Frank Farrelly talks about working with teenagers (1970s interview)

This is an excerpt from a 1970s Frank Farrelly radio interview talking about working with teenagers with Frank talking to Dick Goldberg.

I’m Dick Goldberg and today we’re going to be talking with a man who can talk about almost anything and everything to do with people, the mind, psychology, therapy, you name it.  Frank Farrelly, the founder, the inventor, the practitioner of provocative therapy.  Therapy which sort of makes people laugh at their problems.  Frank was with us a few weeks ago.  We were going to talk about dealing with teenagers.  We get off the subject and I’m totally responsible under the subject of power, who has it, how they get it.  It was a fascinating discussion but we never got to the subject at hand.  I got an irate phone call from some one  understandably saying you’re dumping on teenagers like they’re typically dumped on and we promised to have Frank back soon and do this show, so here we are.

Frank Farrelly, I know you’re a therapist, we all know that.  What are your credentials to tell us about teenagers?
I was a teenager – that’s number one.  Number two, I didn’t just read about teenagers, I’ve done a lot of work with them over the years, and have a minor reputation of working with them.  June and I, my wife and I, are just easing out of having raised four teenagers and I’ve read some of the research and stuff about them too.  I have both engaged this subject at the experiential level from both ends, both as a teenager and as a parent and have done a lot of work with them over the years.  I dunno, kids and cats and puppy dogs gravitate towards me – I’ve never known why but I guess that might be another qualification too.
Are you sure it’s just kids?
Well, there are other people that gravitate towards me too, 82 year olds too.
There are a lot of therapists who practise in the area of working with children, working with teenagers, who are 30 years old.  30 too is old not of course yet a teenager Are they qualified?
Yeah, I think in a lot of ways, if not, then every therapist would have had to have every single life experience before they could help, guide, counsel, therapise somebody about and that’s not necessarily true, but I think that, I would say this that the more different avenues, the more levels, the more aspects that are given subject, life stage, life problems, that you’ve engaged on and gone through it yourself, you’ve really struggled, so that it becomes not just merely cognitive, speculative, data left brain type of knowledge, but alpha experiential practical.  Dealing with the dimensions of the problem, it’s tough dealing with teenagers, its tough being a teenager, I mean when I was 16 for about a five month period every adult seemed to be yelling at me saying why didn’t you think.  Well I supposed to use foresight but I didn’t know that it would turn out wrong.  How can I think if I don’t know how to think?  I’ve never had to experience that before.  And they said ‘you should have thought’ and I just felt that   whatever…It’s difficult on the other side too.
Your youngest child is now how old?
So you’re through it?
Well…yes  but there are occasional reversions .

I would like to say this is one of the things that when I was having breakfast, I said well what do you think I should talk about in terms of teenagers this morning and June and I really kinda struggled through with this.  She said the main thing is don’t give up and survive.  Our kids aren’t just our offspring, aren’t just teenagers to us. Kathleen, Bridgit, Timmy and Alice, they’re some of the most important people on the planet to us. So everything that I say this morning is him talk about teenagers is within that framework-but they’re tough to deal with.
I have a hard time liking teenage boys.  I’ve never had a teenage boy, but um
They’re poison…  Somebody once suggested that all teenagers ought to be shipped off to some island where they would just learn to do it with themselves and then afterwards when they get out of their teens then they’re allowed back on to the mainland.
Teenage girls are as difficult eh?
My experience in both therapy and as a parent and an observer of human beings and listening.  I always listen to people.  Not just in therapy but I’ve always been curious just about how people deal with and solve problems and just watch them.

