young police officers no longer accept the structure and discipline of police work.

"Traditional authority is being challenged successfully and individuals or institutions that once held it are increasingly required to prove their claims to authoritative positions," writes Eleanor Farrar of the Huron Institute in Cambridge, Mass.

"The sense of parental confusion--the sense that there's no clear path--is part of our times," says Tamara Hareven of Clark University in Worcester, Mass., a leading historian of the American family.

"Things are so different now from when our parents were raised that they don't really know how to handle it," explains a young woman undergraduate at Iowa State.

When community leaders, school administrators and parents consider all this, they often blame the kids or the culture. A father whose son is doing poorly at school erupts angrily, slamming his fist on a table and shouting:

"Kids have no respect for authority, for the police, for the teacher . . . ."

He resents the arcade where local teen-agers while away hours playing video games such as Missile Command and Defender. "I'd like to bomb those damn games!"

Television, the drug culture, the sexual revolution, working mothers and a powerful, independent youth culture all influence his son in ways he can't control. (But if the culture is such a problem, why are some families and schools thriving?)

When young people turn the tables and evaluate the diminishing adult authority from their point of view, they ask troubling questions:

Do the adults trust and respect the kids? Do they even know them?

In the 1960s and '70s, the sexual revolution made a virtue out of openness and honesty between the sexes. But to hear young people tell it, communication between the generations never took this step.

"Parents imagine the worst--but they don't have any idea what goes on."

"You'd expect that if I had a problem the first person I'd go to would be my parents. But it doesn't happen. I'll go to other people. I talk to a lot more adults outside of the house than I do to my mom. And my dad's afraid that if he gets to know me I'll lose respect for him."

So says a student at a Catholic school in Cleveland.

The communication gap works both ways. A son mentions that his father is the author of a book. What is the title? The son doesn't know.

A father is angry about the poor grades and behavior of his son. But when he is asked about his own youth he recalls joining a gang in New York's West Side that attacked Puerto Ricans with bricks wrapped in paper bags--an episode in his life that he has never related to his son.

When Jane Norman and Myron Harris surveyed 160,000 teen-agers for their book, "The Private Life of the American Teen-Ager," half of those questioned said they would lie to their parents about their drug use if asked.

"In order to keep peace in the family and avoid the risk of punishment, many teen-agers tell parents what they think parents want to hear. Most kids who smoke or drink simply cover up how often, how much and when they do it."

A mother and son talk about education in their community. He is earnest and polite. She is concerned about the quality of local education but generally pleased with the way her son is doing. Later the same day another teen-ager identifies the boy as "the school drug pusher."

The new sexual freedom and the abolition of parietal hours at colleges has resulted in an intricate cover-up.

"The need to conceal things from parents is taken for granted by all," wrote Richard Taylor in an article about college life in Change magazine. "When parents telephone for a daughter who is almost never in her room, then the daughter is described as 'in the library' where, of course, telephone calls cannot be received. This mode of cover-up is simply part of student culture."

In interviews with dozens of young people, only a few said they had any idea what their parents' income or net worth was, or had been shown a family financial statement.

"They wonder why kids are so secretive about their drug dealings," said Tom M. "The reason is they taught us secrecy. Who ever heard of a father coming home, taking his son aside and explaining the big deal he made at the office that day and the people he'd bribed to make it?"

No single subject seems to bring out more anxieties and doubts about family values than sex.

The reluctance of parents and teachers to discuss sex and birth control often arises out of a good intention to protect children, as well as legal concerns. But teen-agers who are growing up in a youth culture that is full of daily sexual pressures sometimes interpret this as a lack of real concern for them and their bodies.

"I'd like to talk to my mother about birth control, but when I do I know she'll start asking questions and worrying. So I say to myself, 'Just forget it,' I can figure it out when the time comes," said a teen-age girl.

School officials and parents know that teen-age sexual behavior has changed since they were growing up. But kids say that when sex is the issue what often comes across is suspicion and ambiguity rather than trust and clarification of family values.

