When Your Tween’s Room Requires an Intervention

by Kathryn Leehane
Originally Published: 

Normally my kids are in charge of cleaning their own rooms. I believe this chore instills a sense of responsibility and ownership. It helps builds character, and it teaches lessons that will help them become independent adults someday.

Also, I’m lazy, and I don’t want to deal with their messes.

But there are times—maybe once a year or so—when it becomes necessary for me to intervene and clean on their behalf. The times when:

• Half of my silverware collection and all of my bowls are missing.

• We’re so familiar with the stink emanating from the room that we give it a nickname. “Stenchie’s back” is a common expression in our house.

• We’ve been late to school or appointments one too many times because I’ve been searching through my tween’s landfill to help find her [insert any frequently missing item].

If you are a better parent than I am and can get your tween to clean his or her own room, then congratulations. However, if the time for intervention comes in your house, I have some advice for you.

• Wait until your tween is at school, camp, or the grandparents’ house. You will need uninterrupted time. You will not need a screaming tweenager hollering about non-existent rights.

• Gather the necessary supplies: trash bags, recycling bins, cleaning spray, rags, vacuum, gloves, a shovel, and hazmat suit.

• Open the door and all of the windows. It doesn’t matter how cold it is outside; you will need fresh air to survive.

• Find and eliminate the source of the foul odor. This task may involve washing putrid socks, removing rotten food, or throwing away rank shoes or questionable “crusty” clothing. Warning: do not assume there is only one source of funk.

• Gather and wash all clothing on the floor—even if you suspect some of it is clean laundry that was never put away. If the clothing was touching the floor, trust me, it needs to be rewashed.

• Collect the garbage next. Hopefully you will only find used tissues, dirty napkins, candy wrappers, and stale food. But prepare yourself for the worst. If anything sticks to the floor, use scissors to remove it, and/or rearrange the furniture to cover it.

• Reclaim your kitchen dishes and utensils. Determine if the crusty/moldy/slimy cups are even worth salvaging. If not, throw them in the trash. Soak the “good ones” in the sink for a few hours, then run them through the heavy cycle on the dishwasher.

• It may be daunting, but pull out all of the crap from under the bookcase, desk, and bed all at once. After you resolve not to set the entire pile on fire, repeat steps 4 through 7.

• Find your tween’s secret stash of candy. Eat all of it without remorse. (But wash your hands first.)

• Sort the remaining crap into two piles: essential and extraneous. Put away the items you’re keeping. Hide the other crap until you can donate it. HIDE IT WELL.

• Wipe down the doors, walls, and other surfaces, and then burn the cleaning rag when you are done.

• Vacuum the floor, and experience the joy of rediscovering the true color of the carpet.

• Take some pictures so you can remember this state of perfection after the room returns to its natural state of a municipal dump … the very next day.

When your tweenager returns, put on earphones and blast your favorite music. Make sure you’ve purchased movie tickets for the neighbors so they don’t have to hear the screams emanating from your house, “MY ROOM IS SO FOREIGN TO ME! I CAN’T LIVE IN THESE CONDITIONS!”

NOTE: If you happen to stumble upon your tweenager’s journal, DO NOT read it—no matter how tempting it may be. It’s not right to violate their privacy, and there are some things that can’t be unseen. (Not that I know from experience…)

Related post: The Multiple Personalities of a Tween Girl

This article was originally published on