The Best Chores for Teens—and How to Get Your Kid to Do Them
Experts share their best chore ideas for teens, plus tips and apps designed for getting older kids to help out around the house with (hopefully) minimum resistance.
When the pandemic hit, many parents of teens found their once independent kids coming home to roost. Some were just waylaid from regular middle and high school activities while others were on semi permanent sabbatical from college. Regardless of the circumstances, the mess at home became epic, according to many parents we spoke to.
Let's face it, even pre-COVID, getting teenagers to volunteer to do dreaded "chores" was never an easy task. But now, more than ever, parents can use a helping hand, especially if you've cut expenses and are doing more around the house by yourself these days. The good news? Older kids do want to help, says workplace expert and mom Erica Keswin, and "identifying chores to have teens help around the house can lead to family harmony, which—believe it or not—isn't a total oxymoron."
Starting the Chore Talk With Teens
First try rebranding as you start to have discussions about things your teen can help with around the house. "Chores have a negative connotation, no matter who is doing them!" says Susan G. Groner of The Parenting Mentor. Keswin likes to recast chores into family "rituals" to help teens feel connected to a force larger than themselves; Groner favorably calls them family "contributions."
Then, instead of simply delegating tasks, Groner recommends sitting down together to talk about how everyone needs to chip in. "Together, create a list of everything that needs to be accomplished at home from buying groceries, to feeding the dog, to doing laundry or dishes, to watering plants, and everything in between," says Groner. "Chances are, your kids don't even realize how long that list will be." Then let your big kids choose what tasks they want to try out. Remember, these don't need to be their jobs for life, try meeting again in another week or so to find out what went well and also what some of the challenges were.
Groner also suggests putting some parameters around the timing for each item on the list so that you don't have to nag (we know, we know....). "You don't want to be the chore warden, and if interaction from start to finish is respectful towards your children, they will appreciate it," says Groner.
Keeping Kids Accountable with Chore Apps
"As my own daughter becomes older," explains parenting expert Joy Altimare of EHE Health, "we've graduated from color-coded chore charts to more digital options that can help her understand the relationship between chores and their financial impact." (While there are arguments on both sides regarding paying children for chores, we're assuming here having allowance and chores interconnect for teens.)
Many of the experts we spoke to suggest using technology to create reminders. "Let them come up with their own ideas, like setting an alarm on their phone," suggests Groner. Another idea: Utilize new chore apps that have the added bonus of streamlining allowance payments in addition to creating virtual chore charts. Here are a few designed specifically for teens to consider:
Greenlight: This debit card app for kids that parents manage has an option to build in a chore tracker function so that you pay allowance after activities are completed. In addition, you can decide with your teen to put a portion of their payments into savings, put aside for charity, or go into spending. (Fee: $5 a month and includes debit cards for up to five kids)
BusyKid: Altimare recommends this app which, she says, is simple to us: "I assign the chore and includes what it's worth. She completes the chore, taps on the dashboard indicating that she's completed it and then once I approve it, the money is transferred to one of several buckets: her allowance bucket (accounts), her savings or donation (for charities) bucket or to spend now." Note: This app specifically says it's good for up to age 16, and we're thinking that many teens may bristle at the "kid" in moniker. ($20 per year for child one, then additional $8 per child)
Rooster Money: Designed more as an app to teach kids about money, this one is geared toward tweens. You can build chore charts, add "extra earners" during the week, and give your kids rewards directly into the app. ($19 per year for a family)
Go Henry: A website, mobile app, and debit card that allows parents to set up automatic allowances or tasks and chores for their children to earn extra money. It's an easy way for parents to teach teens financial responsibility and independence all while keeping them safe from the danger of debt. ($4 per child per month)
Best Chore Ideas for Teens
After you've figured out a way to talk to teens about helping with chores and discovered ways to keep them accountable you reach the good part: Getting the help around the house you deserve!
Here are some top chore suggestions for teens from our panel of experts. But before you get started, plan a sit down with your young adults and discuss your household needs. When tasks coincide with their interests and skills, you're guaranteed to create a plan that works for your family.
Vacuuming, mopping, dusting
You can break this trifecta of clean ups into separate chores, but maybe let your teen try out all three and see if there's something they're better at or like more. You may want to point out, says Keswin, that the All Blacks, New Zealand's famously fierce rugby team, all participate in a ritual called "Sweep the Shed," or cleaning the locker room, behind the scenes.
Taking out the garbage and recycling
Taking out the trash was the number one chore request we heard from parents we spoke with. It's a relatively easy "one and done" task to get teens started, and is a good one for a phone app reminder since it happens on a regular weekly schedule.
Room clean up
A classic request from parents everywhere: Clean up your room! Try breaking this down into smaller chores for better results: Make your bed (either just straightening it every day or changing the sheets once a week), get rid of clutter, vacuum their own space, or clean their own bathroom if they have one.
This is a skill they truly can't live without once they leave home. Start by having them choose one day that's "their" laundry day so they can keep track. Sorting is an important skill if they don't want to have to wear pink T-shirts for the rest of high school. Do you want them to fold it, too? Make sure you're clear. "Teens should be in charge of putting away their own laundry so they can't blame anyone else (read: their parents) when they can't find their soccer jersey for the away game," says Keswin. Amen to that!
Setting the table, clearing the table. Too easy? How about loading and unloading the dishwasher? Up the ante and add washing pots and dinner may suddenly be the most relaxing time in the house for parents.
Mowing the lawn and shoveling the walk are two time-honored ways for teens to make extra cash by offering their services to neighbors. If you have a home that needs outdoor care, there's no reason this shouldn't be on the table, too.
Dog walking and pet care
If we had a dollar for every time a parent said to us, "My child promised to walk the dog when they asked for a puppy and now I'm the only who does it," we'd be able to buy everything at the pet store! But animal-loving teens are more than capable and often willing to take on the task of keeping their living creatures fed and comfortable.
Does your teen have a signature dish? Do they love to experiment in the kitchen? If they're culinarily minded, have them take over dinner once a week or make lunch for the family on weekends.
Is hanging out with younger siblings a chore? Probably, if you ask a teen, but as part of family responsibilities, we think this is a top priority. Plus, says parenting expert Reena Patel, it's one of the most important ways of teaching responsibility and caring for others.