"What we get is the Moral Majority supporting chastity centers," said a teen-ager.

"If young adults are going to go out and have sex, they're going to have sex . . . . And a very large number of teen-agers who have sex don't use anything at all. But when you go to the sex ed classes at my high school they don't teach anything about birth control, and now the Moral Majority is trying to get rid of even this . . . . "

"Take the teacher," says Amy Y. "You go up and ask a question and she can't answer that . . . . She dummies up. It's so maddening. Gosh, your parents can do that, but sometimes adolescents just want to go to someone beside their parents. But in school they say, 'Go ask your mom.' "

In disappointing academic performance, is a lack of trust and respect for students a factor? Will students respond to challenges handed down by bureaucrats and administrators? Or is the structure of school systems itself at the heart of the problems of apathy, poor discipline and low grades?

In the aftermath of the '60s, there were complaints that colleges and high schools had given away the company store to student radicals--that these institutions had lost control to students who were "doing their own thing" while their educations suffered.

But for all the publicity given to those concessions, kids say that they really have less of a say in their schools than ever. Their attitudes reflect many of the same concerns as their parents about being trapped in a bureaucratic system controlled by people they never see.

In the 10 years after the height of the youth rebellion in 1969, the percentage of male high school seniors who said students had "little or no influence" on how their schools were run rose from 21 percent to almost 34 percent, according to a national poll by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.

When Harvard undergraduate Nicholas Kristoff surveyed 500 high school newspapers for a college thesis, he found censorship to be widespread. Two-thirds of the editors he questioned said material in their publications either had been censored or, they felt, would be if it was controversial. At 57 percent of the papers the faculty adviser picked the editor without consulting students.

In families and schools that have avoided the worst of the tensions in the last decade, the common element has been a willingness on the part of adults to ask themselves difficult questions.

What kind of example are they setting in their own lives? Do they expect as much from themselves as from their students and children? Are they clear about their own values? To what extent do they share responsibility and decision-making with young people? Do they listen carefully to the opinions of young people or do they impose their own idea of what is best for them?

On the basis of those questions, many people who work with kids say parents are failing.

"My perception is that parents don't care what these kids do. They hand them $20 and say, 'Go get a meal,' and maybe the kid comes back the next morning," says Army Capt. Louis Gelling Jr., who commands a company at Fort Hood.

In 1980, 84 percent of the high school students polled by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research said their fathers should spend more time at home.

When the general public was asked to rate schools and parents by pollster George Gallup this year, it gave parents lower grades.

The parents of the kids who rebelled in the 1960s were mainly from the generation that fought in or at least experienced World War II. Their values were forged by war and struggle in the aftermath of the Depression. And they tended to be patriotic, anti-communist, committed to material goals and the work ethic. They presented their children with a formidable yet distinct set of values, and when generational conflict came it was predictably violent.

Raised in the value system of the '40s and '50s but influenced and changed by the political and social movements of the '60s and '70s, today's parents and teachers often seem confused about what the boundaries are.

"If I was to say one thing about today's parents it is that they have trouble saying no," said a Job Corps counselor.

One mother acknowledged her confusion:

"We talk to a teacher and she has an opinion. The next year it's a different teacher with a little different idea. We talk to friends whose kids are having similar problems. And finally there's family therapy. Now after all this I realize it comes down to me, not the experts. I'm the one who has to struggle with the right thing to do."

When kids evaluate this generation of adults they often wonder aloud about its values.

"I respect my parents as people, for all that they've accomplished," said a Montgomery County, Md., high school student. "But I don't respect them as parents."

A college sophomore thinks school discipline problems begin with the adults.

"There was a kid on my street whose father made $100,000 a year. This kid had been in trouble all his life. When the school principal said 'do something,' he said 'f--- you, I'll sue you.' And he says this in a school commissary with 100 other kids around and gets away with it!"

A high school student steals a basketball from the school gym. His mother orders him to return it. Two weeks later the ball still has not been returned. The mother picks up the ball, jumps in the car and returns it to the school herself.

