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Ask the Expert: We’re Fighting About Chores for Our Teenager. Make It Stop

Dear Your Teen:

I feel like my daughter and I are in this vicious cycle at the moment. I ask my 13-year-old to do something — say, clean up after herself when she makes lunch. She doesn’t do it, I ask her again, and she does it superficially. I ask her again, this time not so nicely. She feels like I am nagging her and gets angry and resentful. Following her attitude change, I start to feel resentful because I have to keep asking her to do these simple things over and over (and over and over) again. I have never been a naggy type person, but she’s turning me into one!

Then of course, I can’t help myself. I’ll launch into a big, giant nagfest about if you’d just do this or that, I wouldn’t nag you … blah, blah, blah, which I know is only hurting the situation! How can I stop nagging when it comes to chores for teenagers?

EXPERT | Dr. John Duffy

We parents often allow ourselves to be trapped in this cycle with our children. In the end, we find ourselves offering a lecture on responsibility, or being a contributing member of the family, or other things that we are fully aware, in real time, fall on deaf ears.

Even worse, we may find ourselves bargaining and compromising on issues we feel ought to be absolute: You’re supposed to clean your room, help with dishes, take out the garbage, and so on. This is part of the agreement of living in this house, of being a member of this family.

3 Tips for Ending the Battle:

1. Meet as a family to set expectations about chores for teenagers.

The problem in many families begins with the fact that there is no agreement, written, oral, tacit, or otherwise. I therefore encourage occasional family meetings where expectations are made abundantly clear to everyone. Here is where some compromise or give-and-take might be acceptable.

2. Create a written agreement.

If you have little luck with an oral agreement, I would suggest a clear written agreement.  It should also be made clear that, when you are asked to do something by Mom or Dad, you do so without debate or argument.

3. Have clear consequences for when teenagers don’t do chores.

Make clear consequences for those tasks not performed to Mom and Dad’s satisfaction. You should also establish a reasonable consequence that can be laid out and agreed upon by all members of the family for debate or lack of cooperation.

This way, we can refer to the agreement without unnecessary discussion, argument or debate. We can get that debate out of the way in an earlier family discussion. But if we end up in a debate in the moment, with no agreement to fall back on, we’ve probably already lost.

Dr. John Duffy

Dr. John Duffy is a clinical psychologist with over 25 years of practice and is the best-selling author of The Available Parent.  He appears frequently on national TV and radio shows such as the Today Show, Fox News, and NPR, and in the Wall Street Journal, Time, and numerous other publications. His latest book is Parenting the New Teen in the Age of Anxiety.

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