My teenage son staggered down the stairs today with a bloody face and a gaping flesh wound. I felt a little faint at the sight, but calmly reminded him to clean up the sink after he rinsed off the blood.
Am I a sociopath? No, my son is a special effects makeup artist.
I admire his artistry with face paint, latex, and prosthetics. But after we recently found the sink and shower streaked with fake blood, we had to draw the line: he has to wipe down the bathroom after each horrific new creation.
The teen years bring new challenges when it comes to chores. Cleaning up together as a family may no longer be much of a draw, so getting teens’ cooperation can be a bit trickier than it was when your children were younger. But don’t give up. Your teen may value the experience more than he lets on.
“Teens complain about chores; they act like they don’t want to do them, but deep down they secretly want the responsibility,” says clinical teen psychologist Barbara Greenberg, of Fairfield County, CT. “It’s part of teenagers’ job to give resistance. But with all the self-doubt teens struggle with, chores are very anchoring. Like adults, they need to feel needed. They will protest, but they like you to count on them.”
Rona Renner, parenting coach and author of Is That Me Yelling? A Parent’s Guide to Getting Kids to Cooperate Without Losing Your Cool, says that when it comes to getting teens to help around the house, your approach is everything. “If you go on a rant — ‘this place is such a mess, you don’t do anything to help me, I’m so sick of this’ — you’re likely to encounter more resistance.”
“But if you can catch yourself when you’re triggered and calm down, then you can say ‘We have a problem here; the chores aren’t getting done. Let’s revisit our agreement and figure out how to make this work.’ You can also remind your teen that when you agree to drive him to a friend’s house, you do it. ‘Think about how badly you’d feel if I didn’t follow through.’ The key is to hold your child accountable without it becoming a fight.”
A bonus lesson about money
Whether your teen gets paid for doing chores or receives an allowance that is independent of his household responsibilities, it’s an important time to teach about using money for good.
Most experts on teens and money agree that they shouldn’t get paid for daily chores, since they may lose sight of the bigger picture: chores should be done simply because you’re part of the family. But even experts who favor paying for chores rather than simply giving kids an allowance tend to agree on certain principles. For instance, experts say parents should teach teens that their allowance should be divided into three buckets: one for savings, one for spending, and one for sharing. (It’s a financial planning model adults would do well to emulate.)
Beth Kobliner, the author of Make Your Child a Money Genius… Even If You’re Not, suggests using three jars with those labels. Kids don’t have to put a third of their money into the jar for charity, but Kobliner suggests picking a portion to set aside for charity, whether it’s 10 percent or 30 percent, and sticking to it. “Then comes the fun part: Giving that money away.”
As we debated where to keep the three jars, my son decided on his first donation. Handing me back the $20 from his allowance, he asked me to send it to the victims of Hurricane Harvey. He also figured out that toothpaste is great for getting rid of fake bloodstains. So even though we are temporarily out of toothpaste, our sink and shower have never looked better.
Developmentally appropriate chores for teens
Take out the trash
This one’s a no-brainer. Going room to room to collect waste and remembering to put the bins out on time each week (and putting them away after trash pick-up) are life skills your child is ready and able to learn. What’s more, noting the amount of recycling versus refuse may inspire your child to take an interest in environmental science.
Sweep and vacuum
Teens can take on tasks like sweeping the front walk and vacuuming the living room. Hooray!
Do their own laundry
This includes their sheets and towels, too. Mastering this skill now will help your teen be that much more ready for life in college.
Help keep shared spaces tidy
This means learning to put things away, rather that dumping their belongings in the middle of the living room. It’ll help your child be a more considerate member of the household now and be a better roommate in college AND BEYOND.
Keep the bathroom tidy
Now is a great time for your child to take responsibility for scrubbing the sink to remove toothpaste residue, wiping down the counter, spritzing the mirror — and even how to clean the toilet. And next time the toilet is stopped up, you may want to teach your child how to use the plunger.
Prepare some simple (or elaborate) meals
What can your child make for dinner? A teen should be able to prepare two or three well-balanced meals (read: not just mac-n-cheese from a box). Spaghetti is a pretty classic first meal that kids can practice now — and continue to make in college.
Take care of the pets
Your teen can definitely take on a couple of regular duties, like feeding the dog every morning and cleaning the cat’s litter box. Even if your teen takes this on, it’s important for a responsible adult to always make sure that pets are being cared for. Your teen’s brain is still developing, so mistakes and forgetfulness come with the territory, and no one wants Fido to suffer as a result.
Take turns washing the dishes or loading the dishwasher
Some teens prefer to have one big chore rather than many to keep track of. If your teen is so inclined, being the person responsible for loading, running, and emptying the dishwasher every evening can be an excellent, age-appropriate choice.
Help take care of the garden
From weeding to tending a vegetable garden to moving the lawn, there’s a lot your teen can do, depending on their interests.
Clean their room once a week
In addition to putting away clothes and other belongings, this may include changing their sheets, vacuuming their room, and dusting their shelves and other surfaces.
Occasionally helping their younger siblings with homework
Being a member of a family means helping out in many different ways. If your teen can help a younger sibling with reading, math, or other homework, this “chore” could be an excellent way to nurture their lifelong sibling bond.