Teenagers and Dirty Bedrooms

Parenting Expert Jan Faull, MEd, suggests a solution for getting teens to tidy up.
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Q. "My 15-year-old daughter's room is a pigsty! Even when I ask her to clean her room up, the very next day it's back to being a mess. It's filthy, it smells, and she has her clothes piled up all over the floor. How can I motivate my daughter to keep her room clean?"

A. Your job now is to give your daughter simple guidelines for cleaning her room, and hold her to them. Give her this directive: "Your room needs to be cleaned on Saturday by two o'clock. Here's what I expect: 1) Dirty clothes in the hamper. 2) Dirty dishes to the kitchen sink. 3) All items that are not furniture need to be off the floor, and then I'll come in and vacuum. The rest of the room can be left as you like it. If you haven't completed these three tasks by two o'clock, I'll tidy your room as I deem necessary and appropriate."

Don't argue with her and don't expect her to agree, just keep to your plan. When you see her on Friday, offer a reminder, or post a reminder note on her bedroom door. Then when Saturday comes around and she struggles out of bed at noon, give the last prompt by saying, "Your bedroom needs tidying by two o'clock." The goal here is not to pester her, but to make sure your expectations are clear so there can be no room for misunderstandings.

This plan appeals to teens because they can make the choice as to whether they'll clean their room or you will. Most will do this minimal amount of tidying because they hate the thought of parents rifling though and organizing their belongings.

Your daughter may argue, "It's my room, I can keep it a pigsty if I like." Come back with, "No, I've made my decision; I can't allow continuously smelly and unclean rooms. A once-a-week tidying is perfectly reasonable." If her room is messy again the next day, that's okay. Her only obligation is to remove odorous and unsanitary materials, and to clear the floor once a week. Over time your daughter may discover that it's easy to keep her room neat throughout the week, rather than dedicating a block of time every weekend to cleaning. In fact, she may even discover that she prefers a clean bedroom, though don't expect her to admit it.

Teenagers' messy bedrooms plague most households today. Rooms in disarray are a teen's way of rebelling against parents' values. If you come down too hard on her with an ultimatum like, "You either clean your bedroom as I dictate or else," some teens will rebel in more dangerous ways outside the home. You don't want to alienate your daughter in this fashion by painting her into a corner.

When parents see their teens' rooms in such disarray they often fear that their lives must reflect this mess. Teens' lives often are out of control as they tackle the intellectual, emotional, social, and physical challenges of moving from childhood into adulthood. Their bedroom is usually last on their list as they try to keep the rest of their life together. But if you give your daughter simple guidelines and consistently expect them to be followed, she'll likely discover that a clean room is better. And when she goes off to college or moves into an apartment, she'll probably keep her space neat, clean, and organized.


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