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Plumbing Through and Fixing Teenager Problems: Using the Leaky Faucet Analogy

My teenager is not focused and motivated

My teenager lies and hides

My teenager rebels and does not listen to me

My teenager does not understand my perspective

My teenager is not making the most of their potential


These are some of the common issues that parent’s express frustration over when they come to seek counselling for their child. Over the years, having spoken to and worked with numerous teenagers, I have discovered that if you want to help your teenagers become motivated, focused, responsible, and respectful, then:


STOP focusing solely on their behaviour. Instead, ADDRESS their unmet emotional needs!”


Let me explain this with a simple example: Imagine you have a leaky faucet in your kitchen that drips constantly. Every time it drips, you quickly grab a towel to mop up the water. However, despite your efforts, the problem persists, and you find yourself constantly dealing with wet countertops and wasted water. Now, instead of simply mopping up the water each time it drips, it's essential to investigate the root cause of the leak. Is there a faulty washer that needs replacing or a loose faucet handle. Or perhaps there's a more significant issue with the plumbing system that requires attention?


Similarly, when addressing problematic behaviours in your teens, such as lack of motivation, disobedience, or irresponsibility, simply applying temporary solutions like nagging or implementing rewards and punishments is similar to repeatedly mopping up the water without fixing the leak. While these short-term strategies may offer temporary relief, they fail to address the underlying issues contributing to your teenager's behaviour. Just as fixing the leaky faucet requires identifying and addressing the root cause, resolving your teenager's behavioural challenges requires a deeper understanding of the underlying factors at play.

By understanding why they behave the way they do, you can find better ways to help them behave positively and improve your relationship with them over time. It’s all about figuring out what emotional needs your teens have that are not being met!


Drawing from my experience, several emotional needs that many teenagers often feel are unfulfilled include:


1) Not experiencing unconditional love from their parents;

2) Feeling a constant need to seek approval from their parents;

3) Feeling inadequate or like they never measure up to their parents' expectations;

4) Lacking control or independence in their lives; and

5) Lacking a clear sense of purpose or direction.


When these needs are addressed and fulfilled, the problematic behaviours exhibited by your teens will naturally disappear, exactly how resolving the underlying issue with a leaky faucet eliminates the problem of water dripping continuously.


How do you address these issues as a parent? 

1)   Start by noticing the behaviours your teenagers display that might cause problems, similar to observing water dripping from a leaky faucet.

2)   Think about how you've tried to fix these issues. Have you mainly tried quick fixes without looking into why they happen, like just catching the water without figuring out why the faucet leaks?

3)    Look back on times you've talked to your teenagers about these things. Did you talk about what's really going on underneath, like addressing the root cause of the leak?

4)   Lastly, make a list of the unmet emotional needs that you think your teenagers have and come up with ways to help them feel better, focusing on things that will last, not just quick fixes.

Remember that every teenager is unique, so it's essential to tailor your approach based on your teenager's individual needs, preferences, and personality.


Shifting your focus from solely addressing their "less-than-ideal behavior" to prioritizing the fulfillment of their unmet emotional needs will definitely lead to gradual improvements in their behavior over time.


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