How to make an absent-minded teenager take responsibility

Cookie Vidal asks: I have a hard time getting my 16-year-old brother to do all my dog’s things (pick up her feces, change her water etc.), and for the last 6 months or so I have been doing it for him. He stays home all day and can’t even clean the floor or wash the dishes etc. So how do I approach him to get him to do something other than being on Facebook?

Hi Cookie Vidal –

Okay, first things first:  Nothing here is anything but normal.  16-year-old boys tend to be very forgetful, even if they mean to be responsible; and they usually are a lot less concerned with messes than other people.

If this weren’t the case – if he were, say, 24 – my suggestion to you would be to stop doing his chores.  To leave the dog’s mess out, to leave the floor and dishes (it’s not fair to the dog to not give her water though), and wait till it starts to drive him absolutely nuts.  That method works beautifully – but not necessarily with 16-year-old boys!

So I think you need to take more drastic measures.

The first one is – where is the rest of your family in all this?  Unless you’re Cinderella, there ought to be some adults around who would help out with discipline, I imagine.  A mom or a dad or some other grownup, who might walk up to him and tell him that he has to clean up after the dog, or wash some dishes, or something!  Someone who can, if necessary, take away his right to his computer until the yard has been cleaned, or refuse to feed him until he washes a dish!

But if the adults are all focused on your baby brother, and telling you that you need to handle all these things yourself, then maybe you need to take more drastic measures.  These are kind of outlandish, but take a look at them, and see if you think you can get away with any of them!

1)    Your brother probably values his privacy, and likes to hole up in a room by himself.  His bedroom, perhaps?  Well, if so, maybe the dirty dishes could somehow find themselves in there too.  All of them.  On his bed.  Or perhaps the dog poop might end up in there.  In a tied bag is fine (so it doesn’t permanently stink the place up), the effect will still be there!  I know it sounds mean, but you’d be making a point: he’s letting the home environment get filthy, so he should experience what that’s like.  And he needs to treat the rest of the place with the respect he wants you to have for his room.

2)    You could post pictures of the dishes and the poop on his Facebook page, so his friends see them!  Again, when he complains about it, explain that all that mess is where your friends see (in your home and yard), so you’re putting it where his friends see.

3)    Okay, this is the most drastic:  Do you or any family members of yours have a friend who could babysit the dog for a time?  If so, one thing you could do is to, one day when your brother isn’t home, take the dog to them and leave her there – and don’t tell him about it.  When he questions where the dog is, you (or another family member) just say that he wasn’t taking care of her, so they gave her away.  He will probably start to complain, a lot.  Good responses to his complaints might include: a) the dog would die of thirst since he didn’t give her water; b) the dog could get worms or other diseases from walking around in her own excrement; c) the dog wasn’t happy and should be with someone who gives her love; d) he wants to have more time on his computer, so this was a favor for him.

Of course, the plan would never be for the dog to stay at that friend’s place for very long.  Just enough for your brother to wake up to his responsibilities.  (After all, I’m sure the dog would much rather be at your place, with her family – however imperfect certain members might be!)

Again, Cookie Vidal, I don’t think your brother sounds like a bad guy.  He just is at a developmental stage that he has to grow through.  Your job is to help him get through it.

As well as thinking we’re the best and most fun beings in the world, this is one of the reasons I love teenagers getting dogs.  The best way to learn responsibility is to have someone who you love who truly needs your help.  That dog can’t clean up her own yard or fill her own water bowl.  If she could, she would!

Part of being a teenager is learning to say “no” to a lot of demands that people have put on you all your life.  “You have to behave” a certain way, “You have to respect” certain people, etc.  It’s healthy and good for teens to rebel against some of these rules.  But it’s also necessary for teens to learn what rules are simple and absolute.  Cars are fast and need to be driven with care; Success at school or jobs requires hard work; and dogs need to be fed, watered, exercised, and cleaned up after.

He will learn.  And when he does, I’ll bet you find that you have a wonderful brother who’ll be a great help when you go through some of your own tough teenage times.

But for now, a little “tough love” might be just what he needs.  And you’re just the Tough Cookie to give it.

Good Luck.  And thanks for all the caring you’ve done for the pooch!


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