The Competent Parent: Teenagers need to do chores


Headshot2011Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Teenagers need to do chores

Dear Dr. Debbie,

How can I get my teenage boys to do chores? They are 14 and 17. I also have an 8 ½ year-old who imitates their lack of responsibility. They are constantly fighting. Every time I say something to one, they say the other one doesn’t listen to me so why should they. I feel like I need Nanny 911.

The 17-year-old says he wishes he were an only child or had a bigger brother. I’m trying to find a mentor for him and he has an appointment for a psychiatrist to try ADD medicine. He’s also been diagnosed with Emotional Disturbance. But he’s not good at taking medicine regularly— so I’m going to be over him to make sure he does it. He agrees he needs some push. He has a summer job lined up which he’s had before and does great at. He gets to be outside and active. School is the opposite, and he struggles. He may or may not be passing 10th grade.

The 14-year-old goes to a special needs class for his ADHD and ODD (oppositional defiant disorder). He’s happy with his life and doesn’t consider himself disabled, even though he gets a check from Social Security. He entertains himself with his cell phone most of the time, so he’s not my main concern right now.

My daughter has ADD and has anger issues. She had her father at home with her for 5 years (while I worked), then he disappeared from our lives. Until then, things were better for her. A lot of our support came from his family, so that’s gone now. I’m thinking of asking the psychiatrist to see her, too. She’s doing okay in school and has an IEP for being emotionally disturbed and having ADD and that’s working well. She wants to be a baby at home (usually ends up in my bed in the middle of the night).

I have family but don’t count on them. I’m pretty much on my own. I’m trying to find a job that fits around my kids’ schedules. I think I have ADD, too, and maybe I need something besides the glass of wine I look forward to at the end of the day.


Trying My Best


Dear Trying,

My goodness, that’s a lot to manage. We’ll get to the chores, but let’s start with the basics.

Support Network:

Everybody needs help. And everyone has something to give. A support person in your life might be a family member, church member, or neighbor. You need someone with whom you can share and share alike, like a sister. It’s nice if she has children who get along with yours, but not essential. This relationship is going to serve as the kind of family that every mother needs—in good times and bad.

I found one group on line; maybe your church or social worker can help you find more:

Fun Family Activities:

There are plenty of things to do that cost little or nothing and appeal to all the ages of your children. Walking itself is great for mental health as well as physical health. It’s a wonderful lifelong habit for all of you. All you need is a good pair of shoes for everyone. You could walk from your neighborhood or drive to a park or track. High school tracks are open for public use when not being used by the school. The 15.5 miles of the B & A Trail could be a summer quest—start out with a short piece and challenge yourselves to add more distance each time you try out a new section.

Other things the gang might like to do together: board games, cook, dance, go to the library (check out their summer programs with special events just for teens). The Chesapeake Family calendar has plenty to do, some of which is free.

Special Needs:

Your children’s schools are probably the best resource for many of their special needs. They can direct you to services, including summer programs. Ask about a visit one or two with a counselor for each child over the summer to help with staying on track as far as student success (if your 17-year-old doesn’t pass, there should definitely be some follow through over the summer to help him). They should know of community resources to help with parenting skills. You can search Chesapeake Family’s parent resources and ask for other resources from these people if they don’t have something that exactly fits your family’s needs.

A Job:

The economy is supposedly improving, which should help all around. Do you know what you like to do and what you’re good at? A good career counselor can help you narrow your search and get yourself known to potential employers. While you are still raising your children, the best job will respect that and be flexible if there is an illness, school field trip or other role that only a parent can fill. Your social connections can help open a door when you know which ones you’d like to knock on. And when it opens, here are some tips for the interview.


You should plan and carry out a family meeting. If you think it would help, rally one of your support people—family, friend, professional—to set the agenda and assure the children’s cooperation. A chore chart is a good way to remind everyone what they have agreed to do. Chore division depends on each person’s abilities. (There will be griping at first, which is why it’s best to instill chore habits early!) Expect to give a lot of your time in helping each child be successful with their new responsibilities. Success should be celebrated daily, then weekly, to assure these tasks get incorporated into automatic behavior. For example, the family can take a walk, or go to the library right after everyone completes the post-dinner chores.

Stay strong,

Dr. Debbie

Don’t miss last week’s advice for parents dealing with battling toddlers.

Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at [email protected]