Moving That Teen From Texting to Lawn Mowing
Nothing heats things up around the dinner table (or the counselor’s office for that matter) faster than the issue of teen family chores left undone. Parents will turn shades of scarlet as they splutter on endlessly about responsibility, survival in the real world and tales of milking camels in snowstorms when they were growing up. Teens will offer some Shakespearian blend of sulking, eye rolling and bored indifference punctuated by a perfectly timed yawn guaranteed to send a parent zooming right off the edge of rationality.
Score one for the kid.
First of all, household chores, which I actually prefer to call “family contributions”, are important. It is important that every citizen have a sense of contributing to the whole. That is as true for a citizen of a family as it is for the citizen of a nation. Passive freeloading is corrosive to both the whole and the individual and will eventually bring down both. Don’t believe it? Take a look at our economic and political situation.
Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when prodding a kid from the couch to the kitchen sink.
- Never pay a teen to do their work. For example, cleaning their room is their personal responsibility as a citizen of the home. We wouldn’t – well, most of us wouldn’t – expect the city to mow our lawn. Same thing applies to clean bedrooms, putting away a bicycle or doing homework. It is okay to pay them for doing some part of your work. Like mowing the lawn, for example. Oh, and one other thing, never, ever, under any circumstance, give an advance on an allowance on the promise of work getting done. You are not rich enough to be a bank and have no way to handle the inevitable domestic defaults.
- Give a clear, reasonable deadline for completion, as in, “The lawn needs to be mowed by noon, Saturday.” If you just bark about mowing the lawn, don’t be surprised – and certainly don’t complain – if it is mowed once, at the end of summer.
- Think ahead to what will happen if the contribution is not made. Is going to a friend’s house for a birthday sleep over going to be dependent upon completion of the task? Or perhaps computer time or access to texting is determined by contributions completed. You might even think about who will pay for you to do the work if it is left undone. (HINT: The answer to that question is the teen.)
- If the teen winds up having to compensate someone else to complete their contribution by a specific time to an appropriate standard where will the cash come from? If there is expectation of a weekly allowance you might consider garnishment. I understand I-Pods are popular items at pawn shops (No, really, I am seriously not kidding).
- Once you have provided a clear, concise and consistent explanation of exactly what is expected and when and perhaps offered to answer questions you are to zip your lip. No reminders! Now this is harder than Rush Limbaugh letting a day slide by without slandering a liberal, but it is absolutely necessary. It is okay to have offered to help kids figure a way to keep track of what they need to get done, using a wall calendar or perhaps some electronic gizmo, but once done, drop the reminders. While any teen worth his Nikes will complain you should have “reminded me”, they actually hate reminders because reminder of an obvious fact gives the message you think this budding adult is an incompetent dolt. Wrong message if the goal is to raise an independent, cable young adult.
- Finally, if an adolescent doesn’t do their family contribution it’s nothing to get angry about. Truly, there is nothing to yell, fuss or fume about. The kid is still a wonderful, bright gift to the family. Instead, give a heartfelt message of empathy that it’s sad that now they won’t be able to do that much anticipated birthday sleep over, but perhaps next weekend that lawn will get mowed on time and they can spend a night with their friends some time soon.
After you have done these steps a few times you’ll be amazed at how responsible your teens will have become.
Mark L. Taylor MA LPC SAC is a Wisconsin licensed counselor who works extensively with adolescents and their families. He also founded the RoundRiver Institute LLC, a learning center near Genoa, WI. Permission is granted for personal use of this material. If you pass it on to other individuals please include a link back to this page. If you wish to use it in a newsletter or publication please contact Mark at: http://www.round-river2000.com
© Mark L. Taylor and RoundRiver Institute LLC