You’ve heard it before: “It’s my room, why do I have to clean it?” And to tell you the truth, your teenager may be right.
Chances are, you’re very thankful that your teen’s bedroom comes with a door—if it didn’t, its contents would likely spill out into the hallway, multiply, and spread like a virus.
“My room is always a tornado,” says Julia Friedberg, whose mess now accumulates in two places—her dorm room in Evanston, Illinois and in her home in New Jersey. “I’ve definitely tripped on stuff in the middle of the night, and my mom is constantly nagging me to clean it up.”
Julia is a good student and a responsible daughter, but that doesn’t stop her parents from constantly nagging her about her untidy room, which includes growing piles of clean laundry on her bed, a closet of empty hangers, and clothes covering the floor.
“It’s really hard to make teenagers do something,” explains Dr. Lisa Damour, psychologist and director of Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls. “Teenagers have a lot of freedom, they’re not little kids, and you can’t take stuff away like you used to be able to.”
Dealing with Messy Teenage Bedrooms
Damour suggests using your leverage in another way, like a moratorium on shopping until they show that they can take care of what they have. Doing nothing is also an option. A messy room isn’t likely to impact your teen’s well-being, or yours, for the long-term, so let the natural consequences of lost homework and wrinkled clothes play out.
“On multiple occasions, my room has been so messy that I lose items moments after putting them down,” says Rebecca Abers, from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “I end up running late from searching for things.”
Does that picture sound familiar? If it does, step back. Your teen will likely, albeit slowly, begin to see the benefits of maintaining a clean room.
If your teenager’s messy room morphs into something that affects the family—like food that attracts creepy crawlies—feel free to enter without knocking and begin imposing consequences.
“They don’t want us in their business, but occasionally, they send us engraved invitations to be in their business,” Damour says. “Rotting food in the room is an engraved invitation.”
For Jamie Forman, of Pepper Pike, Ohio, it wasn’t mess or nagging that motivated her to de-clutter her space—or, as she refers to it, her “organized mess.” For her, there was something more important at stake.
“We got our dogs when I was 15,” Jamie explains. “I had to keep a clean path so they could get to my bed.”