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Getting teens to do chores can be a chore for parents

May 2, 2013 at 11:38 AM ET

Most preteens and teenagers have yet to fully grasp what it means to work hard. When you are the mom or dad of one of these, it’s YOUR job to introduce them to this laborious reality by making them do chores.

Make no mistake, giving them chores isn’t going to lighten your load. Certainly not at first. It’s a lot more work to get the work done by them than it would be to do it yourself. They are not doing you a favor; you are doing them a favor. And, rest assured, they will not appreciate it one bit.

Most parents I’ve consulted use a capitalist philosophy in getting their kids into the habit of pitching in. A simple system of rewards - If you want X, you have to do Y.

For example: You’re hungry? EMPTY THE DISHWASHER. If it’s lunch or dinner time and my kid wants to eat, and there’s a dishwasher that just finished its cycle, rather than watch TV or aggravate a sibling while a meal is being prepared, empty it! Things will get broken and misplaced and your cutlery drawer will look like a bomb went off in it, but they helped.

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Want to watch TV? FOLD SOME LAUNDRY. Multitasking is a valuable skill. Kids love to watch TV but there’s no reason why, while their eyes and ears are on the TV, their hands can’t be untangling, folding and piling some of the clothes you provided and cleaned for them. And while at first their basket of folded clothes may bear a striking resemblance to a basket of unfolded clothes, they’ll improve with practice.

On a Saturday if my kid wants to go somewhere, I like to have two chores I need to accomplish first -- one for me to do, one for him to do. Or maybe just one that we can do together. That way, the chores are finished twice as fast and he can get where he wants to go.

Mowing the yard is a fairly easy chore: 'See that long grass? Make it short.'
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Mowing the yard is a fairly easy chore: 'See that long grass? Make it short.'

If you have a yard, MOWING THE LAWN is a great chore for any child responsible enough not lose any toes in the process. And it’s a very clear-cut kind of chore (not a pun). They just push the mower back and forth until all the long grass has become short grass. Also, they learn how to work a machine and they’ll sweat a little bit. Work is hard. That’s why they call it work.

You can give your kids these chores as part of a barter system, or some parents will pay an allowance for performing chores. That’s great preparation for the workplace. You do a job, you get paid. If you stop handing out cash for nothing and establish that they have to work for it, it’s not hard to get them into that habit so they can fund their fledgling social life. If what stands between a middle school boy and the funds to take a cute girl to the movies is the chore of raking the leaves, you can quickly have the neatest yard in town.

Other parents opt to make chores a part of their children’s routine just as a matter of duty, not cash. The idea: You’re part of this family, which does a great deal for you, so you are going to pitch in. Makes perfect sense.

Perhaps every morning they care for the family pets by feeding them or walking them or scooping a litter box. Maybe they help prepare meals or set the table. They are involved in all the household chores throughout the day. And in return they get to continue living there and being provided for. Furthermore it helps them better understand the idea of working hard and contributing to the larger goals of a group.

However one goes about it, a healthy work ethic is one of the most important things we might instill in our children. It’s one of the cornerstones of preparing them to take care of themselves and, not for nothing, you. What tips and tricks have worked for you?

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