It must be something about the pituitary gland that encourages teens to live in squalor. Despite my knack for keeping a clean and tidy home, as soon as my first kid reached teendom, his room (and any room he entered) immediately became covered in dirty clothes, old food, and unfinished homework, as though he shed clutter from his skin.
When my second kid entered teenage-hood, I couldn’t stand the mess any longer. I managed to ingrain in my teens the importance of cleaning ― and you can, too, if you follow my easy five tips and tricks.
Talk About It
Dirt is more than unsightly ― it can be dangerous, too. The most common effect of a dirty room is increased allergies from the proliferation of dust mites, but headaches and runny noses are the least of your worries if your teen is especially messy. Insanitary conditions can breed all sorts of threatening critters, from disease-carrying insects like cockroaches and mosquitoes to black mold that can cause lifelong respiratory problems. Your teen should know the risks of not cleaning up.
However, scare tactics alone probably won’t be enough to goad your teen into action. In addition to an information session, you should have an egalitarian discussion about cleanliness standards. Currently, your yardstick for “clean” is much higher than your kid’s, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a middle ground that makes both of you happy ― or at least equally annoyed.
Be the Change
Teens have a finely honed sense of injustice, which means if they see you defying your own rules, you’ll never see them complete another chore. Therefore, you must be careful not to set rules you cannot abide by, and you must make an effort to demonstrate proper cleaning behavior.
Sometimes, the need to set a good example will help you accomplish some cleaning goals you’ve harbored for some time. For example, you might finally get around to sorting through the junk in the garage or getting rid of your old, unused boat and donating whatever it is you no longer need. Still, you should try not to get burnt out on being a cleanly role model, or within a few weeks you and your teen will have worse habits than ever.
You shouldn’t expect your teen to suddenly become a hygienic wunderkind. Even after your heartfelt discussion about cleanliness, your teen might not fully understand what you expect him or her to do. Therefore, it might be effective to establish a manageable handful of principal chores that must be completed on a regular basis. These chores should inform your teen of your priorities and help him or her to learn what type of cleaning is most important. For example, you might mandate:
- Your teen must make the bed every day.
- Your teen must keep bathroom and kitchen counters clear.
- Your teen must place shoes and dirty clothes in designated places.
- Your teen must mow the lawn every other weekend.
It is important that you don’t set too many priorities, or else none of them will be followed. Your teen has finite patience for cleaning rules, so you will have to make concessions in favor of more important chores.
As much as you wish you could go back to the diapers era, your kid is swiftly becoming an adult, which means he or she desperately craves adult responsibilities ― just not too many all at once. You might find that your teen takes more initiative in the chore department if he or she has more power over particularly personal regions of the house, like a bedroom or kids’ den. If you pledge to stay out of your teen’s space as long as he or she demonstrates appropriate management of that space, you might finally reach a conclusion of the chore war.
Once you and your teen have reached an agreement regarding chores, you must enforce it. If you notice your teen slacking in his or her duties, you can and should give warnings. However, if the situation worsens into full-fledged reneging, a punishment is more than deserved. Grounding, withholding allowance, or denying other privileges are excellent motivators for teens. When you feel particularly benevolent, you can lift the sentences as soon as the chores are completed, or you can set a standard punishment duration that occurs whenever your teen fails to uphold their end of the deal.