My 16-year-old dreads taking out the garbage as well as other things that need to be done around the house.

Every morning before school, I tell him not to forget to take the garbage out. He intentionally forgets. His reason for this is that chores are supposed to be for maids/house-keepers. He tells me, "I need to hire a maid."

Any suggestions on how I can make him understand that having chores and responsibilities are a part of life?

  • 14
    "What a lovely idea. I appreciate the offer. When are you going to get a job to pay for the maid?" I have some more constructive and thorough thoughts as well, but won't be able to post them until tomorrow :)
    – Acire
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 1:57
  • 1
    @Erica HAHA!! :) Can't wait to say that to him tomorrow morning. Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 1:58
  • 2
    No chores, no privileges.
    – user11394
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 3:56
  • @Erica - frankly, at 16, THAT should really be the answer. Modern society is screwed up enough that it seems not-constructive, but that was reality for most of human existence.
    – user3143
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 18:18
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    @user3143 I tried to adapt it to be a little more solid in the answer I did give. A flippant comeback like that is not necessarily going to be taken as seriously as needed, and lead to further grumbling and arguing. I'd rather sit down, talk seriously about finances and responsibility, and try to shut the complaints up more permanently. (But it's a great retort once the conversation has taken place if the whining DOES continue!)
    – Acire
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 18:24

4 Answers 4


At sixteen, he's going to be moving out very, very soon. From his perspective, that's delightful freedom. (No more stupid chores!) But he also is going to have many more responsibilities once that time comes. It may be time to make the conversation not just about obligations to a household, but about practice for being an adult.

An adult really has three basic choices:

  1. Let the garbage and laundry accumulate.
  2. Pay for a maid.
  3. Do your chores.

The first one will negatively impact his social life, the second is absurdly expensive, and the third... is free and creates a tidy home. (To me, it's kind of a no-brainer what to choose.)

But at any age, a discussion of chores can also be founded on the idea of responsibility to the household. He gets a place to sleep, uses your utilities (gas, electric, internet, phone), eats your food, is given clothes, etc.

I know one family that treats chores sort of a way for the kids to "pay rent". They sit down and run through the actual cost of raising a child (his share of utilities, mortgage/rent, food bill, and so on). Is he able to pay you $x per week to meet all those expenses? Would he prefer to do chores every now and then instead?

I personally prefer to turn that idea upside-down a bit: point out what I am providing (shelter, food, clothes) and that I will always happily do that as long as they need, but I'll "pay" a bit extra if they step up and contribute to the household. That payment is in goods and services (shelter, food, clothing) rather than cash. Clearly you won't kick him out for refusing to take out the garbage, but you can reduce the privileges he gets above the basics. No allowance, no access to the household wifi, no phone, not allowed to borrow the family car... It gives me some level of control, and way to remind them when chores need to be done. (Oh, you want to play video games? Please confirm that you've done X, Y, and Z...)

  • No WiFi was my first thought, too.
    – user11394
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 13:26
  • "no access to the household wifi" - fyi, depending on logistics of your connectivity, that may backfire as "used up 60GB out of your 2GB cell data plan, at a cost of $500". Naturally, coming out of YOUR pocket, not the lazybutt's. Safer to skip strait to "No phone".
    – user3143
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 18:16
  • Ah, but you can specify a cap for each individual phone. When he runs out of GB the phone won't play the games that require it any more. This has been our saving grace after giving our kids cell phones :) Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 18:23
  • @user3143 Some planning and forethought required ;)
    – Acire
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 18:25
  • @FrancineDeGroodTaylor - I need to check but I suspect Verizon, at least, doesn't offer that out of the box :( They are all in favor of you over-running your limits
    – user3143
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 18:28

Sounds totally normal. My son hates chores as well. My husband and I debated the "you shouldn't have to pay a child to do chores because that is part of being in a family" vs wanting a way to motivate him beyond yelling at him for not doing the work.

We decided to compromise, by "rewarding" him with a substantial gift that we would have been inclined to give him anyway. That happened to be a smart phone, and it has worked out very well for the most part. Because it is a gift that he uses all the time, not wanting to have it taken away, even for a short time, is a big motivator.

We did have a problem with him breaking the phone. The first time, we just paid the deductible to replace it (after all the electronic devices my husband has dropped in the toilet or the sea or a bay it seemed a tad hypocritical to make a huge fuss over it :) but the second time we made him earn the money to pay the deductible.

His particular chore is to do the dishes. He is expected to have the dishes done and clean up the kitchen area and run the dishwasher every night before he watches any TV or plays computer games. He, like your son, is terrible at "remembering" to do his chores, so we will periodically have to take the cell phone away for a day or two as a reminder that we shouldn't have to be nagging him every day to get it done. After he loses the phone he's usually good at remembering for a day or two and them goes back to forgetting. He's only twelve, though, so we don't expect much different. We have committed to just calmly having expectations and delivering consequences when he does not live up to the bargain.

The main point I would make is that you aren't going to get him to like doing chores or probably even to "own" them. You just need to get him into the habit of doing them. The "owning" happens when he no longer feels that his life is being controlled by others, but is instead under his own control. That is the point at which a child grows up and starts (hopefully) taking responsibility for doing the right thing. I hope that when my son reaches that point in his life he will remember the lessons that we taught him about how adults behave, and he will have internalized them.


My answer is a slight twist on @Erica's excellent one, and it even worked for much younger kids (worked at an intelligent 7 year old).

Anytime the child does something (or in this case, wants you to do something - hire a maid) - that costs $X, you explain to him which parts of the luxuries of life you provide cost $X. And I mean in hard currency #s, on a spreadsheet - not just conceptually.


  • A maid visit for 6 hours on a weekend costs $120 = $500/month.

  • Your share of the chores is 1/4th assuming 4 family members = $125/month.

  • Your cell phone plan costs $40/month, your computer games cost $20/month, your fancy fashionable cloths cost $100/month.

  • Pick $125/month off those luxuries you're willing to go without, and you get a maid for your personal chores".

  • 1
    This works best for comfortable middle-class existence in USA - YMMV in other contexts. From what I'm told, maid services in India are dirt cheap; whereas a poor family in US may not have enough budget to add up luxuries to cost of maid, given labour costs there.
    – user3143
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 18:25
  • Even if the family can afford it the child should still be taught to do as his mother ask.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 18:52

Maybe show him this video, just for a laugh. Seriously, though, I'm guessing it's not a problem of comprehension. I'm a big fan of Kadzin's Everyday Parenting Toolkit. His approach (a behavioral science approach) recommends positively reinforcing specific behaviors that you do like. This requires close supervision and immediate reinforcement, though; so a general reminder with no follow up is likely to fail.

A typical intervention would include the ABC's of parenting. A is for antecedent -- how do you set up your son to succeed in doing the thing you want him to do. Are you right there with him? Do you walk up and ask him very politely to please do the thing you want? A shouted reminder is less likely to succeed.

B is for behavior -- you need to know the behavior you are reinforcing. If you goal is to have him do it without you asking, you are likely to need to have intermediate goals that get him to that point.

C is for consequences. Positive reinforcement is generally the most effective consequence. A warm and genuine "thank you" and -- if they will tolerate it -- a hug. Negative consequences are generally far less effective because they provide negative reinforcement for the unwanted behavior rather than positive reinforcement of the wanted behavior.

The book outlines far more sophisticated strategies and much more detail. I highly recommend it.

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