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How to Get Your Tween/Teen to Clean Their Room

When I was a teenager, my Mom frequently harped on me about cleaning my room. One day, I went into my room and found that my Mom had taken everything out of my drawers and dumped it all over my room. I will never forget seeing my bras dangling from the ceiling fan. My room stayed like that for what felt like months. I was so humiliated that I was going to "show her" that she couldn't make me clean my room. I was so stubbor that my Mom eventually cleaned my room.

A tween/teen's room often becomes a place of contention. Your tween/teen probably has voiced to you in many colorful ways that ,"It's MY room!" To which many have replied, "As long as you are under MY roof...!"

Conversations and antics like my mother's usually create a bigger rift in the already tenuous relationship we might have with our tween/teen.

Why does their room generate so many heated battles? Many things are happening in the development of their brains. They are going through brain growth comparable to only one other time in their life and that was when they were toddlers. As a result, their brain is going through a period of disorganization, a lack of ability to strategize and ability to see consequences of their behaviors.

What this means is that some of our tween/teens behaviors are not their fault. Many parents accuse their tween/teen of being messy or irresponsible.This approach is not helpful. Approaching them from this mindset is setting your relationship for stress. Here are two approaches I recommend:

Option 1: If your tween/ tween has in the past demonstrated an ability to organize and be orderly, I would recommend that you allow the child to simply keep their door closed so you don't have to see the mess. Provided that the tween/teen is willing to do their own laundry and not leave food in their room. At this age, tween/teens need a place for privacy. A place where they can land and call their own. They need a safe haven away from all the worldly noise and bombardments to discover who they are.

If you find yourself getting resentful and making innuendos about their room move to the next solution.

Option 2: If your tween hasn't been organized and is blatantly disrespectful of you and your purchases, then I would not recommend the previous method. An occasional outburst of disrespect is to be expected at this age but if the disrespect glaring, you may want to handle it differently. Your tween/teen may be challenging your authority. If this is the case you may not want to back down.

Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Get his permission to talk about his room at a friendly time.

  2. Empathize: "I know that you feel that your room is yours. I get that."

  3. State your responsibility: In a friendly tone of voice say, "Whether you like it or not, until you are 18 it is my job to teach you life skills and I am unwilling to have the things I have bought you be treated disrespectfully. (Notice I am not attacking his character.)

  4. Start win/win conflict resolution: "How often would you be willing to clean your room? If he says something you can live with, great. If not, keep negotiating: "I am unwilling to let it go that long, how about.....?"

  5. If the situation hints at becoming an argument say, "I need to cool off. I will be back in 30 minutes to finish this discussion." Do not cave if your tween/teen starts using emotional blackmail. Be prepared for it. Remain calm, friendly but also firm.

  6. When you reach an agreement say, "That sounds good. Let's try if for a week and see what happens."

  7. If the tween/teen makes an agreement and does not follow through say, "What should happen if you don't keep your agreement?" If he doesn't come up with any thing say, "Until your room is clean or you can come up with a viable solution, I will assume you want maid service and I will clean your room for you and deduct $20 from your allowance as my payment for the service."

Another option is to tell him that you would be happy to take him to his weekend activities as soon as his room is clean. Notice the tone here is friendly and that you are wanting to care for his needs when your needs are being taken care of also. You are requiring mutual respect.

When your tween/teen does clean their room, do not be overly picky or give too much praise. You might want to say something short like, "It's easier to find things now." Refrain from lecturing and snarky comments like, "Its about time you clean your room, I was beginning to worry about things getting up and crawling out of the room!"

Note: You may want check to see if your tween/teen has too much stuff. Teens sometimes develop the attitude of, "I don't have to take good care of my belongings because my parents will replace it or buy something better." If you think this may be the case, have your tween/teen start paying for all or part of their things.

Keep your relationship more important than the room.


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Kathryn Kvols

Author, Lecturer, Parenting Coach

(352) 494-1581

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