Monday, March 17, 2014

Jobs: Why Teenagers Don't Do Chores And How To Use Follow-Through

By Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott (Adapted from Positive Discipline for Teenagers)

How many times has your teenager broken a promise to mow the lawn, clean the kitchen, pick up towels on the bathroom floor before leaving for school, or to rinse his bowl before the cereal becomes glued to the surface?  If you didn't answer, "Many times!" you don't have a normal teenager.

Teenagers do not break promises to do chores because they are premeditating con artists.  We believe teens fully intend to keep their promises when they are made. So what happens?

They forget!  Why do they forget?  Because they are busy being teenagers, and chores are not priorities for them.  Their priorities are friends, cars, zits, clothes, music, texting, trying to figure out what to do about grades, sex, drugs, individuating (finding out who they are separate from their parents) and getting a date for the Prom six months in advance.

Chores are not even in the top 100 of their concerns.  Does this mean they should be excused from doing chores?  Absolutely not.  Kids need to participate in chores to learn responsibility, cooperation, give and take, and many other life skills. It does mean that parents can be much more effective in achieving the goal of teen participation in chores with dignity and respect when they "get into the teens world" and understand the life tasks and priorities of teenagers. Then use follow-through.


Follow-through is an excellent tool for parents who understand the world of teenagers, and the importance of their participation in chores. There are four steps to follow-through, four traps that defeat follow-through, and four hints for effective follow-through.

Four Steps for Effective Follow-Through 

  1. Have a friendly discussion where everyone voices his/her feelings and thoughts.
  2. Brainstorm for possible solutions and choose one that is mutually agreeable.
  3. Agree on a specific time deadline (to the minute.)
  4. Understand children well enough to know that the deadline probably won’t be met and simply follow through with your part of the agreement by holding the child accountable.

The concept of follow-through is simple unless you make the mistake of falling into one or all of the:

Four Traps That Defeat Effective Follow-Through

  1. Wanting kids to have the same priorities as adults.
  2. Getting into judgments and criticisms instead of sticking to the issue.
  3. Not getting agreements in advance, which include specific time deadline.
  4. Not maintaining dignity and respect for child and self.

Once you have the four steps for effective follow-though and the four traps that defeat effective follow-through under your belt, you will still run into trouble if you don’t follow the four hints for effective follow through:

Four Hints for Effective Follow-Through

  1. Keep comments simple and concise. (“I notice you didn’t mow the lawn. Would you please do that now.”)
  2. In response to objections, ask: “What was our agreement?”
  3. In response to further objections, shut your mouth and use nonverbal communication (point to your watch, smile knowingly, give a hug and point to your watch again).
  4. When the child concedes to keep the agreement (sometimes with seeming annoyance), say, “Thank you for keeping our agreement.”
Some have objected that if follow-through doesn’t work, the teen should experience a consequence. What they really mean by a consequence is some kind of punishment such as extra chores or missing time with friends.
Those who are familiar with Positive Discipline know that we don’t advocate any form of punishment. Some believe the only alternative is permissiveness—which is another “no, no” in Positive Discipline. We advocate kindness AND firmness, connection before correction, and focusing on solutions “with” your teen. There are many Positive Discipline tools that meet these criteria. Follow-through is just one tool that is very effective when parent and child have a good relationship and are not engaged in a power struggle or revenge cycle. If follow-through doesn’t work, it might be your clue to stop all “discipline tools” and focus on making sure you have a good connection with your teen.
One way to do this is to acknowledge what might be going on. “I’m getting the feeling that we are engaged in a power struggle, and I can see what I’m doing to create that. I apologize. You mean too much to me to let that hurt our relationship. Let’s take some time out and then start again.”


  1. Great post. I would just add that if they haven't still followed through, part of the agreement should be a suitable consequence (such as an extra chore or missing time with friends) until they've finished the job.This might help get the job done faster next time as long as it's implemented and followed through

  2. Larry, the consequences you suggest are punishment, which is not part of the Positive Discipline philosophy. First, it is unlikely that the child will not follow through if the parent follows the steps for follow-through. If that should happen, the parent and child would "focus on a solution" that would be respectful to both. :-) Jane Nelsen

  3. Dr Nelson, could you give some examples of how a conversation on "focusing on a solution" would go? I need specifics, because I often jump to consequences in my mind, when I don't have other tools right at the top of my mind. I'm trying, though. Thanks.

  4. Leah, many examples are included in the book, Positive Discipline for Teenagers--along with many other tools. Best wishes. Jane

  5. life is full of positive and negative consequences. to say you have an agreement and there is not consequence to the agreement is not a model of true life situations. If a teen enters into an agreement for employment and then decides they don't want to honor that agreement they get fired. Later in life if they enter into an agreement lets say to repay a car loan. There are real consequences to not paying your loan back or writing checks. I do not feel this model reflects true life. Engaging in an argument, whining and pleading is harmful. A banker, employer or law isn;t going to whine or plead with them to do a chore beyond that this is impractical and quite possibly harmful.

  6. Anonymous…this blog post is about follow-through. It has nothing to do with whining and pleading. It is about respectfully working with teenagers to follow-through on agreements.

  7. We need to remember the big picture; that we want to raise children to become warm, caring, happy adults that are independent, self confident, socially competent, responsible, and productive contributors to society. Consequences and punishments won’t get us there. I think research has proved that nagging and “telling” children, teenagers and adults what to do makes them want to do the opposite. Dr. Nelsen’s method of follow-though creates children that will honor their agreements with employers, they’ll pay their car loans and they won’t engage in arguments and whining or pleading. Children raised the Positive Discipline way are being set up for a better life.

  8. what if the child still does not complete the job, but tries to negotiate a play-date before she will do the job?
    Or the child just doesn't do the job, and the next day comes along when she is supposed to get together with a friend?

  9. Absolutely agree and curious about the above posting. I notice no replies, so I think it might be "too hard" for posters here?

    The situation I have at home is that one teen follows all the guides we set in place, and is given pocket money accordingly.

    The other teen fully expects pocket money without any of the chores. At the moment is doing almost nothing around the house, yet still fully in expectance of money and being driven to places etc. If we with-hold money, we're being told "you favour the other child". When we explain, she will maybe one time do a single chore, and then refer back to that chore completion for weeks as "proof" of contribution!

    The twist here - the "socially responsible" teen is starting to comment that she might as well not bother, because there is nothing in it for her except the thanks for completing the task!

    Certainly, if I went to work and got paid the same as the guy next to me, yet he was allowed to sit doing nothing....then I'd strongly consider doing nothing too!

    I think there must be SOME form of negative consequence when tasks are not being completed as negotiated.

  10. We need to remember that rewards are just the other side of punishment. Punishments AND REWARDS don't breed children that are motivated by good intentions. My goal is to have me children to chores because that's the RIGHT thing to do when you are sharing a household…when you're part of a family….everyone must do their part to hold the family unit together….everyone is important and needs to contribute…when paying a child or giving some other reward to get children to do chores…you're giving up a great opportunity to help your children develop "self motivation" (rather than external motivation). My children get an allowance every week….it's a given and never withdrawn…they also must do chores every week….it's a given…and when they forget….the kitchen starts to smell because someone forgot to take out the garbage….oops….I don't do it for them…but I'll walk them to the garage if it's dark and they're scared…or whatever excuse they come up with….when you start shifting the locus of control to some other external source, like allowance or play dates…you are bound to get into conflict….and about the job issue…..O'm not raising my children to eventually get a job for money….I'm raising my children to find their passion and go out and do it….the money just follows.

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  12. So what do you do after trying the follow-thru and persuasion and they still refuse to do the chore?


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