Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Messy Room-Summer Version

I think that the #1 complaint I hear from parents of teens is "My kid is such a slob!" Opening the door to your teen's room is like going down a black hole. Dirty laundry mixed with the clean, new (expensive) clothes stomped on, turned inside out, and looking unappreciated for the sacrifice you made in purchasing them. You thought it was too expensive, too short, too sexy, too much! You wonder how hard it could be to hang up their clothes, put their laundry away, bring the dirty glasses and plates into the kitchen, and generally live like the civilized human being you thought you have been raising.

 No matter what you suggest, no matter what you threaten (taking away the computer, the phone, their life) it all falls on deaf ears. You make deals, you cajole, you yell, and nothing seems to work. Every time you walk by that closed door, knowing what's inside, you get that pit in your stomach, and the veins in your neck stick out just a little more, and you feel helpless, and wonder how did it all come down to this. What happened to those days of yore, when all you had to do with your kid was ask, or threaten with no TV and the deed was done. Here is the disconnect: First, your kids could care less about their room. Their new developing brain is consumed with thoughts way more interesting, nerve-racking, anxiety producing, and exhilarating than the clothes on their floor. The idea may pop into their head, "Oh I'm supposed to clean my room", but it is fleeting, and a text, a face book post, or a great musical lyric that is pulsing through their IPOD distracts them.

First, take an honest look at their room. I visited a family recently where the room issue had become all consuming. When the dad opened the door to his son's room for an objective assessment, I was expecting the worst, but what I saw was a room that kinda looked like mine at home. Yes there were some clothes on various chairs and tables, and some shoes flung around, and the comforter was askew on the bed, but honestly, it wasn't that bad, and made me feel a little guilty about my own lack of neatness. (I ran home and cleaned my room) 

So first it is all about expectations. Are you a neat freak and want everyone to have the same standards you have for yourself? You may be setting yourself up for a fall. If though, the room really is over the top, crazy making chaos, then here are a few suggestions:  You can start a conversation with: "I get it, I know you are fine with the way your room is,  (try not to judge and be critical here) you and I have different standards, but it does make me crazy, can we figure something out so that we can both be ok? Maybe Sunday nights we do it together so at least the week can start out fresh." If your teen rejects that approach,try this. " I get that keeping your room more organized is not that important to you, but it does make me crazy, so I just want to let you know that I will be coming in once a week to make sure that the ants, bedbugs, other crawling disgusting insects will be set free by ridding your room of trash, dirty laundry and food stuffs. 

Parents here is the thing about room cleaning, if it really bothers you, do it yourself!! This also makes you look good in your kids eyes since you won't be yelling at them anymore about it. You can now focus on other things to yell about, but the bigger payoff is that it gives you access to your kid's room. Just think that if the parents of the Columbine killers had spent a little more time in their kid's room they might have had a sense that something really bad was happening. Your kid's room holds a lot of clues to their mental health. Its not really just about being messy, but do you get a sense of depression, anxiety, chaos? That is way more important stuff than  the underwear on the floor. I worked with a parent once who made the leap to clean her son's room, and lying on the floor, out in full view was a poem he had written about his family. She sat down and cried. In this poem was a declaration and recognition of the love he had for his parents. In fact the poem was titled "I am from love I am from life" This mom and son had been at it for weeks over his room, his attitude, his everything, and here she found this nugget of gold, that gave her new perspective on their relationship. Find a way to make the messy room work for you. Try to get them to take responsibility. If you are your teen's banker and chauffeur, you can always use these as bargaining tools. "I would love to give you a ride, as soon as you bring down your laundry or bring down the dishes caked with food" or "I would love to give you twenty bucks for going out with your friends as soon as you do X Y Z.  But if you see that their busy schedule, up at 6 am, work till 3, nap, shower, dinner, and out with friends bed truly doesn't allow much free time, especially to clean their room, than the gift of "I get it, you have a crazy schedule, you have a lot on your plate, I'll take care of this piece for you,"at least makes this power struggle go away. You are not giving in or giving up, but giving to!