Q&A: Motivating lazy teens to help around the house

Q: How can I motivate my two lazy teenagers? They won’t help me around the house. As a single mum, I don’t have the energy to make them get to work. Is there a way to break this negative pattern?

A: Being a single parent is tough, especially when the children are being uncooperative. Unfortunately, even though you’re exhausted, you need to establish clear rules and guidelines for your teens—and then be prepared to enforce them.

You might start by employing what psychologists call “Premack’s Principle,” which states that preferred behaviours can be used to reinforce unpreferred behaviours. For example, explain to your children that leisure activities (TV, Xbox, going out with friends, etc.) will be off-limits until homework and household chores are completed. Sit down with them before implementing this system, and explain your love for them and your desire for them to learn responsibility. Let them know that as members of the household, they need to contribute to the overall functionality of your home.

Once you’ve established these rules, it’s imperative that you follow through. Stick with it even when you don’t feel like being tough. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked into arguments about the finer points of the new standards. To avoid this, we’d suggest that you put everything in writing. Draw up a contract that clearly spells out both the rules and the rewards. Each of you should sign your names to the contract and post it on the refrigerator. If you stick to the plan faithfully for a few weeks, you should start to see some positive changes in your teenagers’ behaviour.

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