Should teenagers have to keep their rooms clean?

Surely teenagers need a space where they can exert control?
Surely teenagers need a space where they can exert control? Photo: Carolyn Lagattuta

Is it time to give teenagers a break? That perennial argument about forcing teenagers to clean their rooms won't go away.

A recent social media post by a young girl received the most comments, not for her thoughts, but for the dishevelled state of the bedroom in the background. It wasn't helped by the suggestion there may just possibly have been a rat in there.

When I look back on my own teenage years (OK a very distant memory), I recall that the single biggest cause of dissent with my mother was the state of my bedroom. It was the only time my father ever intervened in any dispute between the two of us: "You simply have to clean your room – it's upsetting your mother so much."

Now, when I see photos on social media of teenagers showing the world the state of their room's undress, I wonder what got so many mothers' knickers in knots back in the '70s.

But it's not a problem confined to an earlier generation. I have a perfectionist friend who has constant angst now because her teenage daughter won't clean her room. Neither party will back down.The mother is staunch: "It's my house, so it's my rules."

And the daughter says: "It's my room; why do you have to force your obsessive tidiness on me?"

Is either right? I am sure psychologists have a lot of fun with this one. But now that I have had two teenage sons of my own, I have come to appreciate both sides of the argument. And I have come down firmly on the side of the teenager.

When so much in a teenager's world is outside his or her control – school, spots and hormones are just the start – surely they need a place where they can exert some control?

They need a space of their own, that's theirs to do with what they will, within reason. So long as nothing inanimate gets to the point where it could walk out of the room on its own, I don't have a problem with it. And if it smells like something died in there, offer to help them find it and dispose of it.


One of my two sons was noticeably more messy than the other, but he would welcome the occasional offer to help clean it all up. Bonding over the old socks and sneakers wasn't all bad.

You just have to hope they'll grow out of it. Although another friend of mine has a son in his late 20s who is making a fortune in banking. You can't even get into the bedroom in his flat because it's so messy. But he emerges out of that mess every morning freshly coiffed in a suit and tie, looking like an ad for Hardy Amies.

Teenage girls are especially good at this trick, flitting off like beautiful butterflies while leaving a trail of destruction behind the door.

If you can't get your head around the idea that we should just leave them to it, think of the big picture. Compared with what else is going down for many teenagers in our world right now, how important is a tidy bedroom?

It doesn't even begin to rate.

Close the door.

– Stuff