Daniel had always put his toys and clothes away before going to bed at night, but soon after he turned 9 years old, he changed. He no longer valued tidiness and seemed to relish the chaos that now characterized his bedroom. Cajoling, nagging, even friends visiting had no impact. He also stayed in his room more, demanded people knock before entering, and asked for a lock for his door.
Talk to any parent about tween troubles, and angst over messy bedrooms is sure to emerge. Parents comment that their tween, who was obligingly tidy before, suddenly prefers clutter and ignores any request to get organized. This is absolutely normal. Tweens' changing brains make it harder for them to be ordered and systematic, but, more importantly, tweens desire more autonomy and privacy and need to forge a separate identity. Your tween's bedroom represents his personal territory and will be jealously guarded as an adult- and sibling-free zone. If you understand this, tension over bedroom blowups can be kept under control.
Rest assured that the mess on the floor does not necessarily reflect a messy mind and certainly does not predict a future strewn with failure. Nor does it mark the start of total rebellion. It's also not worth putting your child down and risking relationship breakdown over this issue. A tossed-off comment, such as "It makes me feel dirty just to look at it," can imply that you feel the same way about your child.
How You Can Help
Still, learning how to be organized and stay tidy is useful. Try these ideas for helping your tween manage his mess:
- Focus on practical reasons for having a tidier bedroom. If you stress how much it bothers you, you'll simply be told, "So shut the door!"
- Invite your tween to think about what creates the most mess and at what point it gets overwhelming.
- If your tween's room is a complete disaster, offer to make it a shared project. Help by giving him bins with colored labels — red for "keep," green for "trash," and yellow for "don't know yet."
It's more important for your tween to keep his things under control in communal family space. Since his bedroom is his territory, perhaps he should, sometimes, be allowed to relax in it his way.