More than just a clean home
With students under pressure to excel at high school, many parents are often concerned that household chores put unnecessary strain on already overworked teens.
Maggie Vogel, mother of two from Balmoral, explains her concerns. "Kids are so busy these days, and their school work and extra-curricular activities are very demanding. I don’t want to add much more to that," she tells Peninsula Living.
"However in saying that, it's important that kids understand what’s involved in running a household.”
Jacqui Paton from Newport is of the belief that chores "teach kids how to look after themselves when they move out of home.”
But when it comes to encouraging teens to contribute in a way that will work with study commitments, parents often have trouble asserting the need for household participation. Lucy DahilL, radio host and mental health advocate from the North Shore, says.
"What is agreed on is often different to what ends up happening.”
The mother-of-three explains a system she had trialed, which involves a chart of household responsibilities on rotation. "My middle child was very diligent and did everything she was asked to, but the other two didn't stick to the chart as strictly.” This reduced the efficacy of the chart, and what looked good on paper didn't always work in reality.
Ms Vogel agrees. "There's always a theory, and then there's the reality."
Both Ms Vogel and Ms Dahill believe that especially unpopular jobs, such as unpacking the dishwasher, are nearly always met with reluctance.
Strategies that help to combat chore-induced nonchalance include teen involvement in the allocation of jobs.
“We asked them what they wanted to do.” says Ms Dahill. “We found that they were much happier to do jobs they’ve nominated because they had input.“
When it comes to chores, Ms Vogel’s approach is not one of hard and fast rules. She and her husband have found a way to tap into their daughter’s interests in order to turn chores into enjoyable activities. Ms Vogel explains that her daughter Claudia “is the resident handyperson”. Claudia has her own workshop, and if somethings broken, it's her job to fix it.
“It all started because when my husband or I would be doing fix-it things. Claudia would tag along, learn new skills, and she became quite good at it. Her role has become something she's quite proud of, and we are too,” Ms Vogel tells Peninsula Living.
Helen Pask from Seaforth also sees value in this approach. Teens who “help out around the house, and are being recognized and valued for this, may to some extent develop a sense of self-worth and community responsibility”.
Psychotogist Nick Lim-Howe from Free Minds Clinical Psychology Practice in Dee Why says, “Chores are a great way for teenagers to demonstrate and appreciate the value of self care and responsibility.” He also believes that household jobs “promote and develop feelings of unity with other members of the family”.
Encouraging teens to select iobs that also boost self esteem is not only great for them, but it also reduces the need for nagging. Ms Vogel has chosen not to assign specific chares for this reason, as “otherwise it‘s something I have to pester them about".
Helping a teenager to develop an autonomous attitude towards household chores is not always easy. According to Lucy, it's a challenge that “can be really frustrating, especially when teenagers have the best intentions, and have agreed to a set of responsibilities, but then they don't follow through“.
She explains that some parents, in order to avoid arguments over outstanding chores, might resort to doing the chore themselves. Ms Dahill advises that parents really do need to persevere and not back down, because although “it‘s really easy to say ‘it’s quicker if I do it’, that is one of the worst things you can do”.
“Relieving teens of prearranged responsibilities can also lead to a loss of parental credibility, which can take a long time to rebuild." she adds. "My husband and I have been in this situation, and 'it took a very long time to undo the harm that it did".
She also adds that if parents are not happy with how teenagers are doing their jobs and decide to take over, “they can’t complain when no one Is helping'.
Mr Lim-Howe says if adolescents are not motivated to complete chores, they can beneﬁt from some reinforcement and structure.
"Parents can promote intrinsic motivators in adolescents through verbal reinforcement, with increased autonomy and independence granted as a reward,” he says.
Despite the importance of household responsibilities, there are times when teenagers may beneﬁt from a reduction in chores. During periods of high stress, such as in the lead up to important examinations, Ms Dahill believes that easing up on chores is advisable. "As a family, we work as a team. When one of our kids is having a stressful time, we lighten their load. This works both ways — when we as parents are busy, they help lighten ours."
Ms Pask also views chores as important, but not at the expense of wellbeing. She says that during the HSC year, "an ongoing contribution to family chores can ensure a sense of normalcy", but that "exam periods are a time where family support should be strong”, warranting lower expectations for students to do chores.
Mr Lim-Howe explains that it’s important to have a conversation with your teenager about exam periods before they commence.
"Discussing how teenagers will communicate to you that they need help or a break from chores given increased workload in high school” is a key part of preparing for such times.
Although there may be a need for relaxation rules during times of stress, the role of chores remains an important one. As Ms Dahill states, "It really helps to prepare them for life. I believe that‘s what our job is as parents - to teach them how to live independently.”