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Your Teenager’s Bedroom

“Then just don’t look!” That was my response to my mother’s dissatisfaction (quite vocally expressed) with the condition of my bedroom. Never got much traction with that.

Everything we do, we do for a reason. Sometimes the reason is simply because we thought of it (impulses), but there is always a reason. As well, the question, “Is it worth the trouble?” often comes into play in our determination of whether or not to act.

If we want our children to stand up for what they think is important, we must stand up for what we think is important. If you think it important your child develop values and skills regarding care of and organization of his/her possessions, and believe that requiring a level of organization and cleanliness in your teenager’s bedroom contributes to this, then make it so. It’s regarding that “level” I refer to about which you must be honest with yourself as to how organized and how clean your child’s room must be.

If that level of cleanliness is met only by passing a “white glove test,” good luck with that. The first question to ask yourself in determining your needs of your teenager is, “What is the goal?” The more clear the goal, the better the chance you can identify an effective means of achieving the goal.

It is reasonable (and attainable) to require the floor of your teen’s room not be covered with clothes, shoes, games/toys. It is reasonable (and attainable) that your teen’s room does not contain food, empty cans/bottles and plates, utensils, and glasses (clean or dirty) [a house rule that does not allow eating/drinking food in bedrooms addresses this proactively]. It is reasonable (and attainable) that clearing the floor is not merely piling those things on the floor behind a closed closet door. And (here’s where that self-honesty comes into play), is any more than this level of organization and cleanliness truly required to help pass on the values and organizational skills you wish to instill in your child?

What’s left, now, is to provide that reason I mentioned above for your kid to meet these expectations of yours. A simple (not necessarily easy at first to implement) solution: designate Saturday mornings as the time your child will return his/her room to that level of straightened you have clearly described. Aside from breakfast, your child’s day does not begin until the room is straightened and, thus, you have provided the reason. The sooner your teenager completes this task, the sooner the day is his/hers.

Instituting this structure (“You do not pass go. You do not collect $200” until task completed), leaves it to your child to act or not. It frees you from altering/ruining your mood with the frequent reminders, encouragements, yelling that we resort to in the absence of such structuring. If you walk past your child’s room during the designated time and she/he is reading a magazine or playing a video game (no communication with anybody outside of his/her room until room cleaning task completed), your teen is doing it on her/his time. No need to say/do anything. If it takes 90 minutes before the task is completed, it’s on your child’s time. And if this task completion is required weekly, it likely will not require such a large block of time. If, despite this weekly requirement, it still takes 45-60 minutes of attention to the task to complete it, it just might help your children recognize that it is “worth the trouble” to take that additional 15 seconds to put their clothing where it belongs (hamper, chair, hanging in closet) vs. just dropping it on the floor during the week. Simply suggest they run the “experiment” for themselves (that is, putting things where they belong when finished using them to see what impact that has on the “Saturday morning straightening” time).

The most important aspect of this structure I have just described is to say what you mean and mean what you say. That is, your child’s day truly does not begin until the room is straightened to your satisfaction. The agreements that create this structure are clearly, concisely and concretely stated and both ends of these agreements that create this structure are consistently kept. If you consistently keep your end of the deal (which includes not yelling, reminding, etc. and enforcing the “Do not pass go…” stipulation), your child will keep her/his end. Part of your responsibilities as a parent is to have expectations of your children, and that includes the expectation of having your expectations met!!

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  1. This and everything found in Dr. Neal’s Corner are for educational purposes only. Professional advice specific to your situation should only be given in the context of a professional relationship with a licensed health care professional.
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