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How to coax teens into doing their own laundry

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By Heidi Stevens
Chicago Tribune
Published:
Problem: You want to teach your teen to do his own laundry. He'd rather wear dirty clothes. How to proceed?
Solution: You have to sell this laundry thing as a skill, not a chore.
"This is not a pull-your-weight conversation," said clinical psychologist Jennifer Powell-Lunder, co-author of "Teenage as a Second Language: A Parent's Guide to Becoming Bilingual."
"This conversation is how you think it's terrific that he's growing up and ready to take on more responsibilities. You're empowering him."
So you teach him the laundry basics and stick to your guns about his taking over. You're not doing his laundry anymore because it's an important skill he needs to navigate a successful life going forward. Besides, isn't he getting a little old for his parents to be rifling through his pockets? Questioning every receipt, note and smudge they come across?
"Be prepared for him to get embarrassed," Powell-Lunder said. "But it's true."
It doesn't mean he won't put up a fight.
"If he says, 'I don't care. I'm just going to wear dirty laundry,' then your argument back is, 'Then you're sending me and the world a message that things are not the way they should be.'
"Laundry is what we call an ADL, an activity of daily living," she said. "It's related to how you present yourself to the world. Does he really want to be the kid everybody calls stinky? Does he really want to be the kid who walks into school with toothpaste stains on his shirt?"
This is where teenhood works to your advantage. "One of the hallmarks of adolescence is the egocentrism," Powell-Lunder said. "That belief that the whole world is watching them. And that imaginary audience is far more powerful than anything you can say or do."
In other words, let him wear the dirty clothes. It's a behavior that probably won't last long, unlike the behavior that arises from expecting others to do your dirty work, which tends to linger.
Story tags » Parenting

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