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ABC drama looks at get-tough program for unruly teens

An organization that some rebellious teen-agers call ``the Nazi parents'' is the subject of a gripping and controversial drama many families may find especially relevant in this era of troubled youngsters. Toughlove (ABC, Sunday, Oct. 13, 9-11 p.m.) tries to deal with an honest problem: Do parents have the right -- perhaps even the obligation -- to take drastic steps to keep their troubled child from wrecking the family as well as his own life?

Toughlove is an actual organization with 1,500 chapters which maintains a family support program. Much like Alcoholics Anonymous, it encourages parents to stop being intimidated and manipulated by unruly offspring and helps them force the teen-agers to face the often unpleasant consequences of their behavior. Sometimes this means allowing the youngster to be taken into police custody, barring him from access to home, enforcing signed contracts between parent and child as to daily routines.

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Many parents, especially overprotective ones, may cringe at some of the methods used, and family counseling experts may worry that deep-seated problems could be overlooked in this Toughlove procedure.

This ``ABC Theatre'' special makes no attempt to study the pros and cons of the Toughlove method; the only reservation seems to be the father's reluctance to bare family secrets in the group encounter sessions at which the troubled youngster himself is never present.

The plot of this special is basically a case history in which Lee Remick, Bruce Dern, and Piper Laurie skillfully play parents who, seemingly for no reason other than that ``chemicals and sleaze are available around every corner,'' are faced with problem children who do not respond to outward displays of love and normal methods of family discipline. The organization Toughlove comes to the rescue and manages to succeed in bringing one of the children back into the cold but loving arms of his parents. Yet

the possibility of Toughlove failure is not even hinted at when the other disturbed child, despite the ministering of the Toughlove group, dies of a drug overdose.

``Toughlove,'' the special, will be very comforting for parents who are trying to cope with similar problem children -- especially parents who are searching desperately for reasons outside the family group. They will be especially fortified by the attitude that whether you have been a good parent or a bad one, this kind of thing shouldn't happen to you.

Perhaps some of the Toughlove philosophy is psychologically authentic, and it seems to have proven itself in many cases, but I would feel more comfortable if the drama delved a bit more into other avenues of help and speculated a bit more on causes. However, it does make a poignant case for the bewilderment of parents in such situations.

``I know I should say I learned my lesson and I'm sorry, but I don't know if that's the reason,'' says the son when he returns home, tamed.

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``It doesn't matter what the reason is,'' says Dad.

Well, it does matter. And while Karen Hall's screenplay makes a valiant, empathic attempt at stating the problem and portraying a rather drastic method used to find a solution, it would have made a greater contribution if there were more delving into the why.

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