Q: Our 16-year-old son's room is a perpetual pigsty. Clothes, CDs, electronic equipment, magazines and an assortment of various other personal belongings are strewn everywhere. If his bed is made, it's because I made it. If his clothes are put away, it's because I put them away. When I complain, he comes back with the "it's my room, and I can do with it as I please" bit. He also points out that his door is almost always closed, which is true, but the fact that he no longer functions as a member of the family is another problem. Help!
A: This business of "it's my room, blah, blah, blah" is pure, unadulterated hogwash. The room he occupies is not his by a long shot. It is your property, for which you are responsible, as evidenced by the fact that you not only pay the share of the mortgage, insurance and utilities represented by that room, but if a guest were to slip and fall and hurt themselves in that room, you would be liable, not your most naive and self-absorbed (normal, somewhat, for the age) 16-year-old.
The chair he sits in at meals is not "his" chair to do with as he pleases, is it? He is not free to smash it to smithereens to make a statement of rage at the injustices of the capitalist system that maintains him in the lap of luxury, is he? To borrow from the vernacular of his articulate generation, not!
He is not entitled. He is obligated, and he can begin expressing his obligation by maintaining "his" room consistent with the standard of cleanliness you have established in your home. Whether he agrees is irrelevant.
You're probably saying, "But John, I have tried everything to get him to keep his room neat and orderly and nothing has worked."
Oh, but you obviously haven't read him the riot act and then put the proverbial hammer down. If you had, you wouldn't have written me about the problem because it would have quickly become family history.
The riot act: "I/we will no longer tolerate the mess in the room we allow you to use. From now on, you will make your bed every morning, put your clothes in their proper places, keep the floor picked up, and otherwise maintain a clean and orderly environment. If you cooperate in this, we will reciprocate by continuing to support you in the manner to which you have become accustomed. If you refuse to cooperate, then the gravy train will come to an abrupt halt."
Putting the hammer down: "To be specific, the very next time your room is a mess in any small sense of the term, we are disconnecting your modem and suspending your driving privileges for a minimum of a week. To re-earn these privileges, you must keep your room neat and clean, your clothes put away properly and the bed made every morning, for seven consecutive days. The next violation will result in the same consequences, but will require compliance for two weeks. Every violation thereafter will require compliance for a month. Questions?"
The combination of reading the riot act and then putting the hammer down (also known as lowering the boom) constitutes a "wake-up call."
You will most definitely have to put the hammer down at least twice.
I've described an application of what I call the "Godfather Principle" -- motivating rebellious children requires making them offers they can't refuse -- for which we are indebted to a philosopher named Don Corleone.
John Rosemond is a family psychologist in North Carolina. Questions of general interest may be sent to him at Affirmative Parenting, 9247 N. Meridian, Indianapolis, Ind. 46260 and at his Web site: http://www.rosemond.com.
If you or someone you know has parenting problems, call the Parents Anonymous 24-hour confidential Help-Line at 892-2172.