Do Children Help Less Than We Did At The Same Age?

Children doing chores
Children doing chores

Clearly not everyone who grew up in the last century spent their entire childhood chained to a kitchen sink, sloshing and washing away to help their parents. And clearly some kids now still do plenty to assist round the house.

But, it's probably fair to say that, on the whole, most youngsters of the 2010s do less in the home than previous generations.

Indeed a survey in 2012 suggested that as many as a quarter of children now undertake absolutely no chores, compared to only 13 claimed they'd spent around four hours helping a week, whereas their own kids did under two.

If the youth of today aren't making their beds, or picking up dish cloths or tidying toys away, where does that leave us? Regrettably, it leaves us doing it for them. Not ideal when we're all busy enough to start with.

So why might today's children have ended up doing more mucking up and less mucking in? Asking around among parents I know - many of whom regret not making their offspring help more - a common reason is not having invested the time to teach them to do chores properly early on.

Tanya, a mum of two teens, explains: "I never really got round to teaching them to do things as it seemed like hard work. Hard work to get them to come and pay attention in the first place when they were doing something more exciting, and hard work to actually show them what to do and how to do it correctly. It was easier getting on with it myself".

I understand where Tanya's coming from on this – I like things folded nicely or cleaned thoroughly and chivvying a small child along constantly, only to end up with a half-hearted, somewhat botched job, well, it feels quicker to just do it yourself.

And in the short term it is, but crucially not in the long term as blink and you'll still be sorting laundry for your 16-year-old who is perfectly capable of doing it themselves but never got in the helping habit. This doesn't leave them prepared for adult life either, when we won't be hovering and hoovering about their first home (if they can ever afford this rate...), waiting to pick up their dirty pants and discarded apple cores.

Another mum, Christine, blames her kids' lack of helping on their busy lives and this appears to be another reason for the downward trend in children's chore time. "They do far more activities and homework than we ever did and I feel bad getting them to stop playing and relaxing when they can, to help me with boring jobs."

Hmm, I can see where she's coming from but surely learning to run a house, work a washing machine and cook might be as valuable for adult life, if not more so, than that second session of tutoring?

You could say more mopping and less extra maths is needed here.

A further contributing factor could be around society's whole attitude to childhood: it's portrayed as a stage that should be as much fun as possible these days. Since chores are not much fun, why expect kids to do them?

But isn't it preferable to learn that life has its dull points now or it'll be a heck of a shock when they get out into the real world and find that your flat doesn't clean itself, and your internship requires, ooh three hours a day of photocopying, four hours of making tea, and one hour a day of anything remotely interesting?

So I say, get them used to lifting a finger now - it's better for them and better for you. Just don't expect to manage it without a bit of old-fashioned nagging...

The New Old-fashioned Rules on Chores:

Start them young. Toddlers love being mummy or daddy's little helper. Harness this and try and keep it going (granted that's not always easy when they become rather less compliant as they get older...)

Attempt to make chores "just what you do" in a family, not some great favour they are doing for you.

Invest time in teaching them how to do chores properly. It requires patience but will be worth it long term.

Keep your expectations age-appropriate. Pre-schoolers can happily match up socks, older kids might manage sweeping the floor, vacuuming, putting clean dishes away.

Encourage them. Be gentle and encouraging with them when they're learning how to do something: chances are they won't fold those sweaters the way you do but, hey, at least they're trying.

Assign each (older) child particular tasks, giving them a choice of what they take on. Make set jobs part of their routine – you might still have to remind them but probably less so than persuading them to do ad hoc jobs.

Don't pay or bribe them too much, especially for looking after their own stuff. A reward for extraordinary tasks such as cleaning out the garage or washing the car is a different matter.

Which type of parent are you?

Old old-fashioned parents' children picked all their toys up (all four of them as that's all you had in those days...) because otherwise mum would chuck them in a bin bag, stop your pocket money AND shout "what did your last servant die of?" over again until you surrendered and just did it.

New old-fashioned parents' kids pick their toys up because mum and dad explained that everyone needs to help out to make life easier – we're a team (naff though that sounds) - and if they don't, someone will trip over and break your favourite toy and they don't want that do they?

Modern flakies' kids don't pick up their toys. Who cares if someone trips over and breaks them when you've got 327 more to play with in the playroom (and spilling across every other room of the house)?

Do you think your children do fewer chores than you did at their age? What have you done to get them helping out more?