As parents, we know that we love our children dearly. Another truism we also know is that our children attempt to manipulate us almost as soon as they can begin forming any type of thoughts in their minds. Teenagers are probably masters in these behaviors. Consequently, it is not unusual to find that the most frequent fight in households (whether they are an intact, single parent or divorced parent household) involve getting your teen to clean and do their chores. There can be any number of reasons attributed to a teenager’s lack of pitching in to help within the household. However, no one can deny the many important lessons that teens learn from helping about the house. They include:
- Mutual responsibility. Contribution to household work is an important means of modeling and teaching teenagers what it means to belong to a family and a community. For the household unit to work, all members need to contribute. Household chores not only get practical things done, they demonstrate what it is to belong and to contribute; and for these reasons chores probably should not be enforced with punishment. Chores should not be offered as a choice, but rather communicated as a must. Obviously, it’s easier to begin this message when they are younger, but even older teens will get this message over time and through positive reinforcement.
- Life skills. Far, far too many teenagers or young adults these days leave home without having a clue how to cook or clean. This pandemic of domestic helplessness can be easily curtailed by delegating basic household tasks to teenagers as they get old enough to handle them. There’s nothing stopping the least domestic-inclined teenager from learning to cook at least one meal a week for the family or learning to do a couple of loads of laundry a week.
What chores are appropriate for teenagers? The chores that are most appropriate for teenagers are those activities that will support their independent living as young adults. The following are some of those types of duties:
- Food preparation. Planning meals, budgeting, shopping, cooking food, preparation of cooking food, setting and cleaning the table, serving and cleaning up.
- Household cleaning. Cleaning their own room and other public areas of the house. This may include straightening up after the space has been used as well as regular periodic cleaning (dusting, vacuuming, mopping, etc.).
- Laundry. Sorting for color and cleaning requirements, washing and drying clothes without shrinking them, folding and putting them away.
- House maintenance. Yard work, house painting, simple home maintenance and repair.
- Car Wash. Washing and waxing cars.
But how do we get teenagers from doing no chores to being willing contributors to the household? The following suggestions may be helpful to assist even the most reluctant teen to make the transition.
- Be clear and concise. So the real issue is how to get teenagers to do chores. Well starting early, if at all possible. But not every family has done so with their teenagers. Consequently, make sure your teen knows exactly what is required of him or her to do. This usually means defining the nature of the task; the things that might be needed to complete the task, and clearly state when, where or how often it needs to be completed. Be aware that you may have to model the proper way to do things a few times before your teen may catch on. Remember for younger teenagers a visible prompt, like a poster on the refrigerator, is a big help.
- Cooperative Compliance. Teenagers always need something from us as parents. Parents can model family and household cooperation as a two‑way deal by agreeing to a teenager’s request for help on the condition that an uncompleted chore is completed. However, if you make the agreement contingent upon the completion of the task, do not fulfill the agreement until the teen has completed the task.
- Consequential Learning. Make part of the contribution to the household something that they also need. If the chore is not done, then they share the consequence of it not being done. For instance, making teenagers responsible for all of their own laundry means if they don’t do their chore, they have no clean clothes.
- Be consistent. If a chore is important and getting it done matters to the family, then it should be treated as being important all of the time. Consequently, you need to be consistent in enforcing the requirements for chores to be done. In other words, be prepared to consistently remind your teen about the chore that needs to be done. They will either intentionally or unintentionally forget about it in the beginning. Be consistent. If it matters, it matters every time and it means you need to be consistent.
- Negotiation. Contribution to household duties should not be seen as an option, it is a “must” just like showering and homework. Nevertheless, teenagers like to feel they’re doing things based on independent choice — not external compulsion. So even though the chore may not be negotiable, how or when it is carried out might be. Negotiating with your teenager in terms of timing and method gives the teenager a sense of independent choice in the completion of the task.
- Train your teenager to view the task as an adult. Talk over the task with your teen; make sure you explain the standards and why you set those standards; and do the chore with your teen for the first time or two, to model the technique, as well as how well to help establish the standard of completion. If you feel uncertain about the quality of the work, then require that the teen check with you at the completion of the task for the ultimate decision that the task has been completed appropriately. The key element is to ask the teen to look at their work as if they are their parent to spot any detail that they may expect their parents to criticize. This is a good life skill for teenagers to start thinking about how other people would view the results of their effort. In life, they will be responsible to reporting to supervisors and having their work critiqued. This will assist them in developing this very valuable life skill. Show appreciation. All of us like to be appreciated. None of us like to be taken for granted. This is especially true of teenagers who will feel like they deserve the Nobel Prize for every contribution that they make. It is helpful to acknowledge and thank teenagers from time to time for the contributions that they make. So consequently, make sure you let them know how their contributions contribute to the family welfare and reinforce the message of mutual responsibility and how they’ve contributed to the family’s welfare and how much you appreciate their effort.
Getting your teens to do chores may seem to be an impossible task. Whether you’re divorced, married, or in a cohabitation relationship and have a teenage son or daughter, following the above tips may help you provide them with better life skills and decrease some of the tension in the parent-teen relationship.
Board Certified Marital and Family Law Laywer in West Palm Beach Charles D. Jamieson understands that divorce is an extremely sensitive and important issue. Thanks to extensive experience and a focus on open communication, Attorney Jamieson adeptly addresses the complex issues surrounding divorce while delivering excellent personal service. To discuss your divorce or other family law matter, please contact The Law Firm of Charles D. Jamieson, P.A. online or call 561-478-0312.