Getting Teenagers To Cooperate Without Nagging

Lots of parents with teenagers find themselves in a bind. On the one hand they want, or need their teenager to contribute around the house and learn responsibility. On the other hand, they don’t want to have to nag or constantly argue with their teenager.

Lots of parents think you can’t have one without the other. If you want your teenager to do something, you have to become a world-class nagger to get it done.

Unfortunately what happens is,  a pattern develops. Parents expect their teens will not follow through so become more incessant in their nagging. Teenagers become increasingly irritated with the constant stream of nagging and start living up to the expectations projected upon them. Not a great result for anybody.

If you are in this situation you can do one of two things. Bemoan the teenage years and hope you aren’t driven insane before your teenager turns 21, or you can take responsibility for what is happening and choose to act differently.

Yelling out a one-sentence instruction as you race past your teenager who is engrossed in his favourite TV show is guaranteed to get a result, but not the one you as a parent are hoping for. Talking to your teenager when you are frustrated and annoyed will do nothing to improve the dynamics of your relationship.  These types of behaviours have nothing to do with teenagers. These are parental behaviours, based on choices made by parents.

As parents, we can choose to act positively and pro actively rather than as a helpless victims always reacting when things don’t go the way we wanted. But this requires admitting that we are part of the problem.

Admitting you might be part of the problem is the key to achieving change. (Don’t worry I am not about to embark on a 12 step Parenting Anonymous program, just making it clear that as parents we create our own reality a lot of the time).

If you want to choose to be pro active then this post is for you. What follows is a simple 10 step process that when used consistently will significantly reduce the amount of nagging and yelling from you, and increase the frequency of compliance and cooperation from your teen

1. Think Before You Speak

Before you even open your mouth, check yourself. Run through a mental checklist to ensure what you are going to request is achievable and reasonable.

Does your request pass this simple 2-question test?

Can they do what you are asking? Does your teen have the knowledge, ability and equipment to do what you asking? Have they ever done that task before? Asking your teenager to do a load of washing when they have never used a washing machine is bound to end in frustration.

Is the request reasonable? Are you giving your teenager enough time to get the task done? Will they have to change plans that are important to them at short notice? Is your request fair in relation to what you expect of other family members?

If your request passes the test, proceed to the next step.

If it doesn’t consider how you could revise it to make it more achievable or reasonable. This could be as simple as asking your teen to help you do something so you can show them how it is done, or changing the time frame for completion so your teen has more notice and can plan around it.

2. Explain Clearly What You Require

If you really want your teen to get the job done then take the time to explain clearly what it is you expect.

Don’t assume your teenager will understand what your one sentence instruction means. In fact, if you are going to assume anything, assume they will understand only the bare minimum.

If nothing else you need to spell out in very straightforward terms at least two things: Timing & Results.

Time: Be very clear about WHEN you expect the task to be completed. Be specific, time and date specific. If the garbage needs to be taken out prior to early Wednesday morning, make the time limit 9pm Tuesday night.

By stipulating a completion time, you give your teenager the space to decide when they will do it while also creating a clear deadline.

Clearly stating a completion time also means as a parent you don’t have to wonder when it will get done therefore relieving the need to keep asking, or nagging, about when they are going to get around to it.

Result: Stipulate the exact result or quality of work you require. There is fair chance that what you think is clean and tidy differs from what your teenage son might consider clean.

If your request requires multiple small tasks to be done then spell each of them out individually. For instance if you want the kitchen cleaned then state what that includes i.e. dishes away, benches wiped, garbage emptied, and floor swept etc.

3. Describe Consequences

Outline clearly what the consequence of not completing the task in full and on time. This not only serves as a motivation for your teen to get the job done but also removes any grounds for argument when the task is not completed.

If possible, link the consequences to the task not completed. For example if the agreement was all dirty laundry must be in the laundry by 8:00am Saturday, the consequence for not doing so is nothing of theirs will be washed until next time.

This is not always possible so then the consequences will need to be associated with missing out on something important to them i.e. no TV or Computer games for a set period of time.

Whatever the consequence make it reasonable. The purpose of having a consequence is to teach, not to exact retribution via punishment. It just needs to be enough to serve as a reminder for next time. If there is repeated failure obviously the consequences would be more severe than for a first time offense.

4. Confirm They Understand

Don’t assume just because you have said it clearly your teenager has listened and/or understood. Make a point to check they understand. This involves more than getting a grunt of acknowledgement or a nod of the head. You need to get your teen to look at you and say they understand the request.

This doesn’t have to be hard. Two simple questions will usually achieve what is required.

“What have I asked you to do?”
This question can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no”. Your teen will need to respond in sentences describing the task assigned to them.

Listen to their answer to see if they have taken in the all the aspects required and the deadline. Prompt them if they have left anything out.

You may need to ask a follow up to this first question such as “And if you don’t complete the task on time?” Obtaining acknowledgement of the consequence is just as important as an understanding of the request.

“Is there any reason you don’t think you can get it done?”
Even though you have done your mental checklist your teenager may have a reason why they can’t do it that you are unaware of. Listen to their reasons or issues if they have any.

If their reasons are valid then you either need to adjust your request or take responsibility for providing whatever it is they need to get the job done. Being willing to negotiate and comprise is not a sign of weakness, rather it is a vital and necessary means of helping teenagers learn respect for themselves and others. The older your teenagers get the more negotiation and compromise should feature in parent child discussions.

