Increasing Responsibility through Smart Motivation

Dear Mr. Dad: Our teenage son doesn’t want to do any chores around the house. He never actually refuses to do anything, but he always seems to “forget” what we asked him to do unless we stand over him and make sure it gets done. Is he actively rebelling or is there something wrong with him—or us?

A: Most teens don’t have any trouble remembering things they want to do—texting, playing Xbox, getting on Facebook, or calling their friends. But as you’ve noticed, when it comes to doing things they don’t want to do (chores, for example) their attention spans are suspiciously short.

Chances are he’s not rebelling: Not playing by society’s (or your) seemingly irrational rules is a natural part of adolescence. And chances are there’s nothing wrong with him or you. The problem, or at least part of it, may have more to do with the way you’re asking.

For example, kids who are nagged are generally less likely to do chores than kids who are correctly motivated (we’ll talk about what that means below). If you stand over your teen to make sure he does his chores correctly, you’re setting up a situation where he’ll never do his chores any other way. After all, in his mind, if you have nothing better to do than to lecture and criticize, why couldn’t you just do it yourself?

The real issue here is motivation. And the challenge is to transform your son’s chores from something he has to do (but doesn’t want to) into something he wants to do (or at least will do without being nagged). There are a number of ways to do this:

  • Pay him. This one’s a bit controversial. A lot of parents believe that kids shouldn’t be paid for doing basic chores. You don’t get paid for making dinner or shopping or doing laundry, right? But there’s no question that money can be a motivating force. If it fits within your family values, consider paying him for the work he does around the house.
  • Don’t expect perfect. If the first thing out of your mouth after your son finishes doing the dishes or cutting the grass is a criticism about how he should have done it or that he didn’t do it fast enough, you’re contributing to the problem. Expecting perfection is the fastest way to de-motivate your teen. If you can’t restrain yourself from saying something about the job, at least make it constructive and positive, not negative.
  • Don’t expect smiles. Give him a list of chores he’s supposed to do and a time frame to get them done and leave him alone. The dishes will be just as clean and the grass just as short whether he smiled while he did them or not.
  • Say “Thanks.” The easiest way to motivate your teen is a simple, heartfelt thank you. This tells him not only that you acknowledge that he’s helping, but also that you appreciate his effort, even if the job wasn’t done exactly perfectly.
  • Pull your own weight. Your goal is to get your son do his chores, but teens in families where everyone helps out are far more likely to pitch in (sometimes even smiling). If you come home from work and flop on the couch, but you expect your son do his work, good luck. That’ll definitely feed his view that you treat him like a slave. Of course he’s conveniently overlooking that you’ve out earning money all day, but that’s exactly what it feels like from his perspective.

Kids Won’t Do Chores

Q: My kids never help around the house unless I berate them into doing so. I know this is my fault as much as theirs, and it’s not a particularly effective parenting technique, but I want to turn it around. How can I get my kids to carry their weight without me having to hound them into doing their chores?

A: Parents have been complaining that their kids don’t pull their weight around the house for as long as there have been kids. I heard it from my parents who heard it from theirs, and so on all the way back to some Cro-Magnon relative of mine who complained that his children spent all their time drawing on the cave walls and refused to clean up their mastodon bones. And, as in previous generations, today’s parents find themselves saying things like, “Kids these days..” or “When I was a kid.”

Recent research, however, seems to indicate that kids these days actually are qualitatively different than their parents and do fewer chores than we did. But why? Is it that we’re pampering our children because we felt overworked ourselves and don’t want to subject them to the same horrors we experienced? Have children somehow developed an exaggerated sense of self worth and entitlement? Or is it that by the time the kids get home from swimming and soccer and karate and piano lessons, eat, and do their homework, there’s no time or energy left for chores?

Doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that we as parents require our kids to hold up their end of the household responsibilities. It’s good for the household and it’s essential for their own developing sense of responsibility and self-confidence.

Here are a few tips to get the process started.

  1. Start as soon as possible. As with any family habit, starting them young is the easiest way to establish and maintain the practice of helping around the house.
  2. Make your expectations reasonable-then insist that they be met. A short list of daily chores and a separate list of once-a-week jobs is reasonable. Make sure the tasks are age-appropriate and otherwise manageable, then make sure they get done before any privileges are enjoyed. Early and careful monitoring is crucial.
  3. Praise a job well done. Let them know when the expectations have been met-and when they haven’t.
  4. Make your own “chores” visible. Sure, the kids see us doing laundry, washing dishes, mowing the lawn, etc. But do they understand that those are your chores? It’s easy for our everyday household work to become invisible to our kids. So write your chores down and put them on the fridge right next to theirs. A cursory comparison will quickly silence most complaints and make it clear that everyone really is contributing.
  5. Put systems in place. Designate a specific chore time-the half hour before dinner. Post lists and regularly verify that results are up to snuff..
  6. Don’t tie allowances to chores. Everyone in the family has to pull his or her weight. Paying children for doing basic chores can make them feel entitled to compensation for anything they’re asked to do.
  7. Create rewards and consequences. That said, there are many perfectly appropriate reward systems-a pizza on Saturday night if the week’s chores were done well, a family movie night, or something similar. It’s even more important to have consequences if expectations are not met in a given week or chores will quickly fall into the category of “things I do if Mom and Dad nag me enough.” Creating natural consequences, such as a loss of privileges, prepares the child for the natural consequences and responsibilities of adult life.

