Ask The Parent Coach: Clean Room Not A Teen Priority

mother in messy room

Dear Parent Coach,

I'm about ready to give up on my teen's messy bedroom. His idea of a "clean room" is quite different from mine. This has been an ongoing argument between us and is causing a lot of tension. I take pride in our home, and I expect him to at least take care of his own belongings. He says he's too busy to worry about socks on the floor. Any ideas of how to get him to comply with my standards?


Clean Freak

Dear Clean Freak,

The "clean your room" issue is an age-old problem, having produced conflict between teens and their parents for generations. Your son no doubt has a long list of things he's more interested in doing than picking up dirty socks and making his bed. "Clean" is probably not on his priority list. However, "girls" might be.

As the saying goes, "Raising a teenager is like trying to nail jello to a tree." They are pretty slippery and hard to pin down. Teens nowadays are busier than ever before with school and community commitments. The main focus is on building a resume with an eye towards college acceptance.

teen doing homework

Teens are constantly in and out; in for eating and out for friends and myriad events. When they are finally at home at the end of the day, they're scrambling to finish homework by midnight. No time for socks. However, it is not unreasonable to expect a teen to help with some household responsibilities, and maintaining his own room and belongings is a starting place.

Parents may experience more cooperation from their teen, however, if they communicate clearly and specifically about what needs to be done, yet allow flexibility regarding when a task should be completed ( for example, "by 5 p.m. today" or "by bedtime Wednesday" or "before you leave the house on Saturday").

Getting teens to help around the house works best if responsibility and freedom are tied together. Consequences for not assuming responsibility should be as clearly stated as the task itself, and parents who feel that they no longer have control of their teen can let the consequences speak for themselves. The key, of course, is following through with the consequences, which are most effective if they limit the fun and freedom that teens so dearly love.

Perhaps the clean room issue is a symbol of a power struggle that has developed between you and your son. This is quite normal at this stage of development. As he becomes more independent, he will become more resistant to being told what to do. You will need to be straightforward about what you expect; remind him of the consequences if he doesn't comply, then let it go.

Consider this. It may be more important at this point to maintain a positive and open relationship with your son than insisting his room be spotless. You may want to reduce your standards a bit, use your sense of humor, and let the consequences inform him that you mean business.

teenager in messy room

Practical Parenting Pointers:

1. Call a "room meeting" with your teen and agree on a compromise standard of cleanliness.

2. Put your agreement in writing and pin it on his bulletin board. Include consequences.

3. Be flexible when deciding when your son's room needs to be clean. Try Wednesday evening and Saturday morning.

4. During the week, ask your son to keep his bedroom door closed.

5. Refrain from nagging. Use a sense of humor or a sticky note for an occasional reminder.

6. Put your energy into finding a positive way to connect emotionally with your son.