Spikes and Studs : Tipping the Scales Against Heavy Metal, Punk

Times Staff Writer

They are the extreme--the young people for whom punk rock or heavy metal music has become a way of life: Bizarre clothing and hair styles. Drug and alcohol abuse. Satanism. Violence to themselves and others. Rebellion--against all forms of parental and societal authority.

For the uninitiated, the sights and sounds of Orange County and Los Angeles County punkers and heavy metalers speaking on videotape about how they perceive themselves, their values and their life styles was, no doubt, shocking.

But the purpose of showing the videotape at "Spikes and Studs, an all-day conference on heavy metal and punk and their influence on children," was not to shock.

It was shown, according to conference organizers, to help educate the 130 parents, teachers, counselors, probation officers and police officers who turned out for the conference last week at the Hilton at the Park in Anaheim: To show them how to recognize punk and heavy metal music, dress and accessories; to help them understand the problems associated with the punk and heavy metal culture, and to teach them ways to deal more effectively with these youths.

The conference was sponsored by The Back In Control Training Center in Fullerton, which for the past 10 years has offered a system of parenting designed to help parents assert their rights to set and enforce rules of behavior for their children. There now are Back In Control centers also in Riverside, Whittier and Pasadena.

"To a lot of people, punk and heavy metal is a fad, here today and gone tomorrow," said Darlyne Pettinicchio, associate director of The Back In Control Training Center, at the outset of the conference. "For some kids that's true. For other kids, it becomes a way of life that changes their value systems and beliefs."

Greg Bodenhamer, director of The Back In Control Training Center, a former Orange County deputy probation officer and author of "Back In Control: How to Get Your Children to Behave" (Prentice-Hall, 1983), told the audience that "one of the worst problems we work with on a continuing basis is kids in punk or heavy metal."

"It's rare that a week passes that we don't have one or two metalers come in to the center; we see fewer punkers, four or five a month," explained Bodenhamer in an interview. "Over the course of a year, you're looking at dozens and dozens of kids."

Bodenhamer stresses that the majority of young people who listen to punk rock or heavy metal music are not a problem.

"It's when they start to dress it and act it that it becomes a problem," he said. "When the parents reach us, more often than not, their kids have developed serious problems at school: Their grades have dropped; there is chronic tardiness and truancy; they have a real disinterest in school.

Drawing Away

"There's also a very quick drawing away from the family. Once kids becomes part of the (heavy metal or punk) culture, there is an attitude they frequently pass onto the parents: 'I'm going to do what I want; the hell with you, leave me alone.' And with the metalers, in particular, better than 90% are involved with drugs."

The center's focus, he maintained, is not to be anti-punk or anti-heavy metal. "It's the effect on children and families we're concerned about.

"I think that's the real key for having the workshops: To alert people to the problems of punk and heavy metal because most professionals we deal with treat it as though it's just a different musical genre, like the Beatles were different from Elvis Presley, and they don't see the culture that goes with it."

Darlyne Pettinicchio, who has been a deputy probation officer in Orange County more than 10 years and who serves as a "punk and heavy metal consultant" to the California Youth Authority and police and probation departments throughout California, said there isn't any one type of child who gets seriously involved in the punk or heavy metal life styles.

But there are, she told the audience, some commonalities.

In Orange County, "most of the kids involved in punk or heavy metal are Anglo kids; they're usually middle class and upper class. The ones I've talked to usually are of average intelligence and are very capable of doing what they want in whatever they choose to do in life--if they were motivated in that direction."

Pettinicchio, who interviewed current and former punkers and heavy metalers for the videotape shown at the conference, said she also has found that most of them have poor self-images. Sometimes, she said, they're outcasts--the type of kids who aren't in step with their peers.

"All the kids we've dealt with are seeking a place to belong," she said. "The other thing is they're bored and seeking excitement. Heavy metal or punk is exciting. You never know what's going to happen.

Little Parental Control

"The other thing we've found is there is very little parental control. A lot of times their parents really don't know what their kids are involved in. They don't know who they're associating with, and they don't know what they're doing."

She also has learned, she said, that "they are angry kids and punk and heavy metal becomes an acceptable release for their anger."

According to Pettinicchio, punk rock basically began in England in the late '60s and early '70s as a revolt against the Establishment due to the economic, educational and political system that was going on there at the time. "It became a way the youngsters could rebel--through their dress, the way they wore their hair, the accessories they wore."

A common punk symbol, she noted, is the "A" for anarchy.

When punk came to America, Pettinicchio continued, "American youths found other issues to rebel against, and they basically took whatever systems we Americans hold dear," she said. "Basically, the goal of punkers is to do what they want to do, when they want to do it and how they want to do it."

