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Messy Rooms: Getting Your Kid to Clean Up continued...

Some parents hope that kids will learn their lessons naturally. They pray that their slovenly daughter will change her ways after discovering a favorite skirt at the bottom of a laundry pile, befouled by mildew. They hope that their son will see the light after stepping on a swarm of ants bustling around a candy wrapper.

That approach could work, but it might not. Taking a more direct approach in dealing with your teen's bedroom is probably a better idea. Here are a few tips.

Settle on some standards. Before you get into a struggle with your teen, you need to decide what exactly you want from him. What constitutes a "clean" room? How often does it need to be clean? If you make up rules on the fly, or in anger, you're bound to get stuck enforcing some dumb policies. Besides, any teen worth his or her salt will be able to find the loopholes in poorly thought-out cleaning rules.

Distinguish between untidy and unsanitary. A messy room with piles of books and papers might annoy you.But they're not unsanitary like a pile of dirty plates. Don't confuse the two.

Pick your battles. "If you go to your teen with a list of 20 things that you want her to do, she won't do any of them," says Altmann. "But if you figure out a few things that are the most important to you, you may have better luck." So decide what's mandatory. Making the bed every day? Putting away the laundry? Getting homework done? Once you've settled on a few essential things that your teen has to do, you have to let go of some of the other stuff.

Respect your teen's individuality. A teen who isn't doing things the way you want isn't necessarily being obstinate or rebellious. He or she may just be less neat and organized than you are. "You may want your kid to be a certain kind of person, but he may not be that person," says Wibbelsman. "You have to respect him anyway."



So instead of forcing your teen to do things just as you would, come up with some cleaning responsibilities that you can both live with. Then let your teen meet those responsibilities in his or her own way.

Talk things over as a family. Altmann recommends that families get together to talk over household issues regularly -- maybe once a week. So use a regular meeting to go over the new policy for your teen's bedroom. Make sure that you understand each other and your teen's responsibilities are clear.

Negotiate. Rather than just making demands, see what you can offer to help your teen keep his room clean. "You can make deals," says Altmann. "For instance, if your teen agrees to bring his dishes down to the sink, you can agree to rinse them and put them in the dishwasher."

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