You work full-time and your teenager is home for summer vacation. It feels very frustrating that they stay home most of the day, or are out having fun with friends while the house needs a lot of attention. Maybe you don’t even care about the chores around the house if they’d just keep their room clean, bathroom picked up, and put away their dishes. How do you deal with this?
1. Let them know how you feel. This is not to be said in anger or with hostility. That is the quickest way to ensure a teenager isn’t listening to you. On the other hand, if you gently tell them it’s frustrating for you, or that you feel taken advantage of, or that you are overwhelmed and stressed, they will often listen. This isn’t true for every teen but if you don’t get a kind reaction when you’re truly being kind, there are likely other problems in your relationship that need addressing.
2. Make sure you ask. As obvious as this sounds, a lot of parents lament they don’t get any help around the house, but they don’t specifically ask for what they need. You might have hoped your adolescent would take the initiative, look around, and just see what needs doing. This is great in theory but pretty much will never happen. Try writing them a reasonable list each day before you leave to work, asking things be done before you get home (Reasonable for a teen who has no history of cleaning is probably a 30 minute task).
3. Attach monetary value to certain tasks. This works for the highly social child. If you have a teenager who loves to be out with friends, this will be effective. Here’s the caveat, if you plan to make them earn their going out money by doing tasks around the house, you can’t give money otherwise. It’s fine to pay for their sports or things they need for school. However, if they want to meet a friend for lunch, absolutely no money! You can gently remind them they will get a few dollars when the house has been vacuumed, which is a great way they can pay for their own lunch. Something else you’ll notice happening, when they have to earn their spending money they are more careful with it.
4. Require it. There are certain minimum tasks that each household should require of every member. If you want to require everyone to keep their bathrooms and bedrooms picked up, make sure yours is too. There’s nothing an adolescent resents more than a hypocritical parent. It’s fine to attach privileges to the completion of these minimum tasks. One family I worked with had success when they told their teen daughter the bathroom and bedroom had to be picked up each night by 8pm. If it was, she got the privilege of using her cell phone the next day. If not, they would keep it and she could try again to have everything picked up by the following evening. They were very careful not to bend on this, and she fell into line within a week. If she finished at 8:05pm, they thanked her for cleaning up, but still did not give the phone the next day. Boundaries around these types of limits must be strict and unemotional.
It is possible to get your teen to help you around the house. It’s all in how you ask, and how consistent you are with whatever rules you set up. Once you are able to get their help, it’s great for your relationship because you’re nagging less often, and they feel a sense of pride.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT