I have recently been asked by a reader how to start to get teens to help, and to keep it going. She had tried everything, and although her teens were quite willing, there was no continuity in them doing things.
I don’t think theres a one size fits all solution to this, as it depends on your teen, how willing they are to help, how they communicate with you, how much they have in their schedules etc…. but I want to explore some ways that I really think help.
What I do believe is that everyone in the house should contribute to running the house, however small that contribution can/may be, and that children especially should be brought up knowing and learning the skills needed to run their own home one day – as thats something that everyone needs to learn in life.
Teenagers are a tricky group though, and need different methods than smaller children to do things (smaller children still largely think of helping around the house as a game!).
What may have worked for a smaller child (reward charts, incentives etc…) probably won’t work for teenagers, as they don’t want to be treated as a child any longer. You have to work out a way to get inside your teens head (Good Luck!) and work out how to make the jobs a priority for them, and create consequences and rewards that will really fit your specific teen. That way you do stand a chance of making the household tasks stick!
Here are a few tips – as always, let me know how you get on, and if you have any tips of your own that have worked well:-
Create new habits – and make them think of them!
Who wants to keep nagging all the time? We all switch off after a while if someone constantly nags. We stop hearing it and it becomes ineffective in getting things done, only effective in keeping you stressed.
You want to create a way to switch a teens mindset by themselves, so that they are naturally creating habits to keep clean and tidy, and not you nagging all the time.
The best way I have found for getting the help you need, without the nagging and stress is as follows:-
- Sit down and talk through what each of you think is reasonable for them to do in terms of what time they have free, what they are capable of, what they understand how to do etc….
- When you have agreed on the list of jobs around the house – put this up somewhere visible to them (by the mirror in the bathroom, on the back of their bedroom door etc….)
- Put consequences and rewards in place – and make them aware of the type of things they will be up front.
- LEAVE THEM TO IT FOR AT LEAST A MONTH
- Reassess at the end of this time
What do teens want?
Teens want space, and to be heard. They are trying to live more independently and think that they can do it all.
They don’t want to feel like a child anymore, and the quickest way to help them feel more independent is to let them think for themselves a little more, having put in place appropriate consequences if they don’t do it, and attractive rewards if they do, to help make household chores a priority for them without making them too overbearing.
If you understand your teen a little more, and work with what they want as well as what you want, then you will find it much easier to come to some sort of decision as to whats fair in both of your eyes.
Be age specific when setting chores
Younger teens will have different jobs than older teens – and it can even be a right of passage to be able to do some of the “older” teens jobs – make them want to aim for these – such as cooking a family meal, or food shopping etc… rather than cleaning the loo etc..
Also – ensure that things are shared fairly – this is key to ensuring a teenager feels like a valued member of the family.
Teach them how to do things
A common teen excuse is that they can’t do something well enough. Don’t criticise their efforts as this will instill a negative energy to them doing housework.
After all, they may as well do nothing rather than do something badly – it seems to get the same negative reaction from you. Instead give them a quick run through of how to do something, or even write it down for them so that they can learn by themselves, and just let them get on with it.
However, always make yourself available if they need help.
Remember, we all learn at our own pace, and it may take a while for them to work out the best way to do something – but they will get there – and if they have learnt it themselves it is much more likely to stick.
Don’t nag – create reminders
When they know their tasks, and you have agreed on when they will be done as well (to fit in with the household needs and their schedules)get them to add reminders into their mobile phones for each task (easy to set up and stops you having to nag them!).
Teens are much more likely to listen to another adult rather than their parents, and this method takes you out of the equation, while still (hopefully) getting them into the habit of doing the task!
Make it a priority for them
If things don’t have a consequence, then even the most well meaning teen won’t keep up around the house tasks – there are, in their minds at least, much more important things to do.
Have you actually ended up training your teen to not really worry about the consequences – as they aren’t going to get any more than a little talk to about not helping – and you end up doing it for them anyway. This won’t help anyone in the long run.
If there are consequences to not doing a task, and they are done effectively, your teen will start to respond to what happens when they do things.
Take away their basics
A lot of parents give their children cash as a reward for doing tasks, but especially in this financial climate, this isn’t always possible.
However, you have to spend your hard earned money on all the boring things around the house and this is never appreciated – so why not think about taking away the basics first – and getting your kids to earn them back?
Its a crucial life lesson – after all, when they leave home they will have to spend some of their cash on cleaning products, council tax etc….. so why not with hold things like favourite foods, toiletries etc…. that you would usually buy.
When they open the cupboard door – let them find whats appropriate for their input into the house rather than always finding what they are used to. This will hit home hard without you having to nag at all.
When they do their tasks, show that you have seen this and appreciated it by adding more of their usual products into the cupboards!
What about rewards?
Rewards don’t have to be financial – what about letting them have a friend to stay, or a little more time out in the evening, more access to the phone/computer etc….. these can be really enticing for a teenager as socialising and having more space/responsibility is key to growing up.
Keep things happy and communicate
My main aim in the house when growing up was to be listened to, my opinions to be heard, and to have some space.
Once I was happier then naturally things around the house became easier. If every discussion always ends up in you telling them what to do – then they will stop communicating with you altogether.
Let them fail sometimes
If they never do a job up to your standard, and you pick them up on it every time, then you are setting them up for failure, and they will start to associate a negative response with them doing housework, so will stop doing it altogether.
Praising attempts and ensuring that they have the ability, knowledge, time etc… to do the task well will help no end.
Just leave it!
There are 2 types of household jobs – ones for yourself, and ones for the family.
Both of these are important to learn for different reasons, the latter for relationships and caring for others, and the former for being able to look after yourself. If you ensure there is a mix of these jobs on their list then thats the best thing.
Then – if they stop doing the chores, you need to just start to leave things that they are in charge of. Simple.
This will hopefully have the following results;-
1. If they don’t do the tasks related to their own self care (washing their clothes for example), then they get directly affected if you don’t do them either. See how long they last without clean clothes.
2. If they don’t do the family care jobs (cooking, cleaning the bathroom after use ready for someone else etc..) then stop doing something that you are doing for them (ironing their clothes for example). See how quickly they realise that you are doing things to help them as well, and their actions still have consequences, even though the job isn’t directly hurting them.
Try giving them jobs and consequences specifically for themselves, as this will hit home much more quickly. It will be hard at first to not step in – but so worth it!
Teens are naturally much more likely to think of themselves first – its just the way we are made – and if their actions around the house affect them directly, they will learn to do things much more quickly.
Let habits form
As with getting organised as an adult, I specifically rate the method of creating habits – so that chores no longer feel like hard work. They re just a fact of life.
Instilling this into your teen will set them up for life, and make the transition to living away from home much more easy for them. You have to remember you will be saying goodbye to them soon as they leave for uni or simply to spread their wings. Teaching them this life skill is all important.
They have learnt to clean their teeth every day and this isn’t a battle for you anymore – so treat housework the same. Give them their jobs, set rewards and consequences, and then leave them for at least a month.
In this time they will naturally fail a few times, but this is life. Over time they will learn to create habits, work out when they can do the jobs to fit in with their life more easily etc…
Its a bumpy road, but if you step in too soon and try for perfection straight away, then they won’t have this time to get it right for themselves. If they do it themselves then its more likely to stick.
If you have little cash for rewards, or seem to have tried everything, then sit down with your teen and treat them as adults. Discuss what you have tried, ask for their opinion, and be honest and open about how it affects you. This will make you seem a lot more human to them and they may just surprise you with their reactions after this.
I remember vividly the first time I saw my father cry – after my Nan passed away. I remember really thinking to myself at that moment that he wasn’t superhuman (as all little girls think their dads are), and that I had to step up and be grown up about things. I was 13 at the time and this has always stuck with me. When my parents have been open and honest with me I have always tried to step up and help them. Just a thought….