In the past two years we have seen a quiet explosion in parents' groups. Some of these groups began when parents of teen-agers sought out parents of their children's friends to discuss problems of drug and alcohol abuse. Others, such as Tough Love, are made up of members whose adolescent sons and daughters have serious behavioral problems. Still others are made up of parents of elementary school children.

There are now about 35 parent groups active in Montgomery County. Most are purposefully small, around five to seven parents (although Tough Love has about 50) united by the type of troubles their children share. By anticipating difficulties, such as drug and alcohol use, these organizations can prevent them. By learning more about their children's friends and families, the parents can better understand the world their children live in. By discussing behavior, development and standards with other parents, they can provide better guidance.

Why are such groups necessary? Whatever happened to good old-fashioned, straightforward parenthood? Why can't people just mind their own business and raise their children by themselves, just as they always did?

Well, first, because they didn't. Parents have been talking with one another and comparing notes on how to raise their kids since parents first learned to talk. In many, if not most, societies, child-rearing has always been a communal affair. But many people--parents and children--have been isolated by high mobility. When children are toddlers, they stick close to home, or else we accompany them to parks and playgrounds where we are likely to meet other parents of toddlers.

In elementary school, parent contact is still fairly regular, since most elementary schools are neighborhood-based (although school closings have created a problem here) and parents tend to take an active interest in elementary PTAs. Babysitting pools, sports, dance classes and the like also provide opportunities to meet other parents.

But in junior high, children begin traveling farther to school and finding friends farther away from home. By the time they enter high school, their world has expanded, aided by their to drive a car. For the most part, parents of children over the age of 11 are not likely to meet each other unless they make a special effort.

There is another kind of mobility: families moving from one location to another. It can be very difficult for newly arrived families to establish contact with other families. We now have to think consciously of ways to get together or else it won't happen.

We also are living in a period of major technological, economic and social transition. We need to talk to other parents to get information, to discuss what it means and to try our best to help our children adjust to these complicated and rapid changes--space travel; computers; biogenetics; a revolution in physics; a new economy that threatens old jobs and is inflation- prone and disrespectful of America's claim to world economic predominance; the sexual revolution; and a proliferation of family types, including divorced parents, parents without partners, families in which both parents work, step- parents and step-siblings. The list goes on.

What standards should we be setting to provide that delicate but critical balance between authority that will keep children out of trouble, and independence?

Old questions provoke new considerations. What movies should they not see? How much allowance should they get? What time should they be home? Where should they be permitted to go? What is proper behavior at social gatherings? Television, drugs, alcohol, sex, emotional problems: what do we say about these?

For some of us, and I suspect for most of us, the answers are not so easy. So let's compare notes and share our thinking. Let's talk with other people who have the same questions, the same concerns for their children.

This process can yield another dividend for parents, too; they come in contact with other adults who have mutual interests, which is good for their own emotional health. That so many parents throughout Montgomery County understand this is evidence that intelligence and caring can counter the wrenching forces of "progress" that--while increasing our material wealth--too often have robbed us of the values by which that wealth can be constructively enjoyed.