What is it about teenagers’ bedrooms? It’s like there’s some secret lesson at school that they all attend after which dirty pants, wet towels, half-empty crisp packets and every wearable item from their wardrobe are forever more jumbled in a heap on their bedroom floor. In the space of just a few months, I went from carefully picking my way through strewn Lego pieces to tip-toeing through smelly socks and dirty teaspoons.
Without a doubt, arguing about the untidiness of teenagers’ bedrooms is one of the top complaints I hear from parents of teens (second only to arguing about spending too much time on technology).
But just what level of tidiness is it reasonable for parents to expect?
The problem is, I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to this. Ultimately, every parent is going to have to reach their own decision about what is and what is not acceptable when it comes to teenagers’ bedrooms. Our own values and our personal tolerance for mess will play a big part in that decision. But there are some other issues you might also want to consider:
Having their own space
Taking over decisions about their bodies and personal space is a key part of teenagers’ development. The teenage years are essentially a handover of power from parent to child – this can be a peaceful transition or a bloody revolution but ultimately parents will have to cede control. And teenagers’ bedrooms are often the first battleground as they start to annex territory.
You may take the view that they can’t have control over their bedroom until they learn to look after it. But an alternative view would be that they will only learn to look after it if they are given control and the opportunity to make mistakes. Having no clean pants to wear because none of the dirty ones made it into the laundry basket might be the motivation they need to learn through experience?
Developing good habits
On the other hand, many parents feel that the teenage years are the last opportunity to instil our children with healthy habits that will last a lifetime. Cleanliness, orderliness, basic hygiene or just being able to find your Maths homework are all important life skills that will help our teens to get on. If the chaotic bedroom is symptomatic of a chaotic approach to other areas in life then you might want to think about encouraging new habits and developing self-organisation skills in preparation for more adult responsibilities (a behaviour contract might help with this).
Picking your battles
But, as with everything to do with parenting teenagers, you need to ask yourself (honestly) how important is this issue? Prioritising a good relationship rather than standing on principle can be a good idea in the teenage years, especially when teens are facing far greater risks and challenges than the state of their bedrooms. Too much conflict can cause a wedge in which more serious issues get lost and parenting teenagers without conflict means compromise on both sides. If you find yourself pitched into frequent or bitter conflict over their bedroom, stand back and look at their lives as a whole and ask yourself whether this is the most important issue you are facing. Only you can make that judgement.
So, how messy is too messy?
Each of us has a different threshold for mess and dirt and your own tolerance levels will impact hugely on what you consider ok in teenagers’ bedrooms. Personally, I am a bit of a superficial cleaner myself – as long as it is tidy on the outside then that’s fine with me (just don’t inspect my cupboards…).
So, when it comes to my own teenagers’ bedrooms, I just close the door. We have rules about keeping the communal areas of the house tidy but, when it comes to their bedrooms, what I (or my guests) can’t see is fine by me. I do impose a basic level of hygiene that says that dirty plates ought to be cleared out every few days – i.e. before mould can start to grow (though I am willing to admit that’s possibly a lower threshold than many parents could tolerate). And once a week their rooms have to be properly tidied for cleaning.
That’s the compromise that my family is able to live with right now – I wish you the best of luck in finding yours!
©Anita Cleare 2016
Found this useful? Sign up for monthly newsletters for more like this.