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Ask a Professional: Teenagers Not Helping Around The House

Ask a Professional: Teenagers Not Helping Around The House

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Linda-ROPro

Ask a Professional: Teenagers Not Helping Around The House

I feel like I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place trying to get my teenagers aged 18 and 16 to help around the house or keep their rooms tidy. We have three dogs and they agreed to help clean up the backyard after them but don't and don't lift a finger to help around the house and in fact do the reverse only add mess. If I complain they're liable to explode at me or withdraw into their rooms and it just goes nowhere.

Our situation is complicated by me having disability and health issues along with the kids.  My son and I are both on the NDIS and I have a generous funding allocation to get the housework done, but since my cleaner didn't get vaxed last year, I haven't been able to get a regular cleaner and have been left in the lurch. my husband helps out quite a lot at home as well as working really long hours. Our 18 year old son is on the autism spectrum but quite capable of doing something around the house. Our daughter is really busy with trying to develop a professional dance career, has a part time job and some chronic health issues and is often too sick to go to school. I am currently trying to source more cleaning through the NDIS but the kids' mindset is also a problem where they expect us to do everything for them, drive them everywhere and give nothing back.

Indeed, I feel like our daughter treats us like puppets on a string. It is really hard to assert boundaries when you're going to be abused and I think she would be quite surprised to know that she is abusing us. No please. No thank yous. Just demands. I should just add, to be fair to her, she's struggling to eat and her blood sugar is all over the place with her medical condition which I guess creates those "hangry" type symptoms. 

I see a definitely need for our family to have a restart but am just not sure how to go about it. I do have good access to psychological support through the NDIS but I wondered if anyone had some practical advice here please. I've been thinking about the lines of a family dinner round the kitchen table or talking in the car. 

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,

Birdwings

Hi @Birdwings,

It can feel like such a constant struggle when not everyone in the household is contributing to the chores! It sounds like you are feeling really unappreciated and unacknowledged by your kids at the moment.

You seem like a resourceful person who has a lot of things to juggle.

Getting together to talk through the issue and having a ‘reset’ is a great idea. Talking in the car can be something that can be helpful with teens because it can feel less confronting than sitting face to face. However, if you’d like to discuss as an entire family (and it would be great for you and your husband to align beforehand to make sure you are united on the approach), then a meeting round the dinner table may be more practical than all of you in the car. But, you know your family best - if you’ve previously had similar discussions, it’s worth thinking about what worked well in the past.

The advantage of a planned discussion is that you can choose a time when the kids are likely to be relaxed and not feel rushed, and therefore are less likely to get defensive.

It sounds like they have actually agreed to do certain chores, but don’t follow through. This puts you in a tough position of having to chase them up. It can help to frame ‘housework not getting done’ as a joint responsibility for all of you, and ask them to help problem-solve how to resolve this, as a way of encouraging accountability and ownership. This also helps to focus the conversation on how to address things moving forward.

This can also involve talking about how you’d like to communicate with each other if one of you is struggling with assigned tasks (Can things be swapped for a week? Are there some things that can be skipped if someone is having a more difficult week?), as well as what happens if someone does not do what they have agreed to.

Natural consequences can be very effective. For instance, if each person is responsible for washing their own clothes, then if they don’t do their washing they will run out of clean clothes. Another example might be that if you have to spend time doing household tasks that they were meant to do, you won’t have time to drive them to activities. But, it’s important to personalise things to what works best for your family.

Something which jumped out at me in your post, was you saying that your daughter would be surprised to know that she was abusing you. It sounds like this goes deeper than just the household chores.

I do think it’s really important to consider whether there’s a gap in communication here. It’s great that you are able to acknowledge the challenges she is facing right now and how they may be contributing. Maybe your awareness of these challenges have made it more difficult for you to communicate how hurtful her behaviour towards you is.

Lashing out at you isn’t okay, and getting feedback on behaviour, even when this is negative feedback, is really important in the learning process for teens, as it can shape their future responses. If she is generally someone who cares about others and does not want to hurt them, then knowing how deeply her behaviour is hurting you is an important first step in change.

It’s great to hear that you also have access to psychological support via NDIS, and I encourage you to discuss this challenge with the professional you currently see, as they may have more personalised ideas.

Best wishes,
Linda

Linda is a psychologist experienced in working with people across the lifespan, including teenagers and their families, in a variety of settings, and is ReachOut's Clinical Lead.

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