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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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Raising a Clean Teen: Changing Expectations continued...

“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.

Teen Cleaning Tips

So what are some of the ways you can put this philosophy into practice? Here are some ideas.

  • Adjust your expectations. Face it: you won’t be able to get your teens to do all the chores you want them to do. In fact, the more tasks you pile on, the less likely they’ll do any of them, says Tanya Remer Altmann, MD,a pediatrician and author of Mommy Calls and The Wonder Years.
    So decide what’s really essential to you and what you’re willing to let slide. “Maybe your teen is refusing to make her bed every day and you’re always fighting about it,” says Altmann. “You might want to take a step back.” Does a made bed really matter to you that much? Maybe not. However, some other tasks – like bringing dirty dishes to the sink – could be absolute requirements in your book.
  • Come to an agreement. Once you know what you want, sit down and talk. “Negotiate with your teen a little,” says Altmann. “Come up with a cleaning plan that both parent and teen are comfortable with.” Sure, it might not be either party’s ideal, but it’s better than the never-ending argument.
  • Be absolutely clear. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your kids will know what you mean when you say, “Clean your room.” What qualifies as “clean,” exactly? Picked up? Vacuumed and dusted? Or just a bit less disgusting than it is now? The answer might seem obvious to you – it might seem like common sense -- but it might not be to them.
    “If you were hiring a new employee, you wouldn’t just tell them, ‘Do a good job,’” says Wibbelsman. “You’d have a job description. You’d have a list of specific objectives.” It’s no different when you’re talking to your kids about their cleaning responsibilities, Wibbelsman says. You need to come up with a list of specifics. That way, you all know exactly what “clean” means – and there’s less room for miscommunication and argument.
  • Have sensible consequences. So what happens if your kids don’t clean up as they’re supposed to? There have to be consequences. Don’t make up new punishments on the spot when you’re angry. You’ll probably regret it. Make the repercussions predictable and consistent. Sticking to the tried-and-true is fine, Wibbelsman says. Dock their allowance. Set earlier curfews. Take away car privileges.
    What if that doesn’t work? What if after all that, your kids still won’t clean their messy rooms? Wibbelsman has a suggestion. Explain to your teens that since they won’t clean their rooms, you’ll hire someone to do it – and pay for it out of their allowance.
  • Require basic hygiene. Some teens are pretty careful with their appearance and hygiene because they don’t want to stand out at school, says Altmann. But others don’t seem to care – something that’s especially common with teenage boys, Wibbelsman says.
    You might be uncertain how to broach the issue, since you don’t want to knock your teens’ self-esteem. But experts say that it’s OK to set some minimum hygiene standards – like showering daily and wearing clean clothes -- as part of their household responsibilities. If your kids don’t, the usual punishments apply.
  • Be a good example. Want your kids to clean up their act? Clean up yours first. “If one of the parents is slovenly and doesn’t provide a good example,” says Wibbelsman, “how can you expect the teen to be conscientious about keeping things clean?”
  • Don’t micromanage. Give your teens a task and a deadline. Then back off and let them accomplish it in their own way. So when your son’s doing yard work, don’t keep butting in with leaf-raking tips. Don’t keep pushing your daughter, for her own sake, to get her laundry out of the way first thing in the morning. Sure, you mean well. But you’re getting involved when you don’t need to be, and probably driving your kids nuts – which could make for some unnecessary conflict.
  • Keep your cool. So your son told you – five times! – that he would take out the garbage. But he didn’t, and the trashcans are now overflowing and buzzing with flies. Sure, you’re angry. But try not to let anger dictate what you do next. As much as you can, you want to stick to the responsibilities and repercussions that you’ve worked out with your teen. Keeping things predictable will make it less personal and less heated.
  • Don’t be mean. “Parents have to be careful not to get negative,” says Wibbelsman. “Don’t start demeaning your kid, calling her a slob all the time. That doesn’t work.” Instead, you need to help build your teens’ self-image, and to encourage basic cleanliness as a sign of self-respect.
  • Consider the larger issues. If you tell your teens that you’re making them wash your car to “build their character,” that probably won’t go over well. But remember that requiring your teens to clean up around the house isn’t only about your personal desire to have a neat living room.
    “There’s a larger purpose to getting your kids to clean up after themselves,” says Wibbelsman. “Parents are teaching their kids an important lesson about respecting other people and other people’s property.” Keeping things tidy really will matter when they’re adults.
    “In a few years, these adolescents will be on their own and dating,” says Wibbelsman. “They’ll have roommates. They need to know how to clean up after themselves.” Treating your teens seriously  – and talking about how their behavior will affect their adult lives – might really help the conversation, Wibbelsman says.

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