Big Kid

Messy Tween Bedrooms Explained

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Messy Tween Bedrooms ExplainedAn untidy space probably spells normal development                                                

It’s more than a tad embarrassing when I recall how I used to brag about my neatnick son’s spotless room. He was the shipshape child. The kid finger-pressing wrinkles out of little polo shirts and cargo pants. In fact, he lived for color-coding perfectly hanging apparel in his closet.

His bedroom pretty much passed every white glove test I never gave it. Shame on me—there I go with the bragging again.

Fast forward to this child’s twelfth birthday. It’s as if pod people snatched Boy Tidy and replaced him with Tweeny Slob-a-saurus. What? The messy tween train stops at your house too?

Why ‘House Beautiful’ May Not Be Calling
Turns out, many child development experts agree that although tweens may be clutter magnets, messy rooms for tweens and teens are normal—as in, developmentally appropriate and right on schedule. Not only does the changing brain chemistry of adolescents make organization more challenging, but tweens and teens exhibit a natural need to assert their autonomy as well.

Which means we shouldn't be too quick to dismiss the toxic wasteland known as their room as a sign of rebellion. The mess may reflect a healthy emerging independence. Our tweens are separating emotionally—and in terms of their personal messy space—physically as well.

But what about what those designers on HGTV who insist our interior spaces and decor symbolically mirror our inner selves? Perhaps this analysis does not apply to minors. Otherwise, my child is teetering somewhere between slightly disturbed and headed for a padded room (which you just know he’s going to litter with half empty cans of Mountain Dew).

The mounds of dirty laundry—the ground-in cheese puffs—the stench? Perhaps we can point to these and more adolescent unmentionables as evidence of growth, not instability. Of normal textbook maturation, not disturbance. (But sweet mother, the mess also shouts “Keep the heck out of here!” does it not?).

Why Tweens Seem Oblivious to Oblivion
Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer, child development expert and author of “Talking to Tweens” says this about the pressures facing today’s tweens. “We know that when we feel overwhelmed we tend to fall short of our own standards, lose our cool more often, and sometimes make any pressures worse, perversely, by ignoring them. Worries can interrupt our sleep, and tiredness increases our irritability and chips at confidence. Children are the same.”

So some tweens may tend to ignore piles or an out of control bedroom because their lives—wrought with academic pressures and over-scheduling—overwhelm them sufficiently. Hartley-Brewer suggests that since their bedrooms are their personal space, parents should make an effort to consistently allow tweens to relax in their space in their own way.

I think we all understand what that means, right? Strap on that surgical mask securely before entering their space.

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Michele Ranard has a husband, two children, a master's in counseling, and a blog at cheekychicmama.com.