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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 30/04/2006

Recently Iíve had several very similar conversations with women about their children. Basically theyíve been going on about the state of their teenage kidsí bedrooms and how they hate being a nag. I have two sons and so Iím more than familiar with what they are talking about. But my advice is this: operate a closed door policy. What you donít see doesnít get you down. Usually the women counter with worries about hygiene but I think they are overdoing it. Sure there may be mould growing on the crusts of toast, or on trainers, for that matter but it is hardly life threatening. Remember that experts are now saying that exposure to germs is important for a properly functioning immune system! Of course, if you run low on dishes, towels or whatever, because they are piling up behind closed doors, then you can always insist on a plate or mug amnesty.

The benefits of such an approach are enormous: for a start, you stop feeling like a nag. Your relationship with your children improves. Young people, rightly in my view, believe that how they keep their bedroom is their business and so always resent being nagged about complying with their parentsí, usually their motherís, standards. Whatís more, letting young people decide how to keep their room encourages independence and responsibility. Eventually a messy room gets on most peopleís nerves and theyíll tidy it up themselves. If they donít then they have to live with the consequences of never being able to find anything or getting into a damp bed because of those towels that have never been hung up. Being laid-back about young folk's bedrooms doesn't mean letting go of general standards of tidiness: I would always insist on them being tidy in communal areas such as the kitchen or bathroom.

At this stage in the discussion women usually start bringing up the subject of laundry. Now this leads me to the second stage in my strategy to encourage young people to be independent: insist that they do their washing themselves. With my older son I did his washing until he was about 16 and then I started to get irritated when he complained if clothes he wanted to wear hadnít been washed and ironed. Since I had enough going on in my life without having to anticipate the clothes he needed for his social calendar, I told him just to start doing it himself. When the younger one turned 14 he also had to do his own laundry. They werenít greatly pleased at the time with this development but it cut down friction between us enormously and of course, freed up my time. The planet also benefited; before they did their own laundry they were always putting clothes in the basket that really didnít need washed and could be worn again.

Whatís interesting is that recently both my sons told me that they didnít know another boy of their age (or even a girl) who did their own washing but they thought it was absolutely right for me to insist on them looking after themselves in this way. They agreed that it had made them feel more independent and that there was no reason why they should be loafing about at home while I took responsibility for their laundry Ė particularly when I was much busier than they were.

Behind my insistence was a strong conviction that by making them take responsibility in this way I was also helping their future relationships with girls. After all if you look at surveys of womenís attitudes to men then a big complaint women have is that men expect them to do everything in the house. Who is responsible for menís expectations that there should be a woman looking after their needs? - mothers.

Donít get me wrong Iím all for mothers playing an important role in childrenís lives. There is plenty of scope to talk to children and support them in their lives. If anything I think many young children with working mothers donít get enough time with them. I also think that young peopleís needs for care and attention should be provided by their parents. But when young people get into their early teens they become capable of looking after themselves. And at that stage mothers need to hand over more responsibility to them. Since it is unlikely that the young personís standards of tidiness or cleanliness will match their mothersí it is important to back off and keep their bedroom door closed. Try it. All you have to lose is the sense of being a nag.

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