Your Teen’s Room: To Clean or Not to Clean? Teen bedrooms. In a word: Yeesh.

A recent New York Times article explored the forsaken habitat of the human adolescent, and described, in anecdotal detail, the frustrations of both the parents and the teenager in the endless battle of who should clean what. It’s kind of like getting nail polish out of carpet, what seems impossible at first is actually pretty doable once you have the right perspective and tools.

When it comes to bedroom cleaning tips for dealing with your teen, we can offer this singular advice: Pick your battles. Here’s how.

Mess vs Hygiene
There’s a difference between letting laundry pile up on the floor (and the dresser and the bed) and letting food fester. If you can be okay with mess and draw the line at hygiene, then you both can learn crucial skills in the process. You’ll learn that you can’t always control the environment your teen feels comfortable with; your teen will learn that food can attract ants (and goodness-knows-what), that favorite clothes last longer when cared for, and that people who smell clean have more friends.

Public vs Private
Some parents of teens have found it helpful to give their teenagers full reign over their bedroom domain, as long as the untidiness doesn’t seep into the public space. In those homes, teens’ rooms are relatively “off limits,” but good cleaning habits in public spaces, like the bathroom, kitchen, and family room, are expected and enforced. This approach works great for kids who are super-involved in school and extracurriculars; if they are otherwise doing great in life, cut them some slack. Chances are they don’t even see the mess, and they find comfort that the busyness of their outside life grinds to a halt when their shoes are in the same pile they left them in.

Offer vs Demand
This one is pretty straightforward. If you’re the one begging for your teen’s bedroom to be cleaned, offer to help—on their terms. Pick the boundaries you want to set, and let the rest go. For example, if your teenager is not yet doing their own laundry, tell them the day they must get their clothes in the hamper so that you can do them. If their favorite shirt didn’t make it down, it’s up to them to wash it.

This is the time in their (and your) lives where they are learning to be autonomous yet still being largely dependent on their parents for care. Your job is to gently guide them to make the best decisions for themselves, while giving them the space to fail and/or grow. If it starts to make you crazy, take heart. They eventually leave the nest, and you can detox their room then.

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