Skip to main content

"Austin, would you please take your dirty dishes out of the TV room and into the kitchen."

"Can't I sit for just one minute without you bugging me about something?"

"I've been asking you for two days. I need you to do it."

"I will. Okay?"


"I'm not going to do it this exact second. I said I would do it. I'm going to do it."

If you have a teenager, there is no greater daily frustration than trying to get them to do anything.

"Look at him. If he's not playing his video games, he just lies there. I guess he's watching TV. I can't tell. His eyes are open. He seems to be breathing. I've created a blob."

Parents fret about how to motivate them to pitch in around the house. But even more worrisome is the bigger question: Have I created a child and soon-to-be adult who seems unwilling and unable to move?

Apparently, this is what your parenting has produced so far. Is there anything you can do to reverse this seemingly set pattern?

Fortunately, there is a cure down the line. In a few years, they will either be out on their own or, if they are still living at home, they will have full adult status - which gives you more leverage. You are no longer obligated to supply them with anything - including a roof over their head.

The reality is that as young adulthood dawns, your children will take on more responsibility. They do mature.

But with sluggish teens, if a pattern of regularly doing what is asked has not been established during earlier childhood, it's not likely you can do so during adolescence.

At this point, their behaviour patterns at home are established. Besides, their normal adolescent push toward independence - from you - greatly reduces your influence. Hence, expending effort trying to change their habits is not the wisest route. It's aggravating, unsuccessful, and a waste of your time.

My suggestion: Don't worry about the big picture. You've had your chance. Focus on the here and now.

"Austin, would you please take your dirty dishes out of the TV room and into the kitchen?"

"Please! I'm in the middle of doing something really important [although it's unclear what exactly that is] I'll do it when I get a chance."

"I want you to do it now."

"I said I would do it."

"No, I want you to do it now."

And then you stand there and wait. You are demanding action and you are not going away. They hate this.

"You're a crazy person. I said I would do it. Leave me alone. Stop standing there."

"I want you to do it now."

What you do not want to do is to respond to what they say - as in:

"Don't talk to me that way."

Or lecture:

"You live in this house. It is high time that you took some responsibility for …"

These will only promote arguing, not action.

But, if you simply stand there, what happens the vast majority of times is that they will comply - albeit ungracefully .

"You're an impossible parent. Really. Impossible. Why did I have to get you for a parent?"

But he does it.

If, when you want something done, you regularly follow this procedure, they will learn - again, which they will hate - "When she wants me to do something, I can't get rid of her unless I do it. She is so unreasonable."

Of course, this doesn't always work. But it works better than anything else, and eliminates the constant frustration of trying to motivate a child who takes no responsibility for anything. You don't try to change what's in their head. You only deal with what is in front of you at this moment.

"Everything has to be right now. When you want to do it. That is so unfair."

"Yes. It probably is."

Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books.

Interact with The Globe