How Do I Get My 13 Year Old Son to Be Accountable?

Updated on April 26, 2013
E.H. asks from Portland, OR
9 answers

So, my 13 year old is going through the same thing they all do, I am pretty sure. He does not put on clean clothes, brush his teeth, shower, clear his dishes, do his homework, etc without being told to do so by one of us. The expectations in our house have not changed. He just refuses to take the initiative and do the things that he KNOWS he needs to do. Well, I am totally sick of it. I do not want to be his babysitter. I know we need to establish consequences for his actions and lack of action, but how do you do that?

How do you figure out what is fair, because at face value, any of these things seem petty. For instance, we have a rule that the things on my desk are off limits. I run my business from there, and I have purchased all the same things for him to have in his own bedroom. He still refuses to get his own things, and will get something from my desk. When I get frustrated that he was digging through my things, he says its only a "____". However, its not the "____", its the fact that he is not supposed to be digging through the things at this desk. So I end up feeling like I am being petty, but when you look at the big picture, he is refusing to do any of the things that we ask of him.

Up until now I have felt like I was overreacting. I felt that this was more of an issue that I want my house a certain way, and he was not respecting that. But I am beginning to realize that he has an issue with taking responsibility (like most 13 year olds). But I am realizing that we owe it to him to teach him how to take charge of his life. We are setting him up to fail if we do not teach him how to do it himself. I know he does not like being nagged, nor do I like nagging. I guess I need some concrete steps I can take to remove the nag from my life. Books, recipes, action steps, etc. Do I make a chore chart, and list every stupid little thing that he needs to get done? I don't know...

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So What Happened?

Thank you all for the responses. Its always nice to hear from other moms who are dealing with the same things with their children. Like I said, most of the things are pretty petty, and I really do pick my battles with him. I am just beginning to see the bigger picture, and the things that I did not make a stink about are adding up to a bigger issue that I DO feel needs to be addressed. I totally agree that it is a "teen laziness" thing, and everything we are dealing with, or that he is NOT dealing with, are the same things that most people go through with their teenagers.

You have given me some good ideas though, and I think its time to start dangling carrots for him, to see if he will take charge, and do all the little things that he knows he needs to do. As for the office supplies, I know it seems like I am being nit picky, but please understand that he was only told that he could not use my desk after many times of him destroying it or taking things and destroying them or his room with them. Like using my scissors to cut up his mattress, chair, and sheets. He completely crashed my computer by doing things he was told not to do. So it took us a long time to get to this place.

I think the term "funsucker nag" is hilarious!! I totally fit that term, I am sure! My husband and I were laughing the other day... we counted how many times we have had to tell him to brush his teeth, 13 years x 365 days x 2 times a day... over 9,000 teeth brushes. And yet being told to brush his teeth is treated like it was the first time he was told to brush his teeth. It really is pretty funny. And I totally agree, once he gets interested in girls, I am sure his hygiene standards will go up.

Again, thanks for the tips and advice. I think if I can keep my sense of humor through the teenage years, we might just survive them!

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answers from Salt Lake City on

consequences, yes make a list and it has to be every little thing give him chores to do everyday. Really with the showering thing that is odd to me because most 13 year old boys I know are very concerned about their appearance.

2 moms found this helpful

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answers from Dallas on

I have a 13 almost 14 year old son. He called me a funsucker nag, and truthfully I just had to laugh to myself. I feel all I do with him anymore is nag him. I of course let him slip by on some of the little things that dad doesn't. Dad feels he's pretty grown and should be treated like an adult most of the time. He shouldn't have to repeat himself nor does he. If he leaves something on the floor, it's in the trash. We let him do what he wants to his room, his space. I make him bring his dirty laundry to me or it won't get wash. His personal hygiene is to be commended, and he's been like that since elementary school. Even better than his older sister when she was in elementary school. He won't leave the house without his hair being done, brush his teeth and looks good.

Does he have some electronics, PSP, cell phone or something like that? Take it from him and say you need to use it. When he gets upset then say to him stop being a nag, it's only blah. I know you probably don't have much need for a game toy, but say you are letting so and so use it. When he gets upset, remind him how he uses your stuff and thinks nothing of it being yours, it's a paper clip.

Also, just take away privileges when he doesn't listen to you. I totally know how you are feeling right now and just to let you know, you are not alone...

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answers from Salt Lake City on

This may be an off the wall suggestion, but maybe get him involved in scouting or other after school programs.
The only reason I suggest this is that my daughter (12 1/2 years old) is in a young women's group sponsored by her church and has a lot of respect for the leaders and older girls there, and they have regular meetings (something positive for her to go to) and goals to work on. For example, this week, she's been completely responsible for the meals. Planning the menu, doing the shopping (wrote up the list, went with and picked stuff out, but we paid), and dinner prep. Wow!! And I know that Boy Scouts has similar stuff with goal setting and responsibility (it's not just camping any knot tying!)

