Ask Amy: Exasperated parents inspire kids to help at home
I recently published a question from a woman who signed her letter: "Exasperated Mom." This mom presented an honest and evergreen problem: How to get her three teenagers to help out more at home.
I need to add to my advice to this parent — that the way to get teenagers to help at home is to bring them onto the family team when they are toddlers. Young children love to help, and when children work alongside their parents, they are learning important life skills. The reason I didn't offer this observation to Exasperated was because — for her and her husband — that ship had already sailed.
I received scores of responses to this letter, and — some were genuinely helpful, others were funny or nostalgic, and some were straight-up bananas (put all of your kids' bedroom furniture, belongings, and clothing into a rented storage unit and force them to "earn" them back).
Here is a sampling of my favorite responses:
I was so tired of asking my teen daughters to do the same thing over and over again, so I stopped. Instead, one day I made tuna casserole for dinner — a dish they both hate.
For four days in a row, I made tuna casserole for dinner.
I listened to them grumble about how much they hated it, while I told them that I could eat it every day for an entire month. I never mentioned the chores that weren't getting done.
On the fourth night, my older daughter realized what was happening. She and her sister took care of the chores that night, and any time I made tuna casserole after that, they looked for things that needed to be done.
— Noodle This!
I raised two lovely boys, who are now 32 and 29. We had the same issues that Exasperated describes. What really helped was time. As they experienced difficult roommates at college, they got so much better at seeing what needed to be done.
Once, the youngest was complaining that he was the only roommate that cleaned the bathroom, and I about fell off my chair laughing. If I was given a do-over, I would nag less and enjoy the time with them more.
— Enjoying it Now
"Exasperated Mom" complained that no matter what she tried, she could not get her teenagers to pitch in around the house. A sure-fire way to get their attention is to turn off the WI-FI and lock it up until chores are done. It's also possible to suspend a phone line instantly and temporarily — a great way to get a teen's attention.
Parenting non-compliant teens is all about leverage. Find the right lever and you can move any teen!
— I've Got the Lever
Back in high school, one of my friends didn't do her chore before leaving with us for a party. Big mistake. When she got home late that night, the dirty dinner dishes were in her bed. No lie. Lesson learned! (Well, she learned her lesson — my mom was all bark and no bite!)
— No Leftovers, Please
As a parent of four teens, I learned to make a list of possible chores so they could select their own, and what was left would be my chores.
It worked so well that I expanded it to Easy Chores, Hard Chores, and Disgusting Chores with a notation of how many they needed to choose on each list. They treated it like a competition!
This all happened on Saturday morning, and nobody got to leave the house until they did the chores. If they put their minds to it, they were done in 30 minutes!
When I was a teenager, my room was always a mess. It drove my dad nuts. Finally, he took everything that was on my bedroom floor and tossed it onto the roof of our home.
When I came home and saw my Air Jordans (among other things) on the roof in the rain, I was horrified.
I would also leave my wet towel on the floor. Dad started shoving it under my covers. When I'd crawl into bed at night, my sheets were damp.
Suffice it to say, I kept my room clean and hung up my towel, which I have consistently done since I was a teenager. Food for thought.
My dad didn't say a word, but I got the message. (By the way, I'm a clean dad now...)
— Clean Dad
Write to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.