Should you make teenagers tidy their bedrooms?

This morning I went on the radio to talk about sex robots.

Okay, so I didn’t go on deliberately to talk about that – it was one of those weekend ‘talk about fun things in the news’ shows, but I always like to see what I can get away with on live radio, especially first thing in the morning.

In case you’re interested, sex robots are going to be a new ‘thing’. Everyone is going to have one. You heard it here first.

Anyway, one of the things I DIDN’T get time to talk about was a feature in one of the weekend supplements about parenting mistakes. It was a whole long list of things that most of us probably do at some point or another, thinking we are doing the right thing, but which apparently aren’t doing anybody any favours. Stuff like following older teens on social media, making ‘quality time’ for our kids, and worrying about exam results.

(I don’t do any of these, mainly out of sheer laziness, so I felt pretty good about myself.)

One of the things the article talked about was bedrooms, and I know this is an issue that splits a lot of parents of teenagers. Should you make your teenager keep their bedroom tidy or should it be their own space where they can do as they please? How much control should you have over what their room looks like? Are they allowed to choose the state of the floor just as they’d choose their favourite teenager room wallpaper?

should you make teenagers tidy their bedrooms

NB: unrealistic

I can see the argument from both sides.

I do appreciate the whole ‘you’re living under my roof so you need to respect that and keep your room tidy’ angle. When you’re working hard to keep the rest of the house clean and well organised and then one room looks like there has been an explosion in a factory that specialises in making dirty clothes and half full mugs, it can feel a bit demoralising, disrespectful even.

But here’s the thing – it’s NOT ABOUT YOU.

Teenagers don’t have messy rooms because they don’t care about your housework efforts – they very likely never even CONSIDER your housework efforts – they have messy bedrooms because it’s their space, and it makes them feel comfortable and it gives them some semblance of control over their lives.

As an adult it can feel a bit backwards – nothing makes me feel LESS in control nowadays than a messy house – but think back to when you were that age. Your bedroom was your sanctuary wasn’t it? The one place where you could be yourself. Even if mess wasn’t your thing, and you spent hours neatly categorising your comics, it doesn’t matter – you were in charge.

Yes, staring into the abyss that is often a teenage bedroom can be soul crushing, but does it REALLY matter, in the grand scheme of things, if that’s what makes them happy? Teenagers have so much pressure on them from school and friends and social media – isn’t it better to save your confrontations for the things that actually have an impact on their physical and mental well being?

The newspaper article today agreed with me.

The parenting expert writing it said that it was a classic parenting mistake to nag teenagers to tidy their room, as it IS about them having control over their space. It’s much more useful, said the expert, to have conversations with them about things like consent, drugs and relationships than about how many plates they might happen to have under the bed.

Some people I guess might worry that if you don’t teach a child to keep their bedroom tidy that they won’t have that skill as an adult but I couldn’t disagree with this more. My bedroom was so ridiculously disgusting as a teenager that I once trod on my guitar and broke the back WITHOUT EVEN REALISING IT. I discovered it a few days later under a mountain of clothes and stuck it back together with masking tape and it sounded pretty good.

The fact though that I went through a phase of taking my mattress off my bed and sleeping on it on the floor, to give my bedroom more of a ‘ramshackle squat’ vibe, doesn’t mean that I’ve grown up incapable of keeping house. You only have to see how well colour coordinated my bookshelves are to appreciate that.

So that’s my thoughts on the matter.

Yes I encourage Belle to have a tidy up now and again, more for her benefit than mine, and I sometimes offer to help even, but I would never force the issue.

Why bother? Much easier just to shut the door and go and do something more interesting.

What do you think? Should you make a teenager keep their bedroom tidy or is it up to them?

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  1. 7 April, 2018 / 12:08 pm

    My approach was to insist that food wasn’t lying around and that only washing that reached the washing basket would get washed and ironed. I would deliver it outside her bedroom door. It would occasionally be taken in and added to the floordrobe. I disnt enter into her space so It didn’t bother me that it was a mess.

    • Jo Middleton
      10 April, 2018 / 9:59 am

      Oh yes, I would never go in and retrieve washing, in fact I normally make Belle do that herself. When my eldest started uni she was the only person in her flat of eight that had ever used a washing machine before!

  2. 9 April, 2018 / 7:23 pm

    My Mum used to use the “how do you know where everything is?” argument and my retort was that I obviously knew anything I needed to find was on the floor. As she never pushed me too much I ended up growing up to absolutely LOVE my little space being tidy and wanting the whole house to be clean before I “relax”.

    I honestly think the more parents push things like this the more kids will rebel. Also, it only takes one accidental bleary-eyed swig of a cup of tea thats been there for two days and not two minutes before you end up wanting to clean your act up.

    • Jo Middleton
      10 April, 2018 / 9:58 am

      Haha! I agree with you Kelly, and I’m just the same – I’ve gone from living in a PIT to loving a tidy home. I think it’s definitely a case of picking your battles.

  3. 13 April, 2018 / 11:03 pm

    Definitely. Children should be taught these things at an early age. It’s a form of discipline they should learn.

  4. Jubemi
    7 May, 2018 / 4:32 pm

    Hi Jo, totally love your blog….
    Soooo when I was a teenager, I had a cousin come visit for a while and she stayed in my room. Her mom was of your school of thought (no pun intended) and so my room was a total mess. I was too polite to tell her to pick her stuff so I just picked up after her. But I ensured that she never came for a holiday again.
    Personal space or not, teenagers need to understand the importance of having a clean room. It doesn’t have to be spick and span but it should at least be decent enough. (You go to the kitchen everyday so it won’t hurt to drop off your mug or dirty plate in the kitchen you know?!) While some teens grow out of the ‘making a mess stage’, you’ll be surprised at the number of adults who can’t clean up their space.

  5. 9 October, 2018 / 12:58 pm

    I don’t think we should MAKE them keep their bedroom tidy. I think we should teach them why is important to have a clean and tidy room. :)

    P.S. Love your blog

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