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How Can You Raise a Clean Teen?

It's possible to get your teenager to help keep the house clean -- it just takes patience.
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WebMD Feature

What’s the biggest source of conflict with your teenage son or daughter? For many parents, it’s not dating or broken curfews or bad grades – it’s cleaning.

For them, the most ferocious arguments will typically have a mundane source -- a wet coat thrown on the couch, a backpack left in the middle of the hallway. Your teens get sick of being nagged; you get sick of nagging. Even after the fight ends, a cold war ensues -- weeks of dramatic sighs, surly stares, and eye rolling.

Some parents give up on the cleaning battle, despairing of ever getting their kids to pick up after themselves. Others start up a campaign of constant aggression, with lots of demands and threats and yelling. Neither approach is likely to help things much, says Charles Wibbelsman, MD, chairman of the chiefs of adolescent medicine for Kaiser Permanente of Northern California and co-author of The Teenage Body Book.

The good news is that Wibbelsman and other experts say that raising a clean teen – or at least a not-excessively-sloppy teen -- is possible. It will take some forethought and consistency on your part, and perhaps some changes in your behavior and expectations. But done right, the payoff is big: a better relationship with your teen and a cleaner home.

Raising a Clean Teen: Changing Expectations

Many parents just don’t understand why cleaning house has to be such a big deal. Why is it so hard for a teenager to pick up a towel from the bathroom floor, after all? But it’s not just about the towel, or the dirty dishes, or the unmade bed. Wibbelsman says that there’s often a pretty basic reason behind conflicts over cleaning.

“Your kids are growing up,” he tells WebMD. “Your kids aren’t just kids anymore.”  They’re a few years from adulthood and they’re desperate for more independence. The parent-child relationship that worked pretty well for so long is now feeling a little constrictive.

So what can you do, now that your authority might not carry the weight it once did? You might need to give your kids more of the control that they want, Wibbelsman says.  But you also need to tie that adult freedom with a sense of adult responsibility. That’s the exchange.

“Parents need to respect an adolescent’s need for independence and individuality,” says Wibbelsman. “But adolescents need to have some respect for their parents’ ground rules. It is their house, after all.”

So you impose some standards and requirements, while also granting your teens more control over how their rooms look, or how they dress, or what bumper stickers they put on their cars. Allowing them more self-expression and self-determination could really help them feel happier, improve your relationship, and make it easier to agree on cleaning issues.

What’s the alternative? If you insist on controlling things too tightly, your teens could feel like you’re stifling their personalities. That could poison your relationship and -- obviously -- make them fiercely resistant to working with you on keeping things clean around the house.

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