Advice on living with teenagers


With a little thought on both sides you can live happily with your teenager. For most of us, living with a teen can often feel like a stranger has moved in. The long summer holidays can be a particularly tense time, when teens want to kick back and relax after end of term exams. They want to sleep in late and party till the small hours with their mates. You may feel you’re drowning in their mess. So, what do you do?

Paula Hall, Relate counsellor, psychotherapist and mum of two teenage daughters, says living together happily through the teen years works best if clear boundaries are set early.

“Decide what your ‘bottom line’ is and stick to it,” says Paula. “In our house the rule for my daughters is: tidy up after yourself and cook one evening a week.”

Paula recommends setting aside a space for your teenager in the house, where they know they can relax and spend time with their friends while you’re at home. That way, neither of you should feel you have to ‘retreat’ to your bedroom, and it should make for a more relaxed atmosphere. “It could be anywhere – maybe the garden in summer, or the dining room if you have one.” 

“You also need to set boundaries on time and numbers of friends. Decide on a limit of how many friends can visit or stay at any one time, and make it clear how long for. Agree between you the time by which they need to be out of the house – maybe by the time you get back from work, whatever suits you – and that they leave the place tidy. If not – then you issue a ban on friends until they’re prepared to keep within the boundaries.” 

Untidy bedrooms

Much as you want to, going in and roaring at them to: “Clean this mess up NOW!” rarely works. You can’t magically train your untidy teenager to be tidy - but you can limit the damage. Try these ideas: 

Remember that your teen is entitled to their privacy, and they should be responsible for their own room.

Try not to dwell on the state of the room. If you’re going to go in, give a fair warning so they can tidy away anything they don’t want you to see. For the rest of the time, close the door.

Set boundaries, for example: “Dirty clothes will be washed if they go into the laundry basket; we all do our own ironing; we all vacuum our own bedrooms.” 

If your teen refuses to keep to the boundaries, then it may be necessary to withhold a benefit they currently enjoy – maybe pocket money, or being able to have friends round. Says Paula: “Children should understand from quite young that running a home is something we all do together, and that a contribution from everyone is essential.”

Try negotiating: for example: you won’t go in searching for the missing mugs and dinner plates if they bring them downstairs to be washed up without being asked.

Money for chores

Paula says: “Encourage your kids to tidy away after themselves from at least a year or two before they reach their teens. That way, they’re less likely to always expect payment for doing anything around the house.”

Ask what they feel would be reasonable to do around the house, then say what you’d like them to do. From there, it should be possible to find a mid-way point you both agree on.

Be wary of always paying for chores – otherwise you run the risk of having kids who won’t do anything without money at the end of it. There may be other chores over and above for a bit of extra money, but it’s best to establish a rota for regular jobs.

Throw in the occasional extra request as well, to reinforce the idea that you all contribute to running the home and that you’ll do things for each other without expecting payment: for example: “Would you mind just popping some washing in the machine for me while I’m out?”

Clearing clutter

Even if you have a dishwasher, chances are your sink or counter top is full of dirty crockery after your teens have had anything to eat. The rule to establish: put things back where they belong after use – especially food items that should be stored in the fridge.

Have a laundry house rule – for example, all clothes going into the laundry basket get washed but not otherwise – and stick to it. Sue’s daughter had a habit of leaving her clothes in a pile outside her bedroom door. In the end, says Sue: “I just left them there. The pile grew and then there was an emergency for clean underwear. She doesn’t do that any more.”

Remind your teen to store school items in their room, where they are easily seen and available when they dash out to school in the morning.

Teens are great ones for blaming each other when you try to get to the bottom of who’s left the mess. Get around that by making it clear to guests of your teen – as well as your child – that you hold them all responsible for putting the place tidy afterwards.

More living together tips:

*Designate each teen some space in the bathroom for their own toiletries and insist they put things away after use.

Let teens change their own beds and be responsible for cleaning their room. If they share a room they’ll have to learn how to negotiate – an excellent skill to have.

Put a reminder on the fridge that they need to check you don’t have any plans for the food inside before scoffing it. Or label anything that should not be eaten as you need it for the next meal.

Everyone should agree to keep family rooms free from clutter – this works both ways. Teens won’t want to be embarrassed by your mess when they bring their friends home.

Laundry: don’t just do it all. Show your teen how to use the washing machine, check labels and iron if necessary. It’s a skill they’ll need when they leave home.

Take control of late hours. If your child persistently comes home late, Paula Hall recommends: “Tell your child that when they next have someone to stay, however late it is, you will take their friend home. But you must be prepared to carry this out, even if it’s 3am. 

"Doing this stopped my daughter coming home at all hours without arranging it with me first, because her friend’s parents were livid when she was brought home so late. Sometimes you have to be prepared to put yourself out to prove that you won’t accept them pushing the rules.”


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