As far as your desk, tell him that it's your business - how you make money. When he disrupts it, it's like going into the back at McDonalds and rooting around for the ketchup or mayo he wants. Then tell him you'll charge him a dollar (or something) for intruding on your work space. Or, if you'd rather, make him pay you back in labor.

Sorry I don't have any better suggestions - I'm still in the middle of it myself!!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I think nagging is a mom's job. And a 13 year old taking something off mom's desk even though she told him not to is pretty normal.

If that's the worst he does, then I think you just need to keep nagging. I still nag, even though my kids are great. Today I told my 18 year old very responsible daughter for the zillionth time to wipe her hair off the bathroom sink. It drives me crazy. But she's a great girl.

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answers from Portland on

The Love and Logic books are perfect for these issues. In fact, they pretty much cover all areas of parenting from preschool through high school. They will help you establish natural consequences for you child's undesired behaviors. When your child misbehaves, he experiences the consequences of the choices he made. You get to be the empathetic parent, rather than the nag or the enforcer. It really works!

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answers from Seattle on

First you have to find his "cash" system. Meaning whatever is important to him. Some kids care about money, some don't. Some enjoy going to the movies on the weekends, others prefer going to friends' houses.

Cell phones are usually a favorite, it's like severing an artery (at least that's how my son acts when I take his phone). I have a 16 year-old-son and 10 year-old twin boys.

The hygeine was an issue until he started getting interested in girls. Then we went from "eww brush your teeth," to "Oh my gosh! Open a window." He started using some Axe body spray, but oh Lord, it looked more like some bug bomb exploded...come to think of it, I don't recall any spiders roaming our house that year, hmmm.

As for the desk, maybe he's being lazy and it's the closet thing to him. Can you put the supplies in a more central location? My son still goes for the easiest grab, which is usually my or my husband's desk. We put cleaned out a drawer in our dining room cabinet and put all school supplies in there. Now the kids have everything at their fingertips. That helped a lot.

As for the "cash" system, let him know he's getting older and he needs to step up. Tell him when he's disrespectful he will pay for it. Whether that means taking away his phone, games, etc... For my son it was money. We tell him our expectations up front. We bought him a cell phone right before he started high school. We told him if he broke it, he had to pay the extra $10/month for the line until he was able to buy a new phone. He dropped his phone, we reminded him of the payment. Within two days, he had a new phone (used, he bought one of his friend's old phones). So proud he learned how to be resourceful. It's not the prettiest phone, but it does the job.

However, he only acted that quick because he knew we were serious. When he was in middle school he broke my cell phone. And he had to pay for it. We worked him hard and then sent him to his grandfather's to work some more (little does he know that his four weeks of yard work would have earned him a lot more than my phone replacement).

Set ground rules, find what matters to him and use that as his reward/punishment system, and follow through.

And pick your battles. Yes, it's your work space, but unless he's leaving it in disarray, a paperclip or piece of paper really isn't an issue. My teen uses my desk to talk to me. He'll come in and ask for a piece of paper, but ends up talking to me about something that's bugging him.

Hang in there, consistency pays off.

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answers from Eugene on

At eleven years of age each of my children became responsible for two meals a week. And they were responsible for the laundry. They learned not to touch my desk too. So you son is in full rebellion.
Show him how to organize his stuff and tell him the next time he goes to your desk he will be without TV for a week. No friends houses can he go to for that week too.
I would put him in Karate class or Tai Kwon Do as he has no inner discipline and these martial arts are likely to help him acquire some.

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answers from Portland on

I have to agree with Putooi.
I have a 15 year old boy and have to say in our house we are having some of the same issues you are having. My husband calls it pure teen laziness and I tend agree. I did make a chart for him so we didn't get the "you didn't tell me". Hello- really? It's the same old thing EVERY WEEK! So the chart went up and then he said "I'm not 8 mom" - My reply- "you can't seem to remember what needs to be done.. here is a chart" His reply- "a chart? really? Me "yea-a chart?.. what else do you want?". So this is when the phone came in handy. I will text him daily as to what his chores are. We just started this a few weeks ago and he doesn't feel it's nagging and he just yesterday stated.. okay mom.. I got it? So we'll see how it goes if the teen-child will follow through.
As for him using your office stuff.. could be laziness. My son does this with me & it's just a battle I don't pick. But if it's important to you.. then let him know. If you feel it's disrespectful to your space.. let him know.
The trial and tribulations we will go through with our teens.. cheers to us & best of luck to you. I realize different ideas work for different kids.

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answers from Memphis on

I'm having the same problem and I am a single mom!!
Pulling my hair out!!!

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