Messy Room- Worth Fighting Over?

By Tara Weng,

I will admit freely that I have now resorted to monetary reward(s) for chores. I tried the "This will really help me out" tactic. I have also used the "You're old enough now, don't you want your room to be clean?" line to no avail. The only effective strategy I have found with my 11-year-old is "I will pay you allowance if you do x, y, z every week." Still, it is an ongoing struggle to look through the doorway of my son's room with the bed made the way "he" makes it and the clothes put away in what I can only describe as a tornado of wrinkled fabric and not go on the warpath. Since parenting, like seemingly everything else, is a constant reminder to "pick your battles" wisely, I wonder --is it worth fighting about at all? I mean, is a messy room going to kill me or him? Psychologist and life coach Dr. Michael Mantell says it might be one battle you've got to fight together. "A clean room may be a high priority for parents, but it is typically a low priority for teens and children. Make it a battle ground and your kids will win the battle by keeping their room messy, no matter what you threaten," he says.

Related: How to Admit You're Wrong To Your Kids

Dr. Mantell also explains that many parents are so concerned about the state of their children's rooms because they fear it is a reflection on them to other people about their own slovenliness and/or parenting abilities (in my case, this apple does not fall far from the tree), but he insists this is not the case. "Many parents I see on this issue are concerned that their friends and other visiting family will see the messy room and make a decision on what kind of a parent they are. They won't. Trust the fact that they will see the difference between the ways you, the parent, keeps the home and the way your children keep their room--like typical children do," Mantell points out. In my case, I typically clean like a mad woman when anyone is expected at my home because, as a general rule, it is not a top priority in my daily existence. But I digress.

Mantell says he has been counseling parents for nearly 30 years on the messy room topic and the advice he's given them has been the same throughout. He offers the same guidance to parents here:

1. Clean your child's room the way you want it cleaned.

2. Snap photos of every area of the room, beds, desk, closets, bookcases, corners, etc.

3. Post the pictures at your child's eye level in his/her room.

4. Tell your child that you will check the room daily at a specific time.

5. Give your child a fair 15 minute warning that you are about to check at that specific time and then do.

6. Anything left out, or unlike the pictures, gets taken away for three days, NO MATTER WHAT IT IS.

Another important word of caution by Mantell is directed squarely at parents. We may in fact be contributing to the problem by buying too many material things that clutter the room in question. He notes that it is important to work together with your kids to weed out certain outdated toys, books, etc. and donate them to charity. Arguing with your child about a messy room is probably a waste of time. More often than not, when I replay back the arguments I've had in my own house with the kids I think, "Wow, I wish I could get those 15 minutes back."

Related: Win the Clothes Wars With Your Kids

For now, I'll stick to the allowance because it works for us and if he doesn't mind sleeping on a bed with the sheet half off and comforter rolled up in a ball I guess I don't either.

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