Getting Your Teen to Clean

Tired of tidying up after your teen? Motivate yours to pitch in.

Teach Kids to be Responsible

Friends are arriving in five minutes. You fly through the family room gathering discarded socks, dirty plates and a hockey glove. Somehow over the years, your kids never did learn to tidy up after themselves despite your efforts. And now that they’re teens, you’re exhausted, resentful and tired of playing personal maid.

Good news. It’s never too late to get them on board with chores, says Beverley Cathcart-Ross, a Toronto-based parent educator and mother of four. By helping out, “Kids learn to believe in themselves, that they’re needed and that their contributions are worthwhile.” Plus, if your teen’s a whiz in the kitchen and an awesome organizer, he’ll be a dream roommate when he moves out. Try these tips to conquer the chore wars:

Establish expectations

Tell your teens that their sloth-like days are over — but be nice. Cathcart-Ross suggests telling your teen, “Now you’ll have the opportunity to contribute to the family.” As Abby, 16, of Nova Scotia, can attest, some teens need a nudge in the right direction. “Before, mom didn’t ask me to do anything, so I didn’t take the initiative.” That was until her mom  insisted that helping out is a “reasonable expectation.” “Sometimes I get annoyed,” says Abby, “but I’m used to it now.” Plus, chores completed, she’s often allowed to take the car out. A new driver’s license is a great motivator.

Matching the task to the teen

Create a list of tasks, hand it over, and set a time to discuss what they’d like to start with. Make use of your teen’s talents and interests, advises Cathcart-Ross. One of her teens is a shopaholic who eagerly grocery shops for the family each week. Another, a computer guru, researched online for bargain family vacation spots. If your teen’s a foodie, he might relish cooking dinner once a week, or if she’s the family member that adores the dog the most, she might enjoy being in charge of bathing and brushing Rover.

Put it in writing

To avoid nagging, draw up a chore chart to make it easier for your children to check if it’s their day for dish duty or bathroom wipe-down. Every Saturday, Helen of Ontario, leaves a chore list for her two children. “That way, they don’t need me to remind them, even if I go out,” she says. “They just cross off the chores as they complete them.”

Teach and train

Your teen may have watched you clean up after him for years, but don’t assume he knows how to do the task he’s been assigned, warns Helen. Zooming through vacuuming and dusting duties, her son missed many spots the first time. “I had to show him exactly what needed to be done; otherwise, he’d do it as fast as possible,” she says. Some teens might benefit from a two-step training program. First, do the job together while you offer pointers on which cleaning products work best or how to use your vacuum’s many attachments. The second time, observe while your teen takes over. After that, do a consult only if needed and don’t forget to praise a job well done.

Reassess and renegotiate

If your teen doesn’t follow through with his assigned duties, brainstorming some alternatives might help. Will iPod tunes or help from a sibling increase the chore fun factor? How about a different job? During a homework-heavy week, can they leave housework to the weekend? “Kids need to have a sense of control about when they do something,” says Helen. “Communication and flexibility is key.”

Bedrooms: The final, messy frontier

Your teen might be getting better about helping out around the house, but what do you do if her bedroom still resembles a landfill? Estelle Gee, professional organizer and owner of Orderly Lives ( in Toronto advises:

Help your teen throw out, recycle and give away items no longer relevant to her life. (Goodbye T-shirts that no longer fit and those boots she had to have but never wore.)

Hold a garage sale and tell your teen she gets to keep any money she makes from her stuff (and if you’re generous, your stuff as well).

Buy bins and storage solutions that she loves. Teens are more likely to maintain order when there’s a designated space for their belongings.

What if you’ve purged and organized and your kid’s room is still a nightmare? “Close the door,” says Gee. “If your teen’s only way of rebelling is to keep a messy room, then you’re a very lucky parent!”

Amy Baskin is a Guelph, Ont.-based writer who rarely ventures into her teen’s bedroom.

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