Many, if not most, teenagers go through a period when hygiene is the last thing on their minds, and dealing with this is just one of those parenting challenges that have to be surmounted.
When kids reach puberty, their bodies and their brains both go through a period of rapid development. As part of this process, they start to sweat more just at the time when they are feeling most self-conscious about their changing bodies and most rebellious about the prospect of doing what they are told by Mum and Dad. The result of this perfect storm is, all too often, a very smelly teenager. While few get so grubby that there are serious health risks, being less than clean can aggravate skin conditions such as acne and ingrown toenails, and means that they are less than a joy to be around.
While the answer to young teenagers’ lack of personal hygiene is ostensibly a simple one—get in the shower—dealing with this situation can actually be quite complicated. If you are too subtle (“Don’t you think that a nice hot shower would relax you, darling?”) they might not get the message at all, as teenagers are often very self-absorbed. If you are too blunt (“You are stinking up the house and it’s disgusting”) tears will be shed, doors slammed, and general unhappiness will abound.
As with so many parenting dilemmas, the answer lies in being both firm and kind. You may need to sit your teenager down and explain tactfully but clearly how, now that they are getting older, they are sweating more and need to wash more often and more carefully than they did when they were younger. Point out that the same applies to you, as an adult. If you manage this conversation carefully, they will pick up the message that they are soon going to join the club of the grown-ups, and that washing more is just part of a package that also includes more freedom and more opportunities to make their own decisions. You can also consider getting them involved in choosing and purchasing some “grown up” toiletries that are just for them and that they will enjoy using. Go on a shopping trip to the pharmacy or supermarket and get a kit with gel, soap, deodorant and everything they will need in a new toiletries bag. They might be more inclined to have a shower when they have their own special kit. When they see for themselves that their skin is less prone to spots and pimples when they keep it clean, they are likely to become more motivated about managing their own hygiene.
Finally, bear in mind that this is a short phase and it will pass! While many adolescents struggle with hygiene for a year or two, they all get to grips with it eventually, at which point one of your household’s commonest dilemmas may be figuring out how to get them out of the bathroom so that other people can use it.
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For help with the issues discussed in this article speak to one of our therapists here at Private Therapy Clinic for a free initial chat or to make an appointment.