Some parents seem to be really good with itsby bitsy teeny weeny babies.  Others like more the latency period when they’re kinda 8 – 12 , the Tom Sawyer types and stuff, and then some of them really like teenagers.  I know a lot of group homes for example counsellors and directors round town that have done a lot of work with their organisations over the last number of years, they to like teenagers.  I tell them that doesn’t mean they’re bad people it’s just a lot of people would question their judgement .  Some people really like them.  I think we have a right as parents, adults, teachers, therapists, whatever, to say ‘I like this age, I like these types.’  Teenage girls are OK but teenage boys are know. whatever, or vice versa.
How about your experience as a parent?
It shifts…I’ve asked myself that.. well now that on a given day it’s much more fluid .  On a given day I came home one night when June was  (before she started working outside the home again)  I said ‘how did it go?’ and she said ‘for 2 bits I’d sell ‘em to the lowest bidder.’ I burst out laughing because. So on a given day it’s .. the girls or my son were the most difficult to deal with.
If you look at those periods from birth to 5, then from 5 – 10 then 10 – 13 then teenage years, which do you enjoy most as a parent?
Well,  that’s an excellent question and I don’t mean to dodge it but I think that what I’ve finally kinda wrestled with that one myself, is this the most difficult, is this the most enjoyable age, people sometimes say, enjoy your kids while you have them because you won’t have them  I said ‘when does that happen?’  And then other times I’ve had some of the most deeply moving experiences of my entire life being a father, a cool parent with the kids, our kids and others.  I think that at each age is beautiful and deeply moving, desirable, loveable, and each ages has its huh huh non-desirable, un-lovely aspects.
I would suspect most parents would report the teens are the toughest time to be a parent.
Yes, for a variety of reasons.
Well, it’s storm and stress not only for the teenagers, but also for the parents, teachers this whole dependency / independency conflict thing just gets stretched out from 13 – 19+ in this culture.  There’s no culture that stretches out childhood and young adulthood like the USA and Western Europe too but we have a very protracted childhood and Margaret and me and other anthropologists, sociologists, social psychologists have noted this.  It’s difficult because it’s like at times you’ve got 4 other adults around, (well, we did) and then literally in mid sentence they would revert to 8 year olds or something like that.  It’s sort of like , you kinda go through a time warp or twilight zone , well are you this or are you that?, well, it turns out they’re both.
A grown up or a kid?
That’s right.  Adolescence is becoming an adult but then again around a given issue not just on a given day around a given issue in mid paragraph it can switch from… but it is a growth kind of thing and all change is difficult.  Change is difficult on parents.
What is so tough about that Frank, if, let’s say we’re talking about a 15 year old girl who at one moment seems quite adult and then the next moment quite dependent.  What does that do to the parent?
For example, this morning June said I remember the time when one of our daughters was supposed to go to a party.  It began at 10pm and there were no parents around and we said absolutely not.  While you’re old fashioned, fine put me anti-diluvium before the deluge, everybody else is going…well, tough… worst enemy deviation times 9, you don’t let me do anything ever, this over generalisation stuff it’s not just the Pentagon and the Kremlin that do over generalisation, it’s teenagers that are the past masters.  I don’t know where they pick this stuff but guilt inductions, hypnotic guilt inductions on parents, it’s not like this, tears, sobs, call your social worker, the child welfare if you feel you’re being terribly oppressed.  So we kept our foot down and we said no.  The next day she said mum and dad, thanks a lot for not letting me go to that party, I didn’t want to go anyway.  If labour organisers had to deal with these kind of fluid communication, hidden agendas and I didn’t mean that as a conspiratorial kind of thing, she didn’t realise until afterwards that she didn’t want to go.
She wanted you to put the limit on her?
Yeah.  And it’s not just teenagers who do that.  A lot of people do that, we all do it.  A lot of times we’ll just keep …it’s like we don’t know .  I had a patient once who ..I don’t know what I’m going to say, what I think can feel until I say it out loud to you and watch your reaction.  While some people would say that’s very adolescent.  He was 33,  some people feel dependent.  It means that you don’t quite know what the stormy process is and you have to kinda bounce it off other people and a lot of us process information  and learn about ourselves that way.  Kids need structure, but so do we, so do 82 year olds.  The thing is they’re kids and they have all the adult issues.  I remember as a teenager people would say, ‘boy enjoy this, this is the most wonderful time of your life,’ and I thought yeah? You got a thimble full of potential capacity to deal with adult problems that all the adults are dealing with, sex, money, identity, job, school, making it, developing friends etc etc.  It’s tough.
Do you then, act to the teenager as primarily a parent figure, a friend, a counsellor?
Well, I very much, for example in family therapy, I put the parents right smack back in the driver’s seat.  There really is a Chinese proverb that says that the child is in charge of its parents has fools as parents.  And I think that part of that is that, it’s not just that father knows best or mother knows best, or they’re the seat of all wisdom, it’s just that in the state of Wisconsin we don’t give 9 year olds car keys. It’s because they simply don’t…. I was talking to a 14 year old in therapy the other day…Why not?  Because they couldn’t handle it.  I said what do you mean? They’re not mature enough, I said what does that mean ?  They don’t have the judgement.  She said they’re not big enough, I said no, 9 year olds are large enough, they’re tall enough to drive a car.
What about 15 year olds, 16 year olds?
You see, that’s when it gets difficult,
You’d still be clearly the parent when they’re 16, do they still need the structure?  Should you be a friend, a peer or a parent?
Whenever I hear about being a friend and stuff like that …my father who was and Irish patriarch, never was a friend of ours, of his 12 children, I was number 9, but he was very definitely a father.  And he could be very nurturing in many many ways.  But we never forgot who he was.  When I was 6, he wasn’t mad but he said ‘look, I’m the father and you’re the son’.  I said ‘right I got that.  Dad don’t go too fast’.  And then he said, ‘when you get old..’ and I said ‘ why can’t I do this kind of stuff in my house?’ and he’d say ‘no, this is my house.  When you get old and grow up then you’re going to have your house, and when you have your children then you make the rules’.  He said it very kindly and stuff but it’s like he was setting my mental compass  straight.  It’s like, this is north, and that’s south and if you’ve go those confused kid, you’re confused.  One thing June said this morning about in terms of structure and when do you give the kids their dependency, you give the kids some rope and when do you pull it,  it’s very difficult and it’s sort of  ad hoc.  Everyday has an ad hoc committee between parents and kids but they do need structure and limitations.