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Teenagers Suck: Teaching responsibilities and chores

Joanne Kimes is the author of nine "Sucks" books, including the bestselling Pregnancy Sucks; Pregnancy Sucks for Men; Potty Training Sucks; and her latest Breastfeeding Sucks. Visit her at sucksandthecity.com.

Papa's new bag of house rules

How can you teach your teenager how to take responsibility and help out around the house? By channeling your inner teen, of course! Authors Joanne Kimes and R.J. Colleary with Rebecca Rutledge, PhD explain how in this excerpt from Teenagers Suck: What to Do When Missed Curfews, Texting, and "Mom Can I Have the Keys?" Make You Miserable.

How to teach responsiblity to Teenagers

Sulking Teenager

Remember those times your teens did everything they were supposed to, when they were supposed to, without being told they were supposed to? Of course you don't, because that never happened.

Take the words "How many times do I have to tell you . . . ?" directly out of your vocabulary. They are an auditory illusion. You will swear you can hear yourself saying them, yet they will never be heard. So box them up like third-grade art projects and store them for safekeeping. You won't be needing them again for awhile. The sad fact is that laying down the law is yet another Parental Bottomless Pit. During the teenage years you'll be doing it more often than paying the pizza man.

This doesn't mean you should abandon rules. In fact, this is when you need rules more than ever. Just don't expect them to be followed, and when they are followed be prepared for them to be accompanied by one of your teen's BFFs: the argument, the scowl, or the ever-present eye-roll. So why set rules that won't be followed? Simple. You may think the rules you set down in your household are for your teens, but really they are for your benefit. Rules give parents the illusion of structure, of empowerment, of control during these uncontrollable years. This is denial in its most healthy and beneficial form. Go for it.

Remember how you survived your own adolescence? It was by having your head so far up your own butt that you barely realized there were other people living on the planet at the time. It was all about you. And now you have come full circle. Your teenager's adolescence is, from their perspective, all about them. You will survive it by making it, whenever possible, all about you. You can do this. Time to channel your inner teen.

You can do this! Practice by rolling your eyes. You can do this!

Chores & Responsibilities

At first blush, it looks like a match made in heaven: you want your teen to do things, and your teen wants to do things. Perfect! But upon closer inspection you actually a match made in a much hotter, pitchfork-infested place. You want your teen to keep their room clean, dump the trash, walk the dog, clear the table, and rake the leaves. Your teen wants to chill, go out, chill, sleep in, and chill. At this point there may be only one thing you can agree upon: someone is making someone else's life a living hell here.

You're thinking, if they just did what they were supposed to, you would leave them alone. They're thinking, if you would just forget about that "do what they're supposed to" stuff and skip straight to the leaving them alone part, that'd work. (By the way, this may be the only time you may hear them using the word "work" in a sentence.)

Parents make excuses all the time for why their teenagers don't help out: "Susie's major responsibility is her schoolwork," or "oh well, of course I have to remind her, but she does feed the dog." Study after study, statistic after statistic tells us that children and teenagers who participate in family chores and undertake family or community responsibilities are ultimately happier with themselves and their families, have better family values, higher self-esteem, and grow up to become more productive members of society. If parents make excuses and allow their teenagers to sit back and do nothing but put their hand out every day for a twenty, they'll certainly be happy to go along. But what are they learning about how to live in the world? How to be a lazy, ungrateful sloth? Well, maybe that's a little strong, but you get the idea. So, do your teen a favor and teach -- okay, force -- them to pitch in and get to work. Fire the gardener, let the dog crap pile up on the lawn, leave the dishes in the sink, close the Daddy ATM, cancel the nanny and the housekeeper -- and put your teen to work. Without pay!

Now that we agree your kid should do chores, how do you get them to do them?

Webster's Dictionary offers not only two definitions of the word "chore" but also an insight into the different mind-sets of teens and their parents. Most parents would define "chore" as "a routine job." But ask most teens, and they'll opt for the alternate (glass half-empty) definition: "a difficult or disagreeable task." Just keep in mind that to teens, "work" is a four-letter word . . . and not one of their favorite four-letter words, either. There is no "I" in "work." Or in "chore" for that matter. That is at the heart of teens' problem with chores: they do not directly profit by doing them. Yes, you can always say "You live here too, you can contribute." And of course you'd be right, but they're not listening. Your best bet is to divide things thusly:

  • Teens must offset their own mess
  • Regular chores (unpaid)
  • Special jobs over-and-above (paid or otherwise -rewarded)

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Tips on getting teens to offset their mess and do regular (unpaid) chores

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