When you first see the Osbourne family on their hit show on MTV, they seem like the embodiment of domestic dysfunction.
Dad — hard-rock star Ozzy Osbourne — was for years notorious for drug and alcohol abuse, and for antics like biting the head off a bat during one of his shows. Now he stumbles around the house, complaining and mumbling almost incoherently that his family are "all f---ing mad."
Mom, Ozzy's wife and manager Sharon, has an equally foul mouth. When her kids are screaming at each other, her usual parenting response is to halfheartedly tell them to stop, barely hiding her own amusement.
The two kids, 17-year-old Kelly and 16-year-old Jack, regularly go out to nightclubs until 2 a.m. (their parents let them). Kelly has bright pink hair. Her brother wears a camouflage helmet around the house, and sported a mohawk for a while.
But through all the shouting and name-calling and drama, the four Osbournes (an older sister, Aimee, 18, lives on her own and does not participate in the show) seem to keep a sense of humor and fun — and an obvious affection for each other.
So which is it? Do the Osbournes represent dysfunction and disaster, or are they a healthy — if unusual — family?
In the third report of his six-part "Family Fix" series, 20/20's John Stossel asked two psychologists to watch tapes from the show and evaluate the family. He then shared the experts' observations with Sharon, Kelly and Jack.
Raised Voices, Bad Language
One of the psychologists, Manhattan therapist Sheenah Hankin, said the family's tendency to turn any conflict into a shouting match might make the children "yellers and screamers" as adults — something that could hurt their relationships and careers.
When told that, Sharon Osbourne had a typically memorable phrase for the psychologists: "They can suck my freshly lipo-ed a--, because no, we're not perfect and all of this. If they want to grow up to be yellers and screamers, so what?"
The psychologists did not see any problem with the family's near-constant swearing, except to say that it could hurt the kids if they used it outside the house.
In fact, the psychologists found plenty of good things to say about the Osbournes. "They're doing a lot of things right," said Kristene Doyle, director of the Child and Family Services Clinic at the Albert Ellis Institute in New York.
Psychologists Praise Family's Openness ...
Both psychologists were impressed by the family's openness. In one episode, Kelly told her dad she had gotten a tattoo and begged him not to tell her mother. But Ozzy immediately called Sharon at the beauty parlor and handed the phone to Kelly to confess. "There's no way Kelly or Jack can pit one against the other," said Doyle. "There are no secrets in this family."
Doyle noted that the family talks openly about things like sex and drugs. "Better to get it from parents, from families, than from other kids that may be misinformed," she said.
"The kids feel totally safe with the parents," said Hankin. "Doing whatever they want to do, saying whatever they want to say, and expressing whatever they want to feel. I mean, who of us had that luxury?"
The therapists said the parents are deeply involved with their children. Doyle cited an episode in which Ozzy told Jack to apologize to the nanny for staying out until 4 a.m. without calling. "It's a man that can apologize. It's the wimps who can't," Ozzy told his son.