THINK TOUGH. Kids' behavior: two programs. Parents and youth make choices

THEIR children have already chosen drugs and delinquency - it's now the parents' turn to make choices - tough ones. Instead of helplessly watching their families being torn apart by a child's ``out-of-control'' behavior, some parents are turning to ``Toughlove's'' methods to try to regain control of their own lives - and to reform the child's life as well. Toughlove is a nonprofit organization designed to help parents cope with this behavior pattern. They have group support and encouragement to help face the tough decisions needed to save their families. They are shown how to let children deal with misbehavior consequences - using unconventional, yet instructive methods.

The program also helps parents network with professionals and community support agencies. Parents are encouraged, in return, to give support to other families in the community.

``Toughlove opened lines of communication with my son,'' says parent John, who has been coming to Toughlove group meetings for five months. His son was arrested a month ago for a third offense.

At the time, the son lived at home - without a job and without the motivation to get one. Following Toughlove guidelines, John set a deadline of two weeks for his son: Either he had to have a full-time job, or he would have to move out.

Two weeks went by, and the son had not found a job, so out he went. Within a week, however, he called, said he had found one, and wanted to talk about coming home.

While John's experience is a Toughlove success story, it's the kind that sparks controversy. Critics of Toughlove refuse to place full responsibility for drug abuse and behavioral problems on the child. Typically, bad parenting and the child's environment are found to be at least partially responsible, they say.

Lee Salk, professor of psychology, psychiatry, and pediatrics at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center in New York comments, ``Children and young people today need communication, love, and understanding - rather than a `do it our way or out' attitude.

``Parents don't spend enough time with their children. While Toughlove may lead to what looks like short-term gains, in actuality they will be long-term losses.''

``Toughlove's programs create a situation,'' says David York, one of Toughlove's founders, ``where moms and dads are not their kids' enemies, but they are not expected to provide the benefits - home, food, money - and then be `sidelined''' by the child's behavior choice.

Toughlove developed after Mr. York and his wife Phyllis went public with their family's struggle to keep their daughter out of jail. A solution was found, York says, ``by establishing rules and matching expectations which created a moral atmosphere.''

The Yorks wrote two best-selling books, ``Toughlove'' and ``Toughlove Solutions,'' which outline their strategy. As a result of their ideas, a grassroots organization sprang up, growing to 1,600 groups around the world.

Strict requirements are made of errant children, says York, but parents need to use ``respect and reasonableness rather than merely toughness to correct destructive behavior.''

Parents develop the ability to use these qualities through group meetings and support from other Toughlove parents. Each week they get together to work through the details of their problems, creating plans and strategies intended to accomplish specific goals.

A plan takes the form of a ``bottomline'' resolution each parent makes to the group. ``We will no longer tolerate an irresponsible person living in our home'' is one such resolution heard at a recent Toughlove parents' support group meeting in Hanover, Mass. When a parent's discipline is reinforced by the group, uncomfortable solutions do not get postponed.

``There are no clear societal expectations,'' says York, ``as to the role kids are expected to play in the family.''

According to the Yorks, ``Toughlove means loving your child enough to do what has to be done, no matter how hard you find the task. Outrageous behavior requires unorthodox responses.''

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