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Bad Kids Inc.

What’s to be done about out-of-control teenagers? The man who gave us Citi Habitats has a plan to turn a parental self-help group into a company as popular and profitable as Weight Watchers.

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According to the doctor, the symptoms are everywhere. The school shootings and the self-mutilation. The vulgar soaps in prime time. The designer drugs and the oral-sex orgies, which, the doctor is confident, are not a myth propagated to sell newsmagazines. “Twelve-year-old girls, in my office, I have them,” he says. “They line up and give blow-job parties. No, it’s for real. I did an MTV show about this.”

Ron Zodkevitch, a 47-year-old psychiatrist from Forest Hills who some twenty years ago migrated to Beverly Hills, is making these pronouncements in his office on Wilshire Boulevard. Seated in the sort of high-backed leather chair that gives one the look of being on a throne, he props up his feet on a grand wooden desk. He is wearing cowboy boots. Beat-up, knocked-around black leather cowboy boots that let you know he is not your typical child psychiatrist. For this reason, he prefers being called “Dr. Zod,” although the talent agents who are grooming him for his as-yet-unconfirmed appearances on Oprah have informed him that Dr. Zod sounds a bit too out-there, kooky in an unmarketable sort of way. And so Dr. Zod was recently rebranded as Dr. Ron, which everyone is hoping is a more authoritatively casual persona to introduce to America.

Dr. Ron is what you might call a psychological Renaissance man. His current professional duties can be described as follows: a therapist for the troubled children of entertainment executives; a paid confidant of pro athletes with confidence issues; a defender of insurance companies against workers’-comp hucksters; an associate clinical professor at UCLA; and a hand-holder to the diaspora of child actors who have grown up to be drug abusers, depressives, and serial divorcés. It is a living made in a shadow world of tormented egos and stunted maturity, though all of that, if Dr. Ron’s plans come to pass, is about to change. A good deal of effort is currently being spent to turn Dr. Ron into the Dr. Spock of the teen pandemonium years.

“Oh, yes, it’s going to be a big business,” he says. “If you really think about it, there’s nothing out there for parents of teens.” With this in mind, the doctor has spent the past five years devising what he calls a “definitive program” for such parents, a Weight Watchers–style network of for-profit support groups that will preemptively coach parents to become “benevolent dictators.” Dr. Ron believes that we live, to quote from his soon-to-be-published book, in a “threatening culture” in which teens are “set on destroying our happy homes.” America’s parents, in his view, have forgotten what it means to be parents, having had their authority neutered, too prone to treating their progeny as equals. His core conviction—and it’s an increasingly popular outlook these days among those who think of parenting as an industry—is that the time has come for parents to take back the night from their children. And, while they’re at it, the mornings and afternoons as well.

A philosophy is one thing, packaging it another. The notion that Dr. Ron could be commodified as the embodiment of a new discipline stems from a somewhat unlikely source: an entrepreneur named Igal Feibush, whose background is not in the self-help industry but in another equally lucrative and emotionally heated world—New York real estate. Feibush, an adrenalized and impeccably dressed 37-year-old who has had many commercial adventures (including, when he was a freshman in college, selling KILL GEORGE Yankees T-shirts after George Steinbrenner fired a string of managers), made his name as the founder of Citi Habitats, the Manhattan rental brokerage company that in 2003 did about $1 billion in business before being bought by the Corcoran Group. Feibush sold his stake back in 2000 and has been kicking around the fringes of the business world these past few years looking to enter “the next phase.” Dr. Ron, in Feibush’s mind, is the vehicle to take him there. “We’re putting together what is destined to be one of the business success stories of our generation,” says Feibush. “Troubled teens alone will make us several billion dollars.”

The shrink and the shark. Neither of them, curiously, has any firsthand experience with raising teenagers. Zodkevitch, a lifetime bachelor, has no kids of his own. Feibush, recently divorced, is the father of a 4-year-old girl who has yet to show any signs of drug addiction or violent behavior. But this is beside the point. The market is the point. And what Feibush and Dr. Ron understand quite keenly is the fact that there is only one demographic more emotionally vulnerable and susceptible to outside influences than teenagers: their parents.

An ordinary night, 1987. Dr. Ron was sitting on the couch, absently flipping through channels when he stumbled across the made-for-TV movie that first showed him what was missing in the lives of American parents. “It’s pretty cheesy, to be honest,” Dr. Ron now admits, calling it one of those “disease of the week” numbers that seemed to be on all the time in Reagan’s eighties, conspiring to scare the wits out of American families who were just bored and anxious enough to pay attention.


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