You’re not sure how it happened, but here you are: the not-so-proud parent to a teenager who refuses to bathe. His poor hygiene has become downright offensive and you’re left wondering where you went wrong. After all, you would think something as basic as fresh-smelling pits or oil-free skin would be less of a teaching moment and more of a no-brainer. Sadly, your son’s lack of hygiene is pretty common and the reason for his new smelly self isn’t as confounding as you think.
For one, he’s living in a time of uber distraction. Teenagers have been easily sidetracked since the dawn of time, but pile on the smart phones and portable everythings and it’s no wonder your son won’t shower. Who’s got the time?! Though he may be old enough to tell time, your son is still not a master of managing it. When his choices are more gaming or more scrubbing, there’s no contest.
On top of all the other things he’d rather be doing, your son may simply not understand the importance of proper hygiene and how it affects his overall health. Showering, shaving, deodorizing—it all just feels like another chore designed to help you, not him. Since teenagers are epically bad at seeing the big picture, he has no reason to believe that his poor hygiene today is setting him up for poor hygiene later in life; that refusing to bathe now will deny him scores of social invitations later; that his lack of hygiene currently may only set him up for more issues in the future, like BO, acne, cavities, you name it.
So, what’s a parent to do? How can you help limit his distractions while teaching him to actually care about his hygiene? No question, you have your work cut out for you, but instead of badgering him with logic for the millionth time to combat his poor hygiene (“just pause the video while you shower!”), try helping him manage his time so that he doesn’t feel like his personal hygiene is getting in the way. Troubleshoot a morning shower by encouraging him to shower at night just before his nighttime scrolling session on IG. He can floss while he YouTube’s and moisturize while he texts. In other words, find ways to incorporate hygiene into the things he’s already doing.
Educating him on why his lack of hygiene is a problem is key. His face may say he’s being lectured on Newton’s Laws of Physics, but his ears are likely more attentive than you think. We’re not above scare tactics (“sure, skip flossing and wait for your teeth to fall out”), but if you can paint a picture that is more relevant to his current priorities, he’s more likely to listen. Things like how personal hygiene impacts his social life and self-confidence might make the light bulb flicker. More about that here.
You can also try giving him a puberty kit full of all the products he’ll need to practice proper hygiene himself. Less pestering for you and more accountability for him, the tools to fight poor hygiene may send your message more clearly. Plus, it shows him that you trust him to get the job done—that you see him as the young adult he feels he is.