Inside: How to get teens to do chores and why it’s important they take on these responsibilities
You’ve seen the T-shirt: “Adulting, 1 out of 10 stars, do not recommend.” When we are young, we yearn to grow up faster, so we can do whatever we want. Then we realize that growing up doesn’t only grant more rights, but also more responsibilities. Houses don’t magically clean themselves, groceries don’t just appear in the cabinets, and meals don’t just appear on the table.
But teens don’t see any of this. They are genuinely unaware and need to be explicitly told they need to pitch in. The benefits of forcing the issue are twofold: a capable, independent teen (who will have other adults willing to live with them) and a happier parent (who is not burned out from doing it all).
Of course, there may be times that it’s okay (and even appropriate) to cut your teen some slack or even to do their chores for them. Things such as a particularly busy sports or performing season, illness, or mental health struggles may make it impossible for them to do anything more than keep up with school work. But, for the most part, teens are capable of the same chores as adults and need to make contributions that benefit more than just themselves.
How to get teens to do chores and gain life skills
Get the buy-in
If up until now, one person has been doing the bulk of the chores, it’s likely that no one else knows how much needs to be done. Make a list of all the chores required to maintain the household. (Even you may be surprised at how long this list is.) Break these down into daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal chores. Putting all this on paper (or a whiteboard) will amplify the fact that a group effort is needed.
Remind your kids that doing chores is contributing to the household and an important life skill. Everyone contributes to the mess; all should contribute to the upkeep. And remember that everyone likes to be appreciated. Recognize their efforts. Mention how nice it is to come home to an empty sink or how much you enjoy sitting on the couch without baskets of laundry nearby.
Teach them how
While there is always Professor Google to turn to, our teens will not magically know how to clean their living space or perform basic maintenance skills—these must be taught. Having regular chores will allow our kids to practice and master them before moving out on their own or with a partner. Being held accountable for these responsibilities also offers some practical experience in executive function skills such as time management and prioritization.
Set clear expectations. Demonstrate how to do a task and show them what it looks like when properly competed. When they are first learning, assume the best. Rather than jumping to the conclusion that your teen is lazy or cutting corners, consider that their still-developing brains may have inadvertently skipped a step.
Resist the urge to criticize. If you have to point things out, do it kindly (speak the way you would like to be spoken to). Show them your way, then leave them to their own methods. They are more likely to remember the importance of cleaning “top down” when they discover they have to re-clean the floor after dusting than by you pointing out their error.
Decide who does what
Each family will have their own approach. What works for one may not work for another, and what works one week may not the next. Possible options include a master chore chart for all to choose from, random chore assignments (pick out of a jar), rotating chores (taking turns being responsible for one task or room), or assigning household chores “as needed.” Some parents may choose to tie chores to an allowance, extra privileges, or reward charts. Some chores may need to be done at a specific time; others may be completed when it’s convenient.
Consider matching chores to individual strengths and interests. We all have that one chore we particularly hate. For some it’s washing dishes, others hate to sweep or mop floors. Where possible, makes accommodations. You may be surprised to learn that your teen likes the calming routine of folding clothes while you hate the monotony of it.
Think outside the box
Not all chores involve housekeeping. A teenager who is particularly good with technology can be the IT person in the family; one who likes to sew can be responsible for mending hems and minor clothing repairs. A teen who is a wiz with finding things on the web can be put in charge of researching for family events and trips, or finding sales. While these “on-call” positions will not be needed every day, they are important tasks that can save the family time and money.
Avoiding battles over chores is largely a matter of attitude (yours and your teen’s). It’s okay to admit you don’t like doing these things either, but they need to be done. (Even Merriam-Webster calls chores “difficult or disagreeable.”) You may even find that this admission means your teen sometimes does chores for you.
Suggested chores for tweens and teens
- washing dishes (loading/unloading dishwasher or washing by hand)
- doing laundry (even if just their own)
- cleaning bathrooms
- putting things away
- cleaning out refrigerator
- taking out garbage
- lawn care – mowing lawn, raking leaves, weeding, mulching
- watering plants
- shoveling snow
- planting, maintaining garden
- landscaping projects
Care and Feeding
- babysitting younger siblings
- meal prep
- making lunches
- feeding pets
- walking dog
- training dog
- bathing dog
- cleaning litterbox or cage
- driving siblings to activities
- dry-cleaning drop-off/pick-up
- dropping off donations
- grocery shopping/carrying groceries inside/putting groceries away
- cleaning/organizing basement or garage
- organizing junk drawer or hall closet
- washing windows
- washing the car
For more tips and tricks on getting kids to buy in on the importance of chores, we recommend Life Skills for Teens: How to Cook, Clean, Manage Money, Fix Your Car, Perform First Aid, and Just About Everything in Between by Karen Harris.
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