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.

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Offsetting Their Own Mess

This is a pretty simple concept. (And one that so perfectly illustrates the phrase "Easier said than done.") For starters, it means containing themselves within their own room. The reality is that your teen's room will only rarely be clean. However, you should insist (nag, nag, repeat) that things like leftover food and overflowing wastebaskets (or whatever else particularly annoys you/offends other members of the house who happen to have noses) be taken care of. Their rooms may be messes, but you are the parent and you have the right to insist that it is not dirty.

But better to have their room a mess than your whole house. So this means they are not allowed to leave their clothes, books, backpacks, sports equipment, or any other possessions anyplace but in their rooms (or neatly in an agreed-upon organized common area). If this is an issue in your house, you will be shocked how much better everything will look once they get with the program.

"If my room is messy, why can't my parents just shut the door? Isn't that why rooms have doors?" --Skye, 16

Second, you'll want them to concentrate on consistently eliminating any evidence of their existence in the common areas of your home. In their favorite room, the kitchen, this means cleaning up their own messes, putting food away, and actually (they can do it!) getting dirty dishes inside the dishwasher and not simply into The Magic Sink (so named because teens believe that anything that finds its way inside magically cleans itself and puts itself away). And finally, there's laundry. If they're older teens, they're old enough to do their own. But make sure to give them a tutorial on the whites vs. colors/hot water vs. cold water vs. dry-clean-only things, otherwise you will be doling out money to replace their ruined wardrobes.

The bad news is that to be fair, you have to do your part here. The good news is, in this case your part is actually to do nothing. Meaning, you have to stop cleaning up after them for a bit until they can get it together. If you continue to clean up after them, and simply tell them to do it the next time, guess what? "Next time" never actually arrives. No one is suggesting you just let them leave their stuff everywhere. But instead of just doing it because "it's easier to just do it myself," call them on it. As in "Are we having a yard sale? Because I saw some sports equipment lying on the front lawn." Or "There are clothes in the TV room -- are we starting a Goodwill pile?" Cue the eye-roll. But at least they will carry the offending items into their room, which is where you want them. And if they don't put it away, it actually will be time for a garage sale and to donate their former possessions to Goodwill.

Unpaid Chores

Regular unpaid chores are a good way to remind teens that they are part of something bigger than themselves, in this case the family unit. Keep them simple and few; you don't want to overload them with selflessness or anything. But also don't be surprised when they don't even handle the little you have given them. Don't make it a fight, but don't let them off the hook either. They may think of it as "nagging" but to you it's just "reminding."

Depending upon how many chores and children you are juggling here, you may want to post a written list so they won't be able to use the "No, I don't do that today" excuse, or claim that chore is their little sister's because "we traded." Unpaid chores are never transferable. You are the only one who has the power to reassign chores. That's important unless you want your youngest child doing all your teenager's work for them. Which you don't.

Special jobsfor teens

These beyond-the-call-of-duty jobs should be paid for and doled out as a reward for offsetting their own mess and handling their regular chores. Eventually this may even happen without being asked, but don't hold your breath on that one unless you can hold your breath a very, very, very long time. These jobs might include things you are going to pay someone for anyway (such as having your car washed, snow shoveled, gutters cleaned, and so on). Just make sure your teen knows that if you are going to hire them instead, you are going to hold them to a professional standard. This is a win-win as it'll get the work done, it'll put some money in their pocket, and they will learn a good lesson in a day's pay for a day's work. Technically, that makes it a win-win-win.

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Comments on "Teenagers Suck: Teaching responsibilities and chores"

samantha October 24, 2013 | 9:56 AM

wwwwwoooooooowwwww! how unjust

Scott September 16, 2013 | 12:45 AM

As I think back to my teenage years, I remember being the kind of kid that had to be told to do just about everything. But I did not SUCK. In fact, I was a great kid. Never drank, never did drugs, never got in any trouble. I had a paper route from the age of 13-16 when I was able to get a real job. I had responsibilities at school and in the boy scouts, and I had a lot of pride in that. So when my parents would throw a fit about me leaving a bowl in the sink or a pop can on the counter and say that I was irresponsible, the rift between us grew wider. They come home from work, and they are tired. I get it. I come home from school and work at 9pm, and I'm tired too. But don't teenagers deserve a little respect?

Demi August 27, 2013 | 6:04 PM

I agree with Emma and Judgy Von Holier than thou...spend sometime with teenagers instead of stories about them. You say think of when you are a teen, yet you clearly can't. I'm sorry, but this cutting article is rude, stereotypical, and doesn't reveal anything about the brilliance of some of us. Bear in mind that we are still growing, learning, making mistakes, and learning from our mistakes. Cut teens some slack. I go to a school where kids will spend 11 hours a day there enjoying the company of others, working together, and developing those crucuial skills you find so important. We're all teens, but we aren't all awful.

