The National Parenting Center

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Sloppy Teens

Q — After eight years of living with his mother, my 16-year-
old son has decided to move in with me. Sharing my apartment with him and his belongings is a shock! I feel guilty about
resenting him for intruding. He’s my son and I love him.
But our fairly close relationship is being jeopardized by
what I view as his totally irresponsible behavior concerning the
apartment. He leaves clutter in every room, his room is a
disaster, and he leaves the TV or stereo on all night. He never
remembers to clean up the kitchen or bathroom no matter how many times I tell him. When is he going to start listening and stop these sloppy habits?
A — Each child is different. No one knows how many times it
will take for children to internalize what parents try to teach
them. However, remember that while your son’s behavior is
temporary, your relationship with him is permanent.
It is normal for you to try to maintain order in your
apartment. The situation is overwhelming because you have
forgotten what it is like to share living areas. Your personal
space has become important to you and you need to explain that
to your son.
Your feelings of guilt and anger may be getting in the way
of dealing with him objectively. Your son will better
understand your need for neatness if you stop using the words
“you ought to” and “why can’t you?” Instead, use phrases such
as, “It is very important to me that you do such and so because
. . . ”
Also, be open and honest about your feelings of guilt and
anger. Your son may take more responsibility when you share this
important information with him, and it may help him to share
his own feelings with you. You may be surprised to find that he
is also unsure and uneasy about the living situation.
These tactics will strengthen your relationship and make
living together easier, but your son will probably continue his
sloppy habits for the next few years. Try confining his mess to
his room. Close the door and let him live in it if that’s his
choice. This will also reduce the power struggle.
I have a friend who was once in your position. His son
seemed to thrive on disorganization; the father is the opposite.
These two were committed to an “I’m OK, you’re OK”
relationship. Recently, the son wrote his dad from college:
“Remember that question you always used to ask me . . . ‘How
many times does it take before you listen?’ . . . I know the
answer now, Dad. It takes as many times as you did it.”


Evelyn Petersen’s nationally syndicated parenting column is carried in over 200 newspapers twice each week. As a family/parenting consultant, early childhood educator, Head Start consultant, and host of a series of parent training audio and video tapes, Ms. Petersen employs an approach of providing hands-on, nuts and bolts advice to parents across the country.Evelyn Petersen’s nationally syndicated parenting column is carried in over 200 newspapers twice each week. As a family/parenting consultant, early childhood educator, Head Start consultant, and host of a series of parent training audio and video tapes, Ms. Petersen employs an approach of providing hands-on, nuts and bolts advice to parents across the country. You can read more from Evelyn at her web site: www.askevelyn.com

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