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Teaching Teens the "How to" of Chores

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Be sure that your chores transcend gender barriers. If you've taught your son some basic repair skills, your daughter should be taught them as well. And your son should be as capable with a frying pan and an iron as your daughter is. Most families assign chores that perpetuate gender stereotyping. Studies indicate that girls are more likely to do dishwashing, clothing care, and cleaning chores; boys are more likely to be assigned maintenance, yard, car, and pet-care chores. (Some teens may actually prefer chores that perpetuate the stereotype, but be certain that both genders know how to do all chores.) And there's a big disparity in the time spent on chores, too. (This should be no surprise to mothers.) Girls log in 6.1 hours weekly, to boys' 4.2 hours.

Believe it or not, it's perfectly possible to be alive for 15 years and not have any idea how to make a grilled cheese sandwich.

Once you give your teen a new chore, assume that she knows nothing about how it should be done. (Anyone who has ever watched a teenager “wipe the counter” by using a sopping wet sponge to push the crumbs onto the floor will know that is not a bad assumption to make.) An obvious benefit to teaching the chore carefully is that eventually it will be done more or less the way you would like it to be.

Here's how to introduce your teen (and younger children) to a new chore:

  • Explain the job. Why do you sort laundry by color? What kind of soap do you use? What does loading the washer “evenly” mean? (Nothing is too basic to explain, but don't talk down to your teen—after all, you want to teach, not to lecture.)
  • Break the job down into steps and demonstrate it. A full vacuuming of the family room, for example, is going to involve removing couch cushions to vacuum for crumbs, putting the cushions back, and then switching vacuum attachments to do the floor. (Make sure you demonstrate how to switch attachments.)
  • Show her where any supplies are kept. It doesn't ease your burden (or put her in charge) if she has to come and ask where things are.
  • Keep an eye out for how she's doing, and compliment her regularly and often.

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a Teenager © 1996 by Kate Kelly. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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