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Carolyn Hax: Teens have chores but seem ‘oblivious’ to them

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I know it’s normal, but any tips for dealing with the total self-involvement of teenagers and their lack of awareness of the needs of the household? They have chores, but they seem oblivious.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: I’m apparently writing questions to myself in my sleep.

Here’s what I have so far:

1. Remind yourself of yourself (or someone you knew well) at that age before you say, do or correct anything.

2. Every chance you get, squint a little, so you can see whom they will become once they’re out of this egomaniacal cocoon. The one they need to be in, by the way, to figure out who they are and how to be adults guided by their own values vs. your voice in their heads 24/7. Which you really don’t want, no matter how badly you think you do in your moments of peak exasperation.

3. If you get tired of that, then squint to see the little people they used to be. Or stop squinting and look at some old pictures, because you probably have several hundred still on your phone, because you plan to edit them down when you retire or thereabouts. Or squint at the pictures because you can’t find any of your 17 pairs of drugstore readers.

3a. Get all verklempt.

4. Retain your sense of humor. If you lose it, then find it. Even better, ask them whether they know where it is, then laugh at your own joke, and watch them look at you like you’re insane.

5. Re-asking them to do a chore is better than their never doing any chores.

6. If they still won’t do it, then ask them (kindly) to name the person who is eager to do it for them.

7. Gaze upon a twilit sky, the endless shore, the receding vista, the inside of palm to forehead. All is temporary.

Readers’ thoughts:

· Short-term answer is, “It depends on the chores.” If it’s their room or laundry, just shut the door and don’t look, and let the dirty clothes pile up. Honestly, grit your teeth and just do it. Family chores are harder. If it’s more than one kid and electronic devices are the issue, wait until a convenient time for you and turn off the WiFi and say it will come back on when everyone is done. Other than that, I got nothing.

· They’re also dealing with their own concerns, which were just as exacerbated by the pandemic as any adult’s. So try communicating with them as directly as you would any adult. They may surprise you. Sometimes. They also may not.

· You make them a full part of the family life when they are small. Farm kids, and a lot of kids of single parents, grow up knowing they have to take on certain responsibilities; they need to set the table, because the farmer needs to feed the animals, and a few years later, they have to feed the animals. Or the oldest in a single-parent family has to entertain a sibling, so the parent can get the dinner.

· “If you don’t do your chores, the next time I see your friends I’m going to talk to them about current events.” Nothing is greater motivating for teenagers than embarrassment, and nothing is more embarrassing than a parent.

· The best day of my life was when my children emptied the dishwasher because it needed to be done.