The secret weapon against teenagers

Your teenager is home for the holidays and it’s time that they face that diabolical room of theirs.  “I expect you to clean your room.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll get around to it.”

Never mind that you have no idea what a round toit actually looks like, but you’ve been told that you need to trust your teen and let them define their own space.

“As long as it’s done today.”

“Geez, mom, just back off.”

You roll your eyes and walk away. Some things just aren’t worth the fight.

A few hours later, an excited teen comes bouncing out of their room. “I’ve cleaned my room. Come see.” (Okay, you might not recognize this particular part of the story, but this is what my daughter does.)

Now, at this point, your hopes aren’t that high. We’ve heard it all before. But you drag yourself out of your comfy spot to go and look at whatever effort they have made in their room—only to discover that a single piece of trash has been removed, but the hallway seems to have barfed their entire wardrobe, and the floor is still this mysterious item never to see the light of day again. Just stepping inside the door is taking your life into your own hands.

Of course, this particular tale normally ends with you, as the parent, staring at your child, questioning what they’ve been doing all day. A few hateful phrases are shouted, amalgamating with a spectacular display of emotions and a “It’s my room!”

Sound familiar? Well, I may have discovered the secret weapon to get those pesky teens to actually clean their rooms. It's called the internet.

The disastrous room is a common parenting issue.

Yeah, I think every parent to teens has experienced something similar to the scenario at least once. Hell, my own parents faced it. I’m sure my room had become a giant petri dish for some mold growth experiment. (Looking at the mold patch on my bedroom ceiling, I'm not sure that particular aspect has changed much.)

And it's not just teens that have those messy rooms. One of my mother's favorite stories about me growing up was when I was six years old and all they had done was put the trash can outside my bedroom door. They hadn't even touched me, and I went running down the street shouting, "No, mommy!"

FYI, when the cops showed up, my father escorted them down the hall to show them what the commotion was all about. Smirks and chuckles I think was the response.

This particular scenario about the disastrous state of teenagers' rooms is so common place that it has even graced the pages of fiction. In Granny's Got a Gun by Harper Lin (a funny cozy murder mystery), there is a whole scene where Granny, an ex-CIA agent, goes into her grandson's room and is afraid of the mine field that she's discovered. She's so terrified that she compares the room to her experience of going through an actual mine field in Bolivia. The teenager's room was worse. Honestly, change out the comments about the video games and comic books for dance gear and art supplies, and you have my daughter's room in perfect detail.

During a recent lunch date with my parents, the conversation flipped around to messy bedrooms and my children finally learned the truth about why I was always so insistent that they only put water into their drink bottles. I had them so well trained as young children that they were telling their friends off and warning them of the dangers, but my own children never knew about the real danger—exploding apple juice.

My daughter jokingly said that her room had exploded. Well... Her exploding room was a metaphor. My exploding room as a teenager was literal.

Hint: Apple juice when left in a water-tight bottle for a month in a warm setting can, and will, start to ferment, becoming alcoholic. However, if you don't release the pressure every so often, there will eventually come a point where something has to give. When plastic explodes, it turns into shards of plastic and will no longer contain fluids. Did I mention that my room in my teenage years had become a giant petri dish for mold experiments?

The secret weapon in play...

We are now mid-July, which means we are in the middle of the term holidays. Two weeks that the teens have off school—thankfully, they tend to sleep until noon.

My daughter's room has been a growing mess, so bad that I refused to walk even past the door. It was a fire hazard too, with the heater keeping her room warm for winter and the safety zone in front of it was shrinking, thanks to the encroaching mess.

Anyway, I'd decided that she was cleaning her room. It was getting done. And there was no way in hell that I or my husband were going to do it for her (as we had done in the past — don't get me started on that one). I needed a weapon I could use against her.

Her gadgets and her access to the internet.

Hubby had been taken the tablet to work. It was his tablet anyway. And she doesn't have the passcode to get into my tablet. (It's different to the one on my phone for a reason.) She wouldn't dare use my computer. My phone is always with me. And my son's computer and gadgets are HIS devices.

That left her computer and cellphone. Well...

On the first day of the holidays, I struck a bargain: she could have her gadgets IF she actually cleared a path from the door to her bed — and I meant that I had to be able to see carpet. Of course, I had hidden her phone, but the computer is just too cumbersome to bother hiding. But my plan worked.

"I've cleared a path to my bed. Can I have my computer now?"

She got her computer back, but I wasn't telling her where that phone was hiding, because then that hiding spot would be useless. When I got home, I checked her room. Sure enough, there was a clear path to her bed—a narrow path, only about a foot wide, but it was a clear path. She got her phone back and another bargain was struck: she could decide what portion of her room she'd clean the next day, but she had to tell me what that area was before she went to bed. Until that space was clean, no gadgets.

Done! She did it in record time too. Sure her room barfed bed sheets, blankets, and a whole wardrobe of other clothing, but the point is the room got cleaned.

Why did I not think of this idea before? I should have used the cellphone and internet access as leverage a long time ago.

Actually, now that I think about it, I have thought of that before, but it didn't work back then. I think what was different about this time is that I wasn't forcing her to do the whole room at once. I was inviting her to clean it in small chunks, chunks of her choosing. By making her choose what portion of the room got cleaned for the day, she was the one in control (or so she thought). All I wanted was for the room to be cleaned—and I wanted her to be the one to do it.

The room is not completely clean—yet. But at least she's not running the risk of it become the petri dish that my room was. Now, it's just home to a zillion dust bunnies.

The next time you struggle with your own teen (on younger child) to clean their room, find that one thing that they so desperately want, something that forms a part of their identity, and hold it ransom. But make them be the ones to negotiate as to what they need to do to get their coveted item back. Trust me, it works.

Copyright © 2019 Judy L Mohr. All rights reserved.

This article first appeared on

Posted in Family Life, Parenting.


  1. My six year olds room is a tip. I tidy it and within a few hours it is a mess again. We have tried everything, even confiscating her teddy bears and the ipad and the arguement continues. We now also have lipstick up the wall.. which she took from my room. It looks like a massacre… I do love my kids. My son’s room is not so bad.. he does at least try and tidy, he is eight.

    • Hmm… My daughter’s room was like that too, but without the lipstick up the walls. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in child rearing, as I have definitely made some mistakes, but take some assurances in the fact that you aren’t the only parent facing this.

      With my daughter, we came to the conclusion years ago that part of the problem was that she had too much stuff in her room. We boxed EVERYTHING up, and started from scratch. She was given one box at a time to put away or throwaway. We encouraged her to be ruthless. (Majority of the books were added to my boxes of books out of the garage, waiting for the day when I can finally have my floor to ceiling bookcase in my office, when I finally get an office.) She still has a few boxes in the garage to go through, namely her art supplies, but at least her room is now in a manageable state.

      Perhaps, you can try a similar approach. If you do, make sure he knows that you’re not throwing anything away. It’s just being boxed up until such time he’s ready to go through the box and decide for himself. But also ensure that he knows that he can’t keep everything. He’s probably grown past some things and they should be passed on to younger children.

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