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Frustrating Teenager Behavior: What's a Mother to Do? - THE GENIUS IN CHILDREN

Frustrating Teenager Behavior: What’s a Mother to Do?

by Rick on July 9, 2013

Diane whose teenager, Laura, hadn’t earned her allowance “in forever” because she never finished her chores all the way, decided to try a different tack and ask Laura for some advice. Diane said, “I have an employee who wants to be paid, but he hasn’t been doing his work. He knows what work needs to be done, but he isn’t doing it or isn’t finishing it all the way. What should I do?”

6 Steps to Help Keep Your Dream Alive When Others Are Discouraging You | Project Inspired(What Diane had forgotten was that if you try to “game it” with your teenager, she will always win. Her top priority has been to know you better than you know yourself, and by 13 one of her favorite games is Psyche Out Mom.)

Laura (age 13) advised her mother to provide more encouragement along the way. “For example,” she said, “did you notice that I had done the laundry without being asked?”

“No, I hadn’t,” said Diane.

So Diane put laundry on a list of things to do so that Laura would get credit for doing them. They then agreed that Laura needed to complete that list before she could go play laser tag that evening. What Laura did without being asked was to take the laundry out of the washer and sort it to be hung, but she did not hang it. She did not start the drier “because I wasn’t sure everything in there could be dried.”

So the bite-sized appreciation Laura asked for seemed from her mother’s point of view to be the equivalent of “applause for getting your shoes, applause for putting them on, applause for walking out the door,” and she wondered if she could—or even should—do that.

After a day or two, with some frustration in her voice, Diane said, “It seems you want me to break every task into 3 to 10 steps and say thanks for each of them….maybe I can. But first I am going to talk to another parent about this. I am sure we will start laughing! Remember that employee I told you about? If someone I worked with thanked me that much I would feel so incredibly condescended to….like I was an unproductive teenager. Should I really do that for the employee?”

As you can imagine that conversation ended badly.

Got any advice for Diane?


Other essays on this subject:

Self-determination: Terrible Two’s Turn into Teenagers

Who is Taking Responsibility for the Homework?

How do You Get Your Child to Love Learning?

Playing Position around Homework



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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Chuck Adam July 9, 2013 at 8:17 am

This is a great story, Rick! My impression is that mom’s ego got a little bruised by her daughter’s demand for recognition and/or her need to have all the steps to the task laid out for her. So they’re in a kind of power struggle, and mom can’t win it. I think there’s only one way out of this kind of dilemma, and that’s dialogue — and mom killed it just when it started getting good! Mom also sounds like she might be pretty demanding and withholding on expressions of appreciation, and that could be causing some friction with Laura. So my advice to mom would be to let go of her own ego needs a little bit, and start listening more to her daughter. Supply her with what she needs or wants here (it might do wonders for their relationship), and see what she’s willing to agree to, because an agreement is a commitment to responsible behavior. It sounds like that’s what mom needs and wants, but she’s inviting exactly the opposite. I always say that the parent must change first, and we have here a good example of why.

Shirley July 9, 2013 at 9:05 am

There’s an attention grabber topic for me! My 12 year old helps out in these hazy lazy days of summer…she actually did the whole laundry task, but then left the dried clothes in the laundry basket all day. Folding and putting away wasn’t in the deal I guess. But it will be from here on in. I find that kids are very literal about things all the time….but I also remember being like that myself at that age…..so I’m chalking it up to normal kid behaviour.

Dear daughter gets a list from me and then checks the tasks off as she does them. Flat rate daily pay is all I’m willing to offer, and fees are deducted if a really crappy job is done. But I also make age allowances….she’s 12, so I don’t expect perfection, but I do reward initiative. I get frustrated but I try to take the long view….things always change and this unhelpfulness will change too.

Shirley July 9, 2013 at 9:14 am

One other thought……
I think equating the child’s chores as being the same as an adult’s work duties is not quite a fair analogy. Children’s chores are done for a different reason than the employees…and the employee has choices. Children and teens don’t often have the same flexibility.

If the 14 year old wants 10 bucks to go to the movies, there are only so many chores (all unpleasant) he/she can do to get it. The adult employee has options for making that money. I think we often forget how limited kids’ lives can be.

Rick July 9, 2013 at 9:24 am

Thanks, Shirley. Does seem like a common set of issues and experiences.

Anne July 9, 2013 at 11:13 am

Not sure that I’m ready to tackle this. My daughter is 6. We recently spent time with cousins who had a list of “normal” chores (good hygiene, clothes in hamper, put dishes in dishwasher after eating, keep room clean/picked-up) that were expected, but everything else brought cash.

My husband and I have always had a system that “it’s everyone’s house, everyone should pitch in”. I am not sure that cash for chores works with our philosophy. My 6-year-old and I spoke about this a little because now she wants cash, just like her big cousins.

I suggested to her, at least at her age, she had to get those first basics down before we could even consider a cash transaction.

I would suggest that perhaps there are certain chores that teenagers (children) might not want to do and perhaps that should be the negotiated point. Or simply suggest that your teenager be in charge of doing her own laundry, no one else’s. At least give him/her the responsibility for getting his/her own clothes into a condition that is acceptable. This way the child has a real stake in the outcome and can’t be upset that he/she has to do for “everyone else” and that it’s “not fair”. And, if it doesn’t get done, no one else is without clothing…

Rick July 9, 2013 at 11:25 am
eldridge greening July 24, 2013 at 12:18 pm

All this nonsense about whether to cater to the whims of a “typical” teenager is beyond my comprehension. The young lady has a job to do! So she should do it! If not, then she can forget about receiving her allowance. Having said that, the mother should, of course, treat her daughter with respect, but also firmness. For God’s sake,who’s in charge here, the daughter? Give me a break!

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