Four Ways to Get Teens to Do Chores

November 6, 2008 Updated: November 6, 2008

Dear Vanessa,

I am so tired of having to nag my teens to get their chores done! Do you have any tips for getting teens to help around the house? —Roxanne Paryana, mother of 2, New Jersey

I know nagging teens can be incredibly frustrating; here are a few tips to try in your home:

Actions Speak Louder than Words

If you are constantly telling your kids to wash their soda glasses, but you never do, they never will either. This seems simple, but you would be surprised how often kids gripe to me about how they are constantly told to chew with their mouth closed and keep their elbows off the table, but when they look over at dad, he is practically spewing mac and cheese into mom’s water glass. Obviously there are some house rules you shouldn’t have to follow like: no television on school nights.  For those “kids only” rules, read on.

Explain the Rule

“Do not leave the video game wires all over the living room!” “But, mom why?!” “Because I said so!” I think the ‘because I said so’ is one of the most frustrating statements for teens (‘because I am the mother/father’, ‘because I am older/an adult’ also count). Yes, sometimes kids will ask ‘why’ just to be irritating, but a lot of the time there is genuine confusion behind the question. If you want your child to not leave his sneakers on the floor, not curse in front of the neighbors or clean up the dog poop, they will have way more incentive if you explain: someone could trip over their shoes and hurt themselves, cursing is not polite because it can offend people and if we do not clean up the dog poop we will not be able to play on the lawn.

Write it Down

Signing “contracts” and writing the house rules down somewhere out of the way, but in plain sight (cabinet door, over the washing machine etc…) can help the rules feel more official. When I have asked kids why they do not do one of their particular chores, the answer has often been: “Well, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal” or “I forgot.” Write it down and it will make the rule feel more formal and permanent.

Reward, Don’t Punish

I am a huge fan of positive reinforcement. When I was younger I had a serious problem with the microwave. I would heat up soup and leave the splatters all over the microwave. I don’t know how many times my mom told me to wipe up the microwave—I never did.  I finally started to clean the microwave when my mom started to thank people in the house who did wipe up the microwave…I wanted to be thanked too! Most of all, do not get too frustrated with your teens and never take their lack of enthusiasm for household chores personally—they usually ‘just forget.’

Vanessa Van Petten is the author of the book You’re Grounded! Her parenting tips as a family peacemaker have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Fox 5 New York, and CBS. Please check out her site: and email your questions for future columns to