If it’s a teenager’s room, it’s messy, right?

From the American Counseling Association

        Not every teenager’s room looks like a cyclone just hit, but many do. And while some teens certainly have inherited that neat gene, for many parents their teen’s messy room is often the reason for lectures and arguments. 
        In reality, most teens don’t see their rooms as messy. What they see is a place where they can be private and independent.  Becoming more independent is a normal part of the developmental process, and a room that looks chaotic, and that probably frustrates mom and dad, is one easy and safe way of declaring this independence.
        Endless arguments about that messy room seldom change the situation, but a few sensible family rules might make life easier.
        One rule is that while you may be able to live with some degree of messy, what you can’t abide is health-threatening. Dirty dishes and old food wrappers attract bugs and that’s not acceptable.
        Another good rule is that hiding the mess behind a closed door is not the answer. You can agree to knock before entering, but as a parent you need to be allowed in.  A teen hiding a messy room behind a closed door is not developing the basic responsibility needed for adult life.
        There also has to be a rule that the mess doesn’t flow over into family areas. Teenagers, usually without realizing what they’re doing, like to signal their independence and mark their territory by dropping sneakers and jackets everywhere.
        A good starting point toward a neater teenager’s room is to offer to help, but not to do the job for him or her. Often the mess is so out of control the teen doesn’t know where to start. Parental suggestions on how to break the job into smaller parts can help, as do tips on storage and sorting.
        You can also allow for independence by allowing your teen to have control over how he or she wants to decorate their space. Those wall posters may not be to your taste but probably mean a lot to your teen.
        There are lots of areas where parental standards are worth pushing. A messy room, as long as it’s not an unhealthy place, is seldom one. Losing something special in the mess, inviting a new friend over, or just a lack of clean clothes may help motivate change. Don’t push too hard though, just help, encourage and praise change when it happens.
        “Counseling Corner” is provided by the American Counseling Association. Comments and questions to ACAcorner@counseling.org or visit the ACA website at www.counseling.org.


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