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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.

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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