It’s a battle that has been raging for generations. The battleground: the child’s bedroom.  The stakes: whether the room will ever get completely clean. Parents have battled their kids when it comes to cleaning rooms across cultures, socio-economic statuses, and a range of child ages.  Whether it be trying to get a young child to clean up their toys or arguing with a teen about the clothes scattered throughout their room, parents and their children commonly bicker about the child cleaning their room.

Because of this familiar conflict, many parents may wonder if there is even a point to this argument.  At what point does it become too much of a headache to get your tween or teen to clean their room?  And does it even matter in the grand scheme of things if their room is clean?  Like many things related to parenting, a clean bedroom itself is not a pressing parenting issue that will have long-term effects on your children. However, the way that parents teach their kids about the importance of cleaning their room and the nature of what children learn as they consistently clean their room does matter.  This type of task hits at the heart of the structural element of parenting, a key part of having a healthy relationship with your kids and teaching them the needed skills to be a functioning adults.  So, should you press and force your kids to clean their room each day?  Let’s see what the experts say.

Why it Does Matter

There are important reasons why you may want to not lay off your kids when it comes to picking up that messy room.  At the very least, there are a few things to consider as a parent that should help you both frame these discussions and help you prioritize when elements of that messy room matter the most.

  1. Follow-through May Be the Most Important Lesson. When it comes to teaching kids about structure and organization, one of the most important lessons they can learn is about follow-through.  Experts have noted that one of the best predictors of future success in life is tied to setting and keeping goals.  People who have what is called goal-driven behavior (they follow through with their goals) often are happier and more successful in adulthood.  That means that one of the most important things you can be emphasizing with a child when they clean their room is the importance of following through.  Instead of getting mad at them for a messy room, have them set a goal for when it will be done and then focus on if they meet this goal or not.
  2. Teaching about Resources. Realizing and using resources in our life is one of the best predictors of healthy coping during stressful situations in adulthood. That means that one of the important lessons children need to learn is how to use resources in their life.  Cleaning their room can be an opportunity to learn about how to find and use resources.  Do they have a sibling they can use to help them (perhaps in exchange for helping them with a chore)?  Are there boxes or storage bins in the house that can make the tasks easier?  Encourage your kids to think outside the box to help them with the task at hand.
  3. It’s Not About the Room. Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to your kids having a clean room is that it’s not about the room at all.  It’s about the larger skills and goals you want to pass along to your child that will help them structure their life as an adult.  Don’t make these goals and hopes hidden from your child.  Say them out loud!  When your child puts up resistance to cleaning their room, talk to them about why it’s important to you and what you want them to learn about adulthood.  While this may not suddenly create a change in heart, it will help them to focus and think about the underlying skills you are hoping to create within them.

Why it Doesn’t Matter

Despite these important reasons why teaching kids to clean their room is important, there are also reasons why having a clean room doesn’t matter in the long run.  The best way to think about these factors is that they are the inconsequential reasons we might want our kids to clean their room that should not be things you linger on or focus on because they don’t really matter according to the experts.

  1. Cleanliness is a Low Factor for Healthy Adulthood. We’ve all heard the old phrase, “cleanliness is next to Godliness,” but social science research suggests that being a clean person is not necessarily associated with a lot of positive adult outcomes.  This research suggests that there are a lot of sloppy and messy people who are very successful and well-adjusted adults.  While general organization skills do matter (more on that in a minute), how clean you keep your room, your house, your car, or really anything, simply doesn’t seem to correlate much with long-term success in adulthood.  In other words, while your personal preference might lean towards a clean and organized home, at the end of the day a messy room doesn’t really predict much about your child’s future success.
  2. Consistent Conflict Does Matter. There is something to be said about consistently having conflict with a child around a certain topic. When parents and children consistently fight and that conflict turns negative, it can have an overall negative effect on the relationship.  While conflict may be needed on some important topics, the cleanliness of a room should rarely elevate to that level.  If cleaning a room is creating a conflict with a child that is consistently becoming negative, it may have a harmful effect on your relationship with your child. On a topic like this, that negatively is rarely worth it.
  3. Structural Priorities Matter. Teaching a child how to keep a clean room and putting rules on this process is one important way that parents can teach their kids about keeping a structured life.  But it’s only one of many ways a parent might teach this lesson and many other ways may teach kids more important lessons about structure.  One of the main goals for parents when it comes to the structural element of their parent-child relationship is to teach their kids to organize areas of their life to help them learn how to function effectively on a daily basis.  Research has suggested that there are areas of a tween’s life that can be particularly suited for this type of lesson.  For example, helping kids stay organized and structured around their schoolwork has been linked to many positive outcomes in adulthood.  Helping teens get and keep their first job through helping them organize both their time and their finances is also highly related to positive outcomes later in life as well.  In other words, even for parents who are worried about teaching their kids the importance of organization and structure, there may be other areas of a child’s life that will provide a better platform for these lessons.

The Bottom-Line

The bottom line when it comes to room cleanliness is simply this; the outcome doesn’t really matter, but the process does. So, while you may be tempted to give your kids a free pass when it comes to a messy room, remember that having your kids clean their room is one way you can teach them important skills about structure in their life.  It may not be the only way, but it could be a way you teach your kids about how to utilize resources and follow through with promises they make.  It can be a way that you help them manage their time and make important priorities about how they use their time. Instead of getting frustrated with how they never seem to learn that it’s easier to just put things away rather than on the floor, remember that a messy room is a great opportunity to teach and guide your kids in ways that will teach the lessons beyond just having a cleanroom.

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