So start as soon as possible, be consistent, and make it a priority. By learning to give back to the family, your kids will learn countless skills for the long run.

Parental responsibility? Apparently there isn’t an app for that either.

I guess it had to happen sooner or later. A group of parents who can’t seem to take responsibility for their own behavior is suing Apple, alleging that iPhone and iPad apps are too addictive. According to court documents, Apples games are: “Highly addictive, designed deliberately to be so, and tend to compel children playing them to purchase large quantities of game currency, amounting to as much as $100 per purchase or more.”

Excuse me? Highly addictive? Compel children to purchase? Who owns the iPhone or iPad? Actually, a better question is who’s paying the bill? I hate to sound harsh, but if you authorize your child to make charges to your iTunes account–which is the way the vast majority of apps and their associated charges get billed–you’re on your own. What ever happened to just saying, “No”?

[Read more...]

Can’t you tie you own shoes? Oh, never mind, honey. I’ll do it for you.

We know our kids need to grow up and get more independent. If they didn’t, they’d never be able to move out of the house, get jobs, and take care of us in our old age. So why are we actively encouraging our kids to be more dependent on us?

[Read more...]

Hey, I Don’t Like Doing Chores Either

Dear Mr. Dad: Our 12-year-old refuses to do any chores. Anytime we ask him to help around the house, he always finds an excuse not to. Sometimes he even says he doesn’t feel like cleaning up after himself. My husband says we should ground him. What’s your take on this?

A: I’ll confess right here that the phrase “I don’t feel like it” coming from a child absolutely infuriates me. My initial reaction has always been something like, “Okay, no problem. But I don’t feel like doing your laundry or driving you to your friend’s birthday party this weekend or preparing your meals or buying you that new game you want. ”

The harsh reality for your son (and every other child out there) is that very few people are passionate about housework: we do it because we like living in a clean, comfortable environment. Like it or not, your son is part of a family and family members all chip in to do what needs to be done to keep the household moving smoothly. The adults have their responsibilities and the kids have theirs (what, exactly, that means will depend on age and ability).

In addition to making good sense, chores, say the experts, are excellent for children because they help them develop some valuable skills and habits, including responsibility, helpfulness, appreciation for hard work, and the satisfaction that comes from making a positive impact on the lives of others.

At the very least, your 12-year-old should be expected to make his bed, keep his room tidy, and clean up after himself. If you have pets, he should take part in caring for them. And there’s no reason he can’t help you bring groceries in from the car, set the table for meals, and load/unload the dishwasher.

I’m sure your son isn’t refusing to help out just because he’s lazy or mean. Is it possible that he doesn’t actually know what his duties are? Are his chores fair and age-appropriate? Have you given him so many responsibilities that he no longer has time for a social life?

The first thing to do is have a talk with your son. Explain to him that everyone in your family pitches in and plays a role in creating a home that runs smoothly. That’s non-negotiable.

Next, have him help you put together a list of all the chores that need to be done on a daily/weekly/monthly basis and roughly how long each one should take. Then let him swap some of the chores he hates for ones that take the same amount of time but that he’ll hate a little less. He won’t admit it anytime soon, but he’ll really appreciate the confidence you’re showing in him by giving him some say in all this. Plus, having made the choices himself, it’ll be harder to gripe about them later on.

One more thing: avoid the urge to micro-manage his tasks or criticize his technique. For example, his dusting may not pass the white-glove inspection, but as long as he puts a genuine effort into it, don’t point out everything he missed. At least not in the moment. On the contrary, if he lives up to his responsibilities, praise him and thank him for his help. We all—adults and kids alike—want to feel needed and appreciated.

Finally, if he still refuses to do his fair share, go on strike. When he runs out of clean underwear or has to figure out how to take public transportation to meet up with his friends, he’ll have a sudden—and profound—change of heart.

If You Can Not Beat Them, Text Them

Dear Mr. Dad: We recently got our teenage daughter her own cell phone. We held off for a long time, thinking we’d wait until she was mature enough to handle the responsibility. Looks like we were a little premature. She’s gone over the limit (mostly text messages) for the past two months, and nothing we say seems to sink in. Is there some way to cure her of this?

A: Welcome to the club. My 17-year old actually had several months with over 7,000 texts (incoming and outgoing). If you’re doing the math, that’s nearly 250 every single day. And compared to some other teens I’ve heard about, my daughter was a rank amateur. Part of the problem is developmental. Teens’ brains—particularly the parts that help deal with consequences—aren’t fully formed (and won’t be until their early 20s). But that doesn’t let them off the hook. Bottom line is that you can teach them better habits.
[Read more...]