Judgy Von Holier Than Thou August 24, 2013 | 9:51 PM

Sorry, Ms Joanne Kimes and parents-of-teenagers, I beg to differ. I am a teenager, I go spend 6-7 hours in school per day, have extra-curriculars and I do about 2 to 3 hours of chores everyday after school. I don't like chores, without pay, but I know they have to be done. My parents are usually too tired to do anything in the evening when they get back home from work, and my brother is lazy. After completing chores, I study and do homework for 3 hours, leaving me with a late bedtime I'm sure many of you are against. As a result, I get exhausted and collapse on my bed at the end of the day. Yet, I wouldn't consider myself lazy and ungrateful. I am aware of how I am extremely lucky to be living how I am living right now, being able to go to school, not having to work during childhood, having a roof over my head, having a refrigerator, having a computer (which I find very resourceful). I am frequently reminded from my parents about how bad their childhood was compared to mine. They were children in a post-war period in a developing country, still developing now. Their schools didn't have proper roofs, infrastructure was poor and huge floods happened every year, but they worked hard in school, and I really appreciate that because without their hard work, I wouldn't be so lucky now. I know you've worked hard for what you enjoy now, but guess what? Many of you had it easier than my parents did, I'm certain of that. And my parents know that there were those unluckier than them. In fact, their socio-economic situation was better than most of their peers at the time. So, maybe it's time for YOU to be grateful and stop complaining online about your children. You sound like the annoying teenagers you so detest and shun.

Issy August 24, 2013 | 9:29 PM

Hey SPOT ON!!!!!!! But you've got to stop complaining about your teenagers, it only makes you sound like them.

TheDatingMom March 26, 2013 | 10:20 PM

I really enjoyed this article. I laughed because I can see my own teen son scowling right now, as I type this, because I asked him to find a new pen or pencil to do homework since he was using the nub of a pencil. He's looking for it - but not without that scowl on his face... He definitely knows better than to be disrespectful with his words and he will always slowly and grudgingly do what he's told - but not without "the scowl." Lol...

annonymous September 23, 2012 | 3:35 PM

Chores are a good way to keep kids active and get them used to fending for themselves. I didn't always feel this way, trust me, when I was younger I hated doing chores. I realize now that once you get out on your own, mommy and daddy won't do your laundry, clean your room and do your dishes. Plus most jobs also include cleaning up after yourself. Letting a child get away with no household duties, sets them up for some kind of failure. I can't say how much or at what cost, but the failure will be there. By the way, I'm not some old housewife with out of style thoughts...I'm a 22-year-old male with a little bit of life experience.

Noneya January 28, 2012 | 9:20 PM

TEENAGERS RULE yes we can be lazy but I prefer to call it silective participation but we can be very helpful at the same time and if any teen saw the name of this they would be mad how would u like it if we said adults suck?

Donna August 20, 2011 | 7:06 PM

Did if ever occur to any of you that "EMMA" is probably a teenager herself??!! "Very nice, giving & Bright" ?!?! The only statement she made that was right (and keeps me up at night) is "they're going to be the ones running the world in not too many years" So PARENTS who actually want to BE PARENTS and not Susie and Billy's best friend - PLEASE don't give up or we will all answer!!!

Lynn November 01, 2010 | 12:14 PM

You had me at "teenagers suck."

Dee November 01, 2010 | 12:11 PM

OMG Emma!! I agree there is no way you actually have teenagers. I have three and yes they are nice, giving, bright people, yet this article nails them to a tee! Funny, my oldest teen is named Emma . . . is that you??

Rachel August 21, 2010 | 9:16 AM

I have a feeling Emma does not have teenagers of her own, and only sees other people's teenagers. Oh yes, my teenager is exemplary when in the company of others besides his mom and dad! He is cooperative, pleasant, helpful, willing, giving....... a great kid. But give him a task to do at home, a chore, and it's the eyes rolling, "I got to do my homework" and do "I have to do it now" type of attitude. Not to mention the grotesquely twisted 'I am in severe pain' facial expression. The point is that those tasks which are boring, difficult, or obligatory (which is the majority of tasks asked by parents) are most likely to help them develop characteristics like responsibility and self-discipline. Self discipline comes when we do what we don't really want to do, but know that it is necessary to do.

Jackmom February 15, 2010 | 7:21 AM

Sorry, Em, but this article is dead-on with the majority of teens I know (and I work with 700 of them every day). Thanks for the ammunition. We are currently in the thick of this battle at our house -- I stood by and watched him wash the dishes at midnight (because he'd put it off for days), gagging because of the smell of dried-on yogurt. I am copying him this article (see, it's NOT just me nagging you -- it's a movement) along with his list. Bless you. You betcha I'm buying your book.

Emma August 10, 2009 | 7:46 AM

Wow, this is a bitter article. You can't possibly have met more than three teenagers in order to write such a narrow-minded and horribly stereotypical article. Although it's being a teen can be difficult, and they can often be selfish and overly-argumentative, the vast majority are actually very nice, giving and bright people. They're going to be the ones running the world in not too many years, so why don't you start giving them a bit more credit?

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