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The Problem

Teenagers seem to get extraordinarily tired whenever they are asked to do anything to help around the house.

"Stephanie, don't forget. You promised to clean out your closet this afternoon."

"Mom, I just can't. I'm really, really tired."

"No, Stephanie you promised that you would do it today."

"But Mom, you don't understand, I'm really, really tired."

Stephanie's mother reflects:

"It's like this all the time. I ask her to do something and suddenly she's overcome with paralyzing tiredness."

Stephanie thinks:

"My mother doesn't understand. She doesn't appreciate that I have a very hard life. I'm under a lot of stress. I'm sorry, but I am really tired. I can't help it."

Our kids are under a lot of stress. It is difficult being a teenager in today's world. It can be very tiring. We don't want to push them where we are asking too much, are possibly doing them harm or are not taking them seriously.

Yet the fact is that when they are home – and especially coming from you – any request that even slightly resembles work automatically seems to tap into a vein of bottomless exhaustion.

What not to do

The big mistake is to challenge them. You will always lose.

"Stephanie, how come if it's something that you want to do, you always seem to have plenty of energy for that?"

"Mom, how come you always pick the times when you can see that I'm so exhausted that I'm barely holding things together? Maybe I should go see that counsellor again. She understood how impossible you are as a mother."

They always will have plenty of energy to argue.

What to do

How can you know in any given instance whether you are asking too much? You can't. If you are really concerned about their chronic tiredness consult a doctor. But for day to day you have to rely on your own judgment and your knowledge of your child. And let's say you decide that you're willing to take the chance, that you are not risking serious harm.

Be understanding.

"I'm sorry you feel so tired." And say it genuinely, not sarcastically. But do not back off. "But I need you to clear out your closet."

"Omigod, you don't understand. I am so tired."

But at this point sympathy has ended.

"Please clean out your closet."

"If I get sick it will be totally your fault."

But here you want to say no more.

Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books including I'd Listen to My Parents If They'd Just Shut Up. E-mail him your thorny questions at