Dear Dr. Debbie,
I can’t get my 15-year-old to lift a finger around the house. What’s frustrating about this is that she leads an otherwise active life.
She works hard as a student, has a busy social life with her friends, and has a semi-regular babysitting job. The mom she works for has told me the house is always neat and orderly when she returns home.
My sister’s kids get a weekly allowance after chores are done, but we never did that. Allowance wasn’t tied to housework; just a token amount of money to be spent or saved up as my daughter wished. This stopped around age 12 when she started to do odd jobs for neighbors leading up to babysitting.
Don’t even get me started on the current condition of her bedroom.
Is It Hopeless?
Housework and adolescence don’t mix. Unless . . .
In some families, the housework runs like a well-oiled machine with set times for household chores long established by the adults. The rule of “A place for everything and everything in its place” has been in operation since before the crib was first set up. This kind of family keeps a well-maintained home with daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal, and annual chores. Even something as small as a paper clip gets immediate attention if left out on a desk. Children easily fall in line with the routines and standards the adults have always followed. If you’re more of a Disaster Master when it comes to household chores, waiting until tasks are overwhelming before tackling them, your daughter may be imitating the attitude that, “I don’t see anything that couldn’t be put off another day, or two, or three.”
While a much younger child is eager to learn skills for self-sufficiency, for example, putting her laundry away so she can easily find clothes to dress herself, a teen has reached a plateau for self-care skills. Rather, she is yearning to jump 3 steps ahead to independent life under her own roof: past high school, choosing an education and career path, and securing a livable income.
Think about what would motivate your teen to clean. She might have a short-term goal such as readying the family room for friends to come over. Social motivation is usually powerful at this age. A teen might wash the family car before it’s used for carpooling her friends. If you really wish she’d wash the car, just wait until she becomes a driver herself.
A goal of efficient time management might prompt her to get a task out of the way ahead of other obligations such as a babysitting job. Time is also a factor if you are available to help with a job for a limited time, or if there’s another impending deadline such as the recycling pick up.
If she is saving up for a big purchase, you might attach a financial motivation to a household task. This makes sense for something like organizing cabinets and closets in search of “junque” to be liquidated at a community yard sale. She gets a cut of the sales for her efforts.
As the homeowner or rent-payer, you literally have more invested in keeping your living space, well, livable. Your teen-ager, however, is at a stage of life in which her biggest investment is in herself. She is probably hyper-focused on figuring out who she is and who she wants to become. A day at high school can be emotionally draining as she must not only maneuver through academic demands, but also keep tabs on the ever-changing trends of her peer group. In addition to fashion and music, her friends’ responses to current events in the wider world can cause her to question her self-worth and beliefs at every turn. Her basic values and ethics may be challenged in hallway conversations or with the temptations of risky shenanigans this age group is known for. She may be making big decisions for today, this weekend, next summer, and the direction her life is going to take over the next few years. The terms “permanent record” and “college application” frequently loom over her thought processes.
At home, she just wants to take a break. Maybe if chores were presented, at the right time, as “a quick distraction” from her heavy load, she might enjoying pitching in. Briefly.
Put your teen’s apathy toward housework in perspective. She’s steering her course through the rough terrain of adolescence. Save your parenting strength for battles of greater significance.
What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.