Dear Teen Parenting Coach

Q: How Do I Get My Son to Clean His Room — and Get Off His Phone?

Sometimes, the clutter and chaos is not a sign of defiance or laziness. Sometimes, kids truly don’t know HOW to clean up their rooms. That’s where you come in.

Q: “How do I motivate my son to clean up his room? I struggle to get him interested in activities beyond the games and drawing apps on his iPhone.” — Patsy

Hi Patsy:

Before we dive in, I need to ask: Does your son know HOW to clean up his room?

You mention there are LEGOs strewn all over his floor. Is there a roadmap to follow that makes putting them away simple? I recommend creating step-by-step instructions! Let me break it down for you.

Instead of just asking him to “clean up the LEGOs,” post detailed instructions that go something like this: “LEGOs on the floor > LEGOs in the bin > Bin on the shelf.” Want to have some fun with it? Take photos of your son doing each step and post those so he sees how to move through his routine. Visual prompts and support help us not only to remember what we need to accomplish but also motivate us to get started.

[How I Tricked My Son Into Cleaning — Willingly!]

Regarding your son’s iPhone usage, yours is among the most frequently asked questions I get from parents who complain that their teens spend countless hours playing games on their iPhones when they would prefer them to be doing anything else. My tip for you is a simple and straightforward one.

As your teen’s parent, you have the right to know what he’s doing with his digital devices, to control what he can see, and to determine when and how long he can use them. Introducing clear and specific controls, rules, and consequences on screen time is your responsibility – and it’s your child’s job to negotiate.

Your first step on that path is to talk to your son — not in an accusatory or punitive lecture, but in a real, two-sided discussion about how his screen time is preventing him from engaging in other activities. Even asking him what he feels is an appropriate amount of screen time daily may start a dialogue that produces some good strategies.

Second, schedule a “Black-Out Hour” (or two!) nightly in your home when EVERYONE engages in other activities – screens-free. You mentioned that your son likes to draw. This would be the perfect time for him to flex his artistic muscles.

[More Face Time, Less Screen Time for Your Teen]

It’s difficult to have a conversation about screen time for teens without talking about parental controls. If you feel that your son seriously lacks the self-control to monitor his own usage, but you prefer not to hover, there are dozens of downloadable controls that allow you to establish distinct time periods for Internet access and/or access to certain websites.

That said, I’m not the biggest fan of parental controls, as they rob teens of the opportunity to practice an important life skill. Our tech usage is only growing more prevalent and pervasive with time. And we all, not just teens, need to figure out strategies and systems to manage that pull. Learning decision-making skills regarding technology now will be crucial for your son’s future success.

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The opinions and suggestions presented above are intended for your general knowledge only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your own or your child’s condition.