Note – not all reasons will be valid ones!

5. Obtain Agreement

This step should flow straight out the previous step, but it is important enough to be highlighted by itself.

Get an verbal acknowledgement from  your teenager that they agree to carry out the request. Gaining agreement from your teenager gives them a say in the decision making process, in this way it is empowering.

It also becomes a point of reference later in the piece should there be a dispute about consequences for doing or not doing a particular task.

All that is required is a simple question from you along the lines of:

“Do we have an agreement?”

6. State Up Front You Will Remind Them

This step is optional, but can make a difference to both you and your teen.

If you are worried about your teenager’s capacity to remember and/or you will need to relieve your angst by saying something closer to the time, then be upfront about it. Let your teen know that if you are unsure how the task is progressing you will remind them of the deadline. Pick a point in time when they can expect a reminder, say 3hours before task completion, and say you will provide a simple reminder at this point.

It should not be a question, or a restatement of the task. All that is required is a simple comment like “Just reminding you that you are due to have completed (whatever the task is) in 3 hours time.”

It is vital if you take up this option that you stick to your agreement of only reminding once and that you do it within the time period given.

By stating your intention up front your reminder is perceived as you following through on your commitment to help rather than being taken as nagging by an impatient or distrustful parent.

7. Make it Easy For them To Remember

Young teenagers especially struggle to organize their time. As a consequence of their brains undergoing significant restructuring they struggle to prioritise and remember tasks. This doesn’t mean they can’t do it, but they will achieve more if given a helping hand.

Create visual reminders around the house, especially for routine chores. A coloured chart on the fridge door, the back of the bedroom door, beside the mirror in the bathroom (laminated of course) or anywhere your teenager is likely to look often.

If you get agreement in advance, placing sticky notes on their lunch box or on top of the computer can also be a little prompt.

Incorporate requests into part of their normal routine. Associating tasks with normal routines is a great way to jog a developing brain’s memory. It also helps your teen prioritize. Using the words “before” or “after” can be useful in this regard. For example “Before softball training on Weds night can you…” or “After you get home from school on Thurs before you do anything else can you..”

Don’t ask too far in advance. If you want them to do something in 2 weeks time you can let them know, but don’t save your detailed instructions until a few days out. The more time your teen has to forget something the more likely it is they will.

8. Let Them Fail

If you have clearly stated what is required and your teenager has confirmed they understand DO NOT step in and do it for them at the last minute. The only way your teen will learn the importance of responsibility is if they are exposed to the consequences of not being responsible.

Stick to your agreement. As the deadline approaches do not get sucked into providing reminders every 5minutes. Similarly, do not offer to help them do it at the last minute. Neither of these actions helps your teen develop a sense of responsibility. Instead it encourages them to put things off and rely on you instead of develop their capacity to remember and get organized.

9. Follow Through on Consequences

If your teen completes stated task successfully skip this step and go straight to step 10.

If your teen fails to complete the task in full or on time then you need to follow through on the consequence side of things. It is imperative that you don’t back down or renege on your earlier agreement.

If the deadline passes and the task is not complete:

1. Check to make sure it has not being completed.
2. Ask your teen for a reason as to why the task was not complete. There could have been mitigating circumstances that might alter the implementation of consequences, but these reasons need to be good ones.
3. Calmly state that because the task has not been completed the following consequences will take place.

At this point there is no argument to be had. If your teen tries to start an argument you calmly refer to your agreement and state there is nothing more to discuss on the matter and walk away.

10. Say Thank You

Positive reinforcement is just as, if not more important than discipline. Saying thank you serves to both acknowledge your teenager’s efforts and models how to be gracious and appreciative of others.

Just because you had an agreement for the task to be done doesn’t mean you can’t be appreciative when it is completed. There doesn’t need to be a party or speeches, but the simple act of saying thank you will foster an atmosphere of respect and gratitude in your relationship. As respect for one another grows there will be an increased willingness to cooperate and help.

Repeat this process consistently for a few months and you should see an increase in your teen’s cooperativeness and find yourself feeling the need to nag a lot less. But it does need to be applied consistently over a period of time for it to be effective.

Let us know how you go in the comments below, and if there are any other little tricks you have picked up on the way that others could benefit from, and if you have more to say please contribute via our confidential survey on the related issue of teenage defiance and arguments.

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Showing 2 comments
  • katerina Greece

    First of all all yourmethods about helping teens to take their rensponsibilities are very wright and the majority of them ihave used .But i had to take austere decisions until my 16 dauhgter decides to make up at least her room. i mean that ihad to ban her to go out with friends and because she knows that ifshe repeats her behaviour i will repeat it again, shetidies up her room,but it is very annoying to check every day it.i mean that if i am not in the house she will leave a room i am thinking that how many times i need to do this and fortunately that we live at the outskirts and there is not bus .in other case what i would have done?

  • Shireenity -

    This is a very good write-up…..having 5 kids, The first is over 20 now but the next 2 are 18 & 16. What I feel challenged with is that I get the nagging from my teens. They shower me with suggestions & criticisms. When they do a task they overlook the things they complain me of not paying attention to. Many a times harshly.
    Without loosing cool, how do I help them to learn to communicate with compassion? I had a very strict childhood & have spent years developing myself to not do the damaging practices & not to inflict pain or fear to get them to obey, to rear good kids. While they are loved for their manners with outsiders. I NEED TIPS!!!

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