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Hundreds of Utah parents were told Saturday that "quality time" is a misnomer, that it's OK to discipline your children and that fathers should be sure they're not leaving all the parenting to mothers.

Those philosophies, and a myriad of others, were presented to eager participants at Cottonwood High School during a daylong Utah Conference on Strengthening the Family.More than 80 professionals volunteered their time to teach workshops at the conference, with topics on virtually every facet of family life, including single parenting, AIDS education, enriching marriage, effective discipline, caring for the elderly, helping children deal with death and divorce, prevention of drug abuse and teen pregnancy, household finance, child care and helping children succeed in school.

In her keynote address, syndicated newspaper columnist Abigail Van Buren, better known as "Dear Abby," put a humorous face on some of the problems families face, quoting a few of the millions of letters she has received. Her column, "Dear Abby," appears regularly in the Deseret News.

She empathized with parents who must raise their children amid the challenges of modern life and reflected on her own secure childhood in a family "where parents really loved each other." She said real love has become a greater treasure during her lifetime because fewer people seem to experience it regularly.

"For couples who marry now, the chances of celebrating their 15th

edding anniversary are about 50-50."

She said simply expressing real concern for people can change their lives, and she suggested writing letters to family members as a way of giving them a permanent record of such feelings. When she left home, she wrote to her parents every day.

"I never realized how important those letters were until after they had both passed away . . . . They saved every letter I had ever written."

Richard Lindsay, managing director of public communications and special affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was one of three panelists to host a two-hour workshop titled "Fathers: Assuming Diverse Roles." He said while mothers are vital to the well-being and happiness of a family, "the influence of a good father can be just as valuable."

"Too often, `parenthood' means `motherhood' " yet "professional research has found that a child's intellectual, emotional and social development, masculinity and femininity, even the ability to function effectively in a future marriage, appear to be influenced by the father's personal relationship with the child and with the child's mother."

Lindsay said fathers should "show genuine interest instead of annoyance" when their children have something to share. He encouraged spur-of-the-moment activities, as well as organized events, where fathers can spend time with their children, and he decried those who put their own selfish wishes ahead of their child's welfare. Such attitudes have resulted in "broken families and broken children."

Discipline was discussed at several workshop sessions and was listed by many of the professionals as one of the keys to effective parenting.

One workshop titled "Discipline That Builds Strong Families" drew so many participants to a small classroom for the first session that conference organizers scheduled an impromptu second session in a large area of the building to accommodate the demand.

Robert Boswell, a member of the Salt Lake County Alcohol and Drug Coordinating Council, told participants in his session, "Profile of a Well-Functioning Family," that parents "who love kids without smothering them and who set down rules but are not dictatorial" nurture the most successful families.

"The healthiest families are neither too rigid, nor too flexible. In every problematic family, there isn't a good structure. Any kind of productive work is generated out of discipline and structure."

Closing session speakers Richard and Linda Eyre said "kids want discipline" and order, and encouraged parents to involve their children in setting up basic rules that family members should abide by.