Punkers, Pettinicchio said, like to shock people through their dress and behavior. "The other thing is anger and violence," she observed, explaining that it's not unusual for punkers to inflict wounds on themselves with razer blades and knives and to burn themselves with cigarettes. And, she noted, there also is damage to both property and animals. Some punk rockers she has talked to, she said, have injured cats and killed rabbits by throwing them against a wall.

The dance of punk rock, the Slam Dance, is itself extremely violent, she added. "Basically, that's what it is: It's slamming yourself into someone else, kicking them, punching them, basically assaulting and battering them. And that's fun. That's the dance. Violent."

Evolution of Heavy Metal

Unlike punk rock, Pettinicchio said, heavy metal didn't have a specific beginning. It evolved from late-'60s and early-'70s hard rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, the Doors, Cream and Jimi Hendrix.

The focus of the heavy metaler, she said, is "drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll."

"They're basically into 'head banging,' which is really getting into the music," she said. And the music "is very loud and aggressive."

Pettinicchio said the music, which often contains satanic messages, is extremely important to a heavy metaler. "They refer to the band members as their saints and sometimes their gods. They look up to them, they idolize them."

The audience had spent the morning learning about the history and philosophies of punk and heavy metal. They had watched slides showing what were described as satanic influences in heavy metal (though messages in the song lyrics and in images on the album covers). They had looked at a display of spiked leather bracelets. They had heard about the East Los Angeles cemetery where heavy metaler Satanists had allegedly sacrificed goats and chickens. And they had seen examples of satanic graffiti: "666," "Kill Them All" "NATAS." (The latter is Satan spelled backward, a word often chanted at heavy metal concerts).

Now they were taking a lunch break and discussing why they had come to the conference.

"I came to educate myself a little bit so I can be more aware of the signs," said Bill Pascual, a counselor at Corona del Mar High School. "I really don't think the percentage of kids (involved in the heavy metal life style) at our school is that high but the few cases I've run into have been pretty severe. The heavy metal thing they were into was occupying all their time. They weren't achieving, not just academically, but they weren't getting along at home, at school and out in the community."

Therapists Interested

"Everyone I've talked to expresses a great deal of interest in knowing more about this," said Don Lomas, program director of Pasadena Child Guidance Clinic. "This type of information helps us to intervene effectively. The bottom line is, therapists aren't much more informed than the parents are."

"I came to get a better understanding of punk and heavy metal so that when we're dealing with kids in that scene we have an idea of how we can deal with the problem," said Officer Paul Henisey of the Newport Beach Police Department's juvenile section.

Henisey said Newport police have arrested punkers for crimes ranging from disturbances and vandalism to assault and battery and attempted murder. A year ago, they arrested four teen-agers for the vandalism and theft of an urn from a cemetery. The youths, he said, had been holding black masses and making pretend sacrifices on a sand spit in upper Newport bay, which they had dubbed "Devil's Island."

"For a lot of kids, it (punk or heavy metal) is teen-age rebellion," he said. "For others, it's not. The problem is where do you draw the line? Where does the harmless aspect of it end and the harmful aspect of it begin? That's the difficult part."

After a psychological profile of a typical teen-age punker or heavy metaler by Wesley Maram, a clinical psychologist and director of Orange Psychological Services, it was time for Bodenhamer to tell the audience "how to get children out of punk or heavy metal or keep them from getting into it."

"No kid who is into punk or heavy metal will admit he or she has a problem," said Bodenhamer. "They will tell you that you don't understand, that you're making a big deal out of nothing. For some kids that's true, but there is no way to tell which kid will breach the barrier from it being a game to the point where it becomes serious. And our recommendation is don't let kids be into punk, don't let them be into metal."

In the Back In Control program, Bodenhamer said, parents learn to establish what is referred to as the "mandatory rule"--a rule the child has literally no choice but to obey.

"Most of us (adults) would agree on most of the mandatory rules that we have for our children," said Bodenhamer. "Should children be given a choice as to whether they use illegal drugs or not, or should we decide for them that they're not going to? Should kids be able to hit mom or dad, or should we decide for them they're not going to?"

Bodenhamer explained that a mandatory rule has three parts to it:

- The rule must be clearly stated. To make a demand a mandatory rule, Bodenhamer said, parents must tell the child what to do, when to do it and how often or how long to do it.

- There must be effective follow-through to ensure that the rule is obeyed. Effective follow-through, Bodenhamer said, "more than anything else is supervision, and supervision is an absolute necessity in keeping kids out of punk and heavy metal and keeping them away from drugs and alcohol and making sure they're going to school every day and that they're coming home on time."

