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Neatness Counts: Keeping a Teen's Room Clean

Some parents think they'll wait out the messy room phase and simply close the door. If you're considering this, you've got a long wait, and you've provided no guidelines for how the room is going to be cleaned—a hygienic necessity.

The first step in establishing guidelines for a neater room is to make your teen's job as easy as possible. You can help with this:

  • Invest in a comforter or quilt rather than putting a bedspread on the bed. A simple toss of this heavier style of bed cover in the morning can cover a multitude of wrinkles.
  • Put a laundry basket in the closet and stress the necessity of putting all laundry in it.
  • Make it a family rule that if dishes are permitted in the bedroom they must be brought back to the kitchen the next morning. (The first ant or mouse your teen finds in her room should cure any lapses in a hurry!)

Your next job is setting the “neatness standard” to which your teen must abide. Here, you've got to be respectful and realistic. You do need the room dusted and the carpet vacuumed once a week, but you don't need the place looking like a hotel room. The best way to provide guidelines is to list the tasks that must be performed once a week. These will probably include:

Tuning In

“Can't you just throw these out?” How often have you felt like saying that about your son's mineral collection or your daughter's old set of exercise tapes? While the remnants of hobbies that have definitely been outgrown might be candidates for the trash, be supportive of other interests your teen may take on—regardless of how you perceive their value. Like anyone else, many teens become quite passionate about collecting old record albums or current CDs, creating a great sound system, building a comic book collection, or acquiring an amazing wardrobe of footwear. Your teen is beginning to establish an identity, and this is part of the process.

  • Changing the sheets on the bed
  • Putting the laundry in the hamper
  • Putting clothes away
  • Emptying the wastebasket
  • Clearing and vacuuming the floor
  • Dusting the furniture

Set a time when all cleaning chores must be complete. There are a lot of advantages to setting deadlines prior to the weekend. Your teen's school schedule may slow down toward the end of the week, and she's got weekend privileges in view. Without being punitive, you can certainly make it clear that room chores must be complete before the weekend begins.

While positive reinforcement works best with everyone, including teens, you can try other measures if you find that you're not getting through. The best measures are cause-and-effect:

  • If your teen has not had time to do his room chores, then he does not yet have time to go out on Friday night: He can go out as soon as he's taken care of his room.
  • If you have to vacuum her room, then you do not have time to drive her to the mall as she wants you to do.

While it's easy to get emotional about how many times your teen has ignored requests to clean his room, humor, goodhearted reminders, and a possible reduction of privileges will take you a lot farther. A teenager needs to learn that you'll give him his space, but it has to live up to the agreed-upon family standards.

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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.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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