Tough Love support group celebrates 30 years

21:27, Jul 28 2014
Maria Mullany and Wayne Campbell
TOUGHING IT OUT: Maria Mullany and Wayne Campbell of Tough Love.

Running away, taking drugs and falling in with the wrong crowd - it seems New Zealand teens couldn't get more unoriginal in their rebellion.

National parents' support group Tough Love celebrates its 30th anniversary today but spokesman Peter Altmann said it didn't matter which decade you raised children in, the problems were always the same.

"In some ways it's changed in that the behaviours reflect the things that are going on in society, but you can very easily group things under a few headings," he said.

The name was often misinterpreted but he said Tough Love paid homage to how hard it was to raise children.

The movement in New Zealand started after Valerie Blennerhassett, a working mother raising a young family, happened across the teachings of psychologists David and Phyllis York who'd launched Tough Love in the United States five years earlier in 1979.

The Yorks, Blennerhassett said, were her "heroes".

"The book, Tough Love, was total logic," Blennerhassett remembered.

It taught parents to "draw a line" and "take a stand" when behaviour wasn't tolerated, whether that was children running away or simply leaving socks lying around, she said.

Those basic principles worked for West Auckland couple Wayne Campbell and Maria Mullany who went on to volunteer for the organisation after initially joining "out of sheer frustration" with Campbell's teenage stepson.

In the five years he'd worked for the group, Campbell said little had changed in terms of the problems people were presenting to the support group although it seemed the children were getting younger.
What had changed was how parents sought help.

He and Mullany mourned for the days when everyone in the community knew each other's names and children were less likely to misbehave if there was a possibility it could be reported back to their parents.

"We've lost that mentality where it takes a whole village to raise a child," Campbell said.

"People are minding their own business, they don't want to get involved. People are busy getting on with their own life and I think kids miss out."

The number of Tough Love support groups has dwindled from 45 to just 12 today which Altmann attributed to technology allowing parents to simply Google their child's behavioural symptoms.

"People want an instant fix and they can go to the internet, it's so easy - your kids are being rude and suddenly they're confronted with two million references," he said.

The face of New Zealand families and how they operated had certainly changed since Tough Love's inception.

This year's Families and Whanau Status Report by the Families Commission showed more mothers were in the workforce, 59 per cent holding a job compared to 49 per cent in 1991, and children aged between 1 and 3 were more likely to be enrolled in early childcare education or daycare.

Mothers were getting older and parents were more likely to remarry, contributing to the rise of the step-family, he said.

Families Commission chief executive Clare Ward said the figures showed families were "more heterogeneous and less stable".

"I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing," she said.

"It's my understanding that the majority of children still do OK and that's an important message.

"I think the whole family situation is just so different that all these factors come into play. If your mum is working that might have some downsides but if she wasn't you might be in a poorer household. It's hard to say which is more problematic."

Altmann said the best thing parents could do for their children was not to assign blame to external influences.

"I think the things parents need to do today were the things parents needed to do 100 years or 500 years ago," he said.

"Love, care and find ways to bond the family."