Why Chores are Good

two middle schoolers washing dishes

It’s just after dinner and there is a large pile of dishes in the sink. Your teenager beside you is quickly scarfing the last remnants of food from their plate and making sideway glances at their phone. You are exhausted from your day and want nothing more than to relax, but you have a difficult choice to make.  Do you insist your teenager help out and do the dishes or do you do them yourself, skipping the long arguments and countless reminders that are sure to follow?

Making middle schoolers do their chores is…well, a chore. Young adolescents are in a strange stage of their development when their desire to be considered responsible often conflicts with their impulses to socialize. They want to be helpful and feel useful, but they also don’t want to miss out on anything happening with their friends.  As a parent it can be challenging to navigate these moments. You want to make sure your teenager learns responsibility, but you also get tired of sounding like a nag and feel tempted to just skip the drama. When faced with these tough choices, it’s important to remember why chores are good. It’s also helpful to have some strategies in your back pocket to keep things running smooth.

The Importance of Chores

Chores provide young adolescents with a sense of purpose. When doing chores, they recognize that other people depend on them. They feel accomplished to be doing actual work that matters. By exposing them to real labor, they gain an appreciation for all the invisible work that goes into maintaining a home. Feeling responsible for their living spaces provides them with a deeper appreciation for the messes they make. They learn to lessen their workload by picking up after themselves and cleaning the chaos as it happens.
middle schooler sweeping the floor

Chores also teach valuable life skills that will serve your teen for the rest of their lives.  Freelance journalist, Karin Klein, reflects on the importance of knowing these skills in her Sacramento Bee op-ed, Too Many of Us Can’t Cook. That’s Bad for Our Health and Finances.  And if that isn’t convincing, the internet is full of memes of college students not being to care for themselves after leaving home. Adolescents who do chores are more capable to take of themselves when they are finally out on their own.

Sure, They’re Important, but How Do You Get Teenagers to Do Chores?

It’s one thing to understand why chores are good and another to be good at getting your teen to do them.  Here are some helpful strategies that might make chores a lot more fun and effective:

1. Work alongside your teen. 

Sometimes when we think of chores, we think of them as way for us to take a break. Actually, doing chores together is a great opportunity for you to connect with your teenager and model a positive work ethic.  At Arthur Morgan School, staff work alongside their middle schoolers during chore periods. It allows the teachers to show students how to complete the chore effectively while also providing moments of fun that bring them together. The students feel a sense of camaraderie with their adult mentors, making the whole experience feel less authoritarian.


2. Rely on Natural Consequences

Another method for inspiring your teen to do their chores is letting them face the natural consequences of their actions. For some parents, this method is challenging because it might mean leaving a messy area alone while your teenager realizes you aren’t going to rescue them. However, it can also be really effective. For instance, if they don’t do their laundry, the eventual result is a lack of clean clothes. When they figure out they need to take care of themselves, they begin to understand the importance of being responsible.


middle schooler rinsing a pan3. Use Positive Peer Pressure 

If there are other teenagers in the house, sometime it can be very effective to make them accountable to each another. Young adolescents are very socially driven and respond better to the needs of their peers than adults. They know they can often stalemate their parents into doing their chore for them.  However, if it’s a peer or sibling that needs to make up their work, they are more likely to do it themselves.


4. Have a Friend or Sibling Teach Them

Peer mentoring is another strategy that is very effective in encouraging teenagers to do their chores. When your older teenager teaches their younger sibling how to do a chore, it makes the job something that both kids feel proud of doing.  The older teenager feels good that they have a skill they can pass down and the younger one feels like are taking on their sibling’s mantle. Suddenly, a mundane task feels more like a cherished responsibility.


5. Keep Your Expectations Realistic

Even with these helpful tips, it’s important to remember to  have realistic expectations. Sweeping the floor or washing even just a few dishes might seem like a simple task to you. However, for a young teenager doing it for the first time, there is a lot to figure out. Their bodies are not used to doing this type of work. It often takes them twice as long to be half as effective. Patience and a perspective that learning to do a chore right is a long term project helps make the process more enjoyable for everyone.

-by Nicholas Maldonado