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The Chore Challenge for Parents of Teens

Parenting may be one of life’s most rewarding yet challenging experiences, and can bounce back and forth between the two extremes, minute to minute. As a parent, and a family therapist for teens and their families, experience has shaped my perspective, including having been a difficult teen myself. My mother used to call me a blister on her heel. In other words, she kept moving forward, but it wasn’t easy.

A common complaint from care-givers who bring teens into therapy, is the lack of cooperation when assigning chores. “I tell my son to take out the garbage and he ignores me. I tell him again and again, now I’m yelling, and he still won’t put down his cellphone, so I grab it and then he explodes and curses at me.” The chore request was simple enough, but now it’s escalated into a battle, and with the cell phone in the middle, all bets for reasonable behavior are off.

There was a time when as parents of young children, we did everything for them without expecting anything in return. In fact, having our kids stay occupied while we completed tasks was a gift. Somewhere along the way, the delegation of household duties shifts, and it’s rarely smooth. A simple task such as taking a dish to the sink may carry a load of emotional triggering in the parent if not done instantly.

How to get teens to cooperate…

So, let’s unpack this load. For the teen most likely engaged in some electronic activity when told to get up and go do, there is an understandable dislike of the chore interrupting a more enjoyable activity and an unconscious struggle between being the self-centered, playful child and the cooperative, working, young adult. Welcome to the teen years, a rocky path between childhood and adulthood. It’s frustrating when our kids don’t follow our directions, but it doesn’t need to provoke feelings such as, being disrespected, unappreciated, unloved. While raging might force immediate action, it sets a model for using anger to get what we want, and that might have a more negative effect on family life than a delay in garbage removal.

Parents, try to keep the request businesslike. If your daughter does not jump up immediately when told to pick up her clothes, she is not trying to degrade you as a person. Sometimes, offering your teen a choice like, “Your clothes need to get in the hamper. You may do it now or before you go to bed.” will give her a sense of control as a responsible young adult and less need to push back as a whiney child.

If a task must be done NOW, acknowledge that it’s not fun, it’s interrupting something, but stay off the battlefield. Either way, when the chore is completed, notice it and show appreciation. Positive reinforcement leads to repeating behavior. Does parenting your teen feel like a blister on your heel? Maybe, but it’s just a phase we can move through, step by step.

Family Therapy and Therapy for Teens, NYC

Sometimes the battles at home reach an overwhelming level where family therapy, or therapy for your teen, may be a necessary component to restoring healthy relationships, and moving forward together. My therapy practice in the city offers a space where parents and teens can work on resolving their differences and create more respectful dynamics. Please contact me for more details.

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Joan Warren, LMFT

Joan Warren Therapy

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