A 15-year-old boy is failing at school and developing a drug problem. His father decides to "reward" him. He presents the son with the gold wrist calculator and watch he received for 20 years of service with his company. The boy damages the watch by wearing it in the shower. After the watch is repaired, the boy is caught using it to cheat on a math test at school.

A father living alone with his 16-year-old son is having a dinner party. In the middle of dinner the boy comes into the room and asks to borrow $10. The father knows the money is for drugs but fears the boy will make an embarrassing scene in front of his friends if he refuses the request. He hands it over and a few hours later the boy returns under the influence of marijuana.

Today's parents do face difficulties in raising their children that their parents did not have. From the time children are old enough to turn on a television set, they are exposed to a series of powerful outside images and influences. Parental efforts to exercise influence can seem almost futile.

Sue Berryman Bobrow of Rand Corp. writes of an additional problem that faces today's parents, raising children in a fast-changing world: "The adolescent experiences of contemporary American parents may be less useful to these adolescent children than those of 19th century parents were to theirs."

This could explain why only 8 percent of the 1,596 Americans polled this year by Psychology Today magazine mentioned "aspirations for their children" as one of their main personal hopes--down from 35 percent of those polled in 1964.

The writer suggested this may not be a sign that Americans have stopped caring about their children, only an indication that they no longer feel they can do much to influence their children's futures.

But some who work with families say too much can be made of the special difficulties of raising kids in the '80s.

"I tell parents, 'Look, the culture is a problem. You're right. But you as a family can't change that. You don't have the power. What you do have the power to do is be the best parent you can possibly be.' Everybody is using the culture to take them off the hook," says teacher Lawrence Pray of the Hyde School in Bath, Maine.

Parents and schools both have a lot going for them in the deep reserves of love and support reflected in surveys of young people. Teen-agers may be aware of their parents' flaws and exasperated by their mistakes, but the potential for stronger relationships is there. Here and there around the nation, there are efforts to exploit this potential in an organized way.

In a number of high schools in Illinois, a program called Operation Snowball brings students, teachers and parents together to talk as honestly as possible about fundamental concerns: sex, alcoholism, family finances, the problem of "invisible kids"--the silent majority of students who neither stand out nor get in trouble.

At Hyde School, an experimental private institution, parents are expected to attend annually a three-day "family learning center" during which they write papers about crucial experiences in their lives and are encouraged to discuss the papers with their children.

Some employers are searching for new arrangements with their young employes. For instance, when Bob Weiss recruits high school and college kids to work at the two Bob's Famous Ice Cream stores he owns in Washington, he uses an unorthodox approach:

"I view the stores as an extension of my family. I try to make a personal friend out of every kid who works for me. I take an interest in their college plans. I confide in them about why I quit law practice and started these stores. I tell them I want them to stand out, to relate to customers personally. And I make clear to them that kids working for me should exercise common sense."

A willingness to take responsibility is rewarded at Bob's. Some weekends, high school kids who have proved themselves are in charge of older college students. The result is that some of the teen-agers say they enjoy working more than school. They have been known to show up early for work and to stay late if help is needed.

But these organized attempts to deal with the "authority crisis" are small compared with the unsung, individual efforts that go on all the time in millions of families.

"Last year when I was at college my parents really opened up," said a young woman from Washington State University. "I thought, 'Wait a minute, I don't want to hear this.' My father was very honest, talking about his life, saying he wasn't happy doing certain things. You know, my father's going through changes, too--religiously, spiritually, emotionally. It's kind of hard to realize this man who's been a parent is now a friend. It's great, but scary. This person you've put on a pedestal is not on a pedestal! Sometimes they're much more immature than we are!"

A mother said: "I have to learn to get into discussions that don't sound like I'm a tape recorder, that don't sound like I know how I want every conversation to turn out before it starts."

Her teen-age daughter adds: "And I have to learn not to cut off communication by pretending to be the perfect little daughter who says, 'I was wrong, I won't do it again.' "