- There must be consistency. When the parents consistently follow through, the child begins to internalize the rule.

Bodenhamer said most of the parents whose children start to get into serious delinquent misbehavior, including punk and heavy metal, get angry: They start to focus on the child as the problem rather than focus on the rule.

"For instance, 'Why do you wear your hair that way? You look ugly.' If you were a kid, what would be your response to that? 'Gee, thanks, Dad.'? How would you feel? Would you be on the defensive?

"When we focus on each other, we lose control of the rule. Does a 15-year-old punker care that you resent something? Kids into punk and heavy metal, especially, and almost always kids into drugs, are hooked into this power struggle."

Children, Bodenhamer admits, will fight enforcement of a rule and will come up with every excuse possible to get around it.

"We tell parents not to argue with kids," he said. Back In Control recommends the use of what Bodenhamer calls "argument deflectors": using the words "regardless" and "nevertheless" when, for example, a child says, "If you didn't hate me, you'd let me go to the concert." The parent should respond: "Regardless of whether I hate you or not, you're not going to the concert."

"Now," said Bodenhamer, "What does that bring it back to every time? The rule."

Bodenhamer, who described other techniques to use to avoid being manipulated by a child, acknowledged that parents often must put forth a major effort to change their child's behavior. If a child is truant at school, for example, that often means the parent must go so far as to escort the child to school and, if necessary, walk him from class to class. (Bodenhamer said parents usually need go through the procedure only once.)

Getting a child out of the punk or heavy metal culture requires taking other specific steps such as eliminating all the records, clothing and friends associated with the life style, said Bodenhamer.

"Our experience," Bodenhamer said, "is if you don't totally de-punk or de-metal a kid, that if they're already into it, they will hold onto that little bit they have left just as tenaciously as if you let them hold onto everything, and they will still see it as a part of their being. The whole thing has to go."

Bodenhamer said a workshop always is ended by talking about love and affection: "The bottom line on why we would do all this is because we care about our kids."

And if parents follow through with the Back In Control methods, Bodenhamer says the results are almost always successful: Most parents will be in control of their child's behavior within four or five weeks.

The Back In Control approach appears to be working for Sandra Ellis of San Pedro, the only member of the audience who brought her child to the conference.

Ellis' 14-year-old daughter, Shannon, was into heavy metal for two years. In January, Shannon and her parents went through the Back In Control program and, said Ellis in an interview, "it's been a salvation."

Shannon, wearing white shorts and a white T-shirt with a blue sweat shirt tied around her waist, said that although she used to give the satanic hand gesture, neither she nor her friends were into the occult or devil worship.

"We just liked the music and everything," said the ninth-grader, chewing gum as she explained that she used to spike her hair, wear heavy metal clothes and jewelry, go to heavy metal concerts and clubs and hang out with her heavy metal friends at a mall in Torrance.

"All my friends did it, so I didn't think it was a big deal," said Shannon.

"She didn't see the change and how it took over her personality, and it did," countered her mother.

The change in her daughter, Ellis said, "was very subtle. It affected her behavior in school: poor grades, truancy--just the fact she didn't want to go."

There also were verbal fights between mother and daughter and, Ellis said, "sometimes acting out--really fighting. The music produced violent behavior and the (heavy metal) value system preached, 'Do what you please, . . . . I'm going to do what I want. The hell with you, the hell with school, the hell with the world."

Ellis turned to her daughter: "True?"

"Yeah," Shannon said. "But you're too restrictive."

At one point, Ellis recalled, Shannon ran away from home for several days.

"It reached a crisis stage where it was a power struggle between her doing what she wanted and us exercising parental authority."

As a parent, Ellis said, the change in her daughter's behavior "was frightening. You feel so helpless and you try everything."

In an attempt to change Shannon's behavior, the Ellises tried family counseling and even a psychiatrist. Nothing worked, Ellis said. "She didn't want to change her behavior. She wanted to do what she wanted to do."

Since attending Back in Control, however, Ellis has thrown away all of the heavy metal band posters that had covered Shannon's bedroom walls. She threw away all the heavy metal makeup, jewelry and clothing and gave away all of Shannon's heavy metal albums and tapes. She and her husband now forbid their daughter to attend heavy metal concerts and hang out with her old friends.

Ellis acknowledged that the Back In Control's philosophy of setting mandatory rules for a child, following through and being consistent "sounds easy, but it's very difficult. If she leaves the house without permission, we go after her and get her. Now we're working on her school work."

Ellis looked at her daughter.

"There's still resistance," Ellis said. "The attitude comes after you get the behaviors. We're still in a power struggle, but we're in control now."

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