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How To Stop Nagging Your Teenager: 3 Ways to Cut Back

“Can you do the dishes?”

“Have you cleaned your room?”

“Is your homework done?”

The endless stream of questions and requests for your teen turns you into a broken record, one consistently set to the “Nagging” track.

Does your teen not hear you or do they just enjoy imitating a brick wall? Neither, say experts.

In fact, it has more to do with a developing pre-frontal cortex than a desire to madden the adults in their lives. “The pre-frontal cortex is responsible for thinking, solving problems, executing a plan, and anticipating consequences,” explains Dr. Joseph Shrand, psychiatrist and medical director of CASTLE (Clean and Sober Teens Living Empowered). “When a teen doesn’t do what you want right away, they are not anticipating how it will affect you.”

In other words, teens haven’t developed the brakes in their brains yet. They can’t control their reactions, rationally prioritize what they need to do, and discuss options with parents in a calm manner. With this knowledge in mind, there are still ways to cut down on the nagging your teen and get what you want.

3 Tips for Nagging Parents

1. Give a timeframe.

Shrand recommends that you cut the nagging by focusing on the timeliness of the task. “Ask them what they are doing now,” Shrand says. “No one likes being interrupted to do something less pleasurable. By respecting your teen’s time, and asking if they can take out the garbage in ten minutes, you send a message of respect and cue their pre-frontal cortex to think about time.”

2. Use trade-offs.

Of course, it’s not practical to spend time analyzing brain development when you need the garbage taken out in a timely manner or the room cleaned before guests arrive. In that vein, Dr. Patrick Tolan, director emeritus of Youth-Nex: The Center for Positive Youth Development at the University of Virginia, offers some easy advice. Take a break from your one-sided nagfests and have a conversation about compromise. Then come to an agreement about how your teen should help around the house.

“A very powerful motivator is trade-offs,” Tolan says. “If you do something I want, you’ll get something you want. It’s not a bribe; it’s a teaching moment.” You help around the house and, in return, you’ll get to use the car on weekends or watch your favorite show or play video games or whatever works for your teen. This reinforces (and models) the idea that living with others requires give and take. “If it’s respectful to them, it teaches them to be respectful of your needs,” Tolan says. “They’re going to hear values and ideas about working with and living with other people that are really important.”

3. Have a formal agreement.

For many teens, family meetings to hammer out agreements about household chores and other to-dos can also be helpful, says Dr. John Duffy, a psychologist in the Chicago area and author of The Available Parent. “The problem in many families begins with the fact that there is no agreement, written, oral, tacit or otherwise,” he explains. “When we end up in a debate in the moment, with no agreement to fall back on, we’ve probably already lost.”

Samantha Zabell just graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism.

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