Muriel Cooper
Psychologist in Mornington

Teenagers and parenting

 

Girl cleaning kitchenIf you don’t mind doing everything for your teens (especially during that really hard year 12 period), read on anyway, you might find something here for you. But if you’re at your wit's end because you’re endlessly doing everything for them (including being the family taxi) and you can’t get them to help with anything, this could help.

First, here’s the battleground from both points of view.

Teens – you want to be treated like an adult but you don’t want the responsibility of behaving like one around the house. Come on, don’t pout, you know you can’t have your cake and eat it too. There are plenty of ways you can assert your independence without being a slob.

Parents - nagging and whinging are not great ways to get anyone to do anything regardless of their age. Be adult, be assertive, plan, execute, stick to it.

The issue

Young people are not trained from an early age to do things for themselves. Then, suddenly, they’re expected to pitch in. They’re not trained to do it, they’re trained not to. Not that it’s ever too late by any means.

If you did start early with your children, congratulations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean because they know how to wash their clothes that they will wash them when there are other priorities like study, going out, hooking up on the Internet etc.

If things have gotten to breaking point for you as parents, here are a few tactics you might like to try.


Cleaning their room

If you are training your teen to become an adult, and you are being a role model, think about how you regard your space. Is your room always perfectly clean and tidy? How would you react to your teen coming into your space and criticising you for being messy and disorganised? As long as your teen's room does not represent a health hazard (that is, there is nothing growing in there), try respecting your teen's living space and allowing them to be as messy as they like (as long as they keep the door closed).

However, everyone needs to respect mutual living spaces

Getting teens to respect mutual living spaces like kitchen, bathroom, living room etc. is the thing to focus on. Try the ‘Family Meeting’.

The Family Meeting

This is an example for you to work with.

Have an agenda (encourage your teens to bring their own issues to the table to add to the agenda) is. What are the rules and what are the consequences for not sticking to them? Encourage them to participate in deciding what the consequences are.

Attendance is mandatory if they want to keep living under your roof. There are alternative living arrangements for teens. Sound harsh? It’ll never work? O.K. they can still live under your roof but this is a good rule for kids of any age: If you don’t stick to house rules there are consequences.

A good idea is to have a ‘talking stick’ – something to pass around for turn-taking. As long as the person is holding the stick, no one is allowed to interrupt. Have a time-limit for turn-taking.

There is to be no foul language, no blaming, complaining, whinging or being disrespectful. Make up your own rules about this and consequences. For example if you swear you have to sit in the ‘naughty chair’ for five minutes (behave like a little kid, get treated like one). Everyone say their truth clearly and expressive frustration or anger assertively (with good body language – not shouting, threatening etc.)

Everyone is to agree that the person who owns the property or the lease is the householder and since they have the responsibility, they have the last say, but everything’s up for negotiation.

Now the ground rules are set, it’s time to decide what the rules are.

House Rules

Work out who does what and when and who is responsible for what and when.

Rosters of chores work for some families, but not for others who’re better taking care of specified areas of responsibility that might suit them. For example, if someone likes shopping, they can do the grocery shopping, someone else might be more of a ‘vacuumer’ (good physical training).

If you fail to live up to your responsibility work out the consequences and everyone agree to abide by them. If you don’t abide by them, you might be given the “three strikes and you’re out” rule.

No excuses

If someone can’t carry through their responsibility (because of sport or study commitments for example), that’s no excuse – they can ‘swap’ a responsibility but just because they’re ‘Boy God Sports Hero’ doesn’t excuse them from pitching in.

“Three strikes and you’re out”

There’ll be consequences for a first and second lapse, but a third lapse is considered very serious and means serious consequences (to be negotiated).

It might even mean a real possibility that they’ll be asked to stay somewhere else for a week (to be negotiated) in a place with good house rules (if you know of such a place).

This is a good opportunity for teens to see ‘How the other half lives’ and give you a break from each other.

The ten minute clean up

Even if everyone does their best, things still get messy in the best of households. Once a week when everyone is home, have a ‘ten minute clean up’.

Set a timer for ten minutes and everyone races around doing as many little jobs as they can think of (e.g. dusting, sweeping skirting boards, getting rid of cobwebs etc.). You’d be amazed what you can get done in 10 minutes.

Celebrate afterwards with a cold drink.

Organise a family night (or Sunday barbecue).

Don’t make it all about responsibility and chores. Organise a fun activity once a week (at least).

Absolute last resort for teenagers over 18 - “Pack Their Bags”.

You deserve to be treated with respect as you would treat others with respect. If you feel you are not, but rather are being disrespected, taken advantage of, and all round being badly used – pack your teen's suitcase and leave it on the front porch.

Tell them in no uncertain manner that if they do not start pulling their weight they will be re-homed and that you will be quite happy to pay board for them to live with someone else (you will arrange alternative accommodation for them).

If you are going to do this you must mean it. You need to be very assertive and if your teen is much bigger and more aggressive than you, arrange to have a big male friend there when you do it.

Teens – it’s common for you to feel bossed around by parents but if you feel disrespected and abused you might negotiate your own re-homing. Everyone has the right to feel safe and respected in their home. If you need to, get help from a trusted older adult, or call a helpline.

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