You want to teach your teen to do his own laundry. He’d rather wear dirty clothes. How to proceed?
Parent advice (From our panel of staff contributors):
This is definitely a don’t-sweat-it scenario. There will come a time when the lad needs clean clothes. Then – and only then – will he willingly learn to wash them. My three brothers and two sons eventually figured this out. He will too.
Explain to him that teenage girls like guys in clean clothes … and that knowing how to do laundry can: 1. Make him attractive to young women in college and beyond. (He can even help female friends with theirs – he will be a hit!) 2. Lead to a great spot (the dorm laundry room, for example) to meet young women. 3. Make him more grown up and independent.
Tell him to pack up his dirty clothes, and the two of you visit a public laundry. Once there, teach him the drill: how much you can put in a load, how much soap to use, the art of the dryer, etc. Explain the mysteries of the coin machine. Then make him do his laundry. Being a teenager, he will find ways to keep himself occupied (sending texts, checking email, etc.). My first away-from-home laundromat had really good pinball and snack machines, TV and nice young women doing their laundry. It quickly became a much-beloved weekday morning destination, and I would often spend most of a day off there every two weeks. Once he realizes this is an opportunity to get away from mom and dad for a couple of hours a week, to be alone and do his social media thing unimpeded, he’ll most likely take to it.
You have to sell this laundry thing as a skill, not a chore.
“This is not a pull-your-weight conversation,” says clinical psychologist Jennifer Powell-Lunder, co-author of “Teenage as a Second Language: A Parent’s Guide to Becoming Bilingual” (Adams Media). “This conversation is how you think it’s terrific that he’s growing up and ready to take on more responsibilities. You’re empowering him.”
So you teach him the laundry basics and stick to your guns about his taking over. You’re not doing his laundry anymore because it’s an important skill he needs to navigate a successful life going forward. Besides, isn’t he getting a little old for his parents to be rifling through his pockets? Questioning every receipt, note and smudge they come across?
“Be prepared for him to get embarrassed,” says Powell-Lunder. “But it’s true.”
It doesn’t mean he won’t put up a fight.
“If he says, ‘I don’t care. I’m just going to wear dirty laundry,’ then your argument back is, ‘Then you’re sending me and the world a message that things are not the way they should be.’
“Laundry is what we call an ADL – an activity of daily living,” she says. “It’s related to how you present yourself to the world. Does he really want to be the kid everybody calls stinky? Does he really want to be the kid who walks into school with toothpaste stains on his shirt?”
This is where teenhood works to your advantage. “One of the hallmarks of adolescence is the egocentrism,” says Powell-Lunder. “That belief that the whole world is watching them. And that imaginary audience is far more powerful than anything you can say or do.”
In other words, let him wear the dirty clothes. It’s a behavior that probably won’t last long – unlike the behavior that arises from expecting others to do your dirty work, which tends to linger.
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By HEIDI STEVENS