Punishment for young teen, hiding trash

So as not to poison the well, I won’t remark on the kid’s current punishment in the OP.

Last night, our 14 year old was caught with garbage stashed around his room. Bunches of it. Under the dresser, under the best, under clothes in one of his drawers, etc. Empty chip bags, Pop-Tart wrappers, candy wrappers, soda bottles (some still partially full), water bottles, etc. Thankfully very little actual biological food waste as opposed to wrappers and boxes. This isn’t the first time this has happened. This would actually be the fourth. The first time was a pretty big blow up, the second time I just left it at “I know you have stuff in your room, have it gone before I get home from work” and the third was somewhere in between.

Just cut off the obvious remarks: Yes, I know it’s not drugs or alcohol or endangered seal pups or immigrant child slaves being hidden. He’s basically a good kid, does well in school, is in an after-school activity, all that good stuff. That’s why I’m asking for opinions beyond just “ground him for [time]!”. But this repeated behavior links in to other bad choices and decision making (deceit, lack of responsibility, etc) so I’d like to handle it for what it is than hear about what it’s not.

He has no real reason to be doing this. It’s just teenage stupidity, I suspect. I’ve made clear before that I buy food with the intent for it to be eaten so, provided he’s respectful in how he eats it (no eating a whole bag of cookies or drinking a whole thing of juice without any one else having any) there’s no reason to hide the fact that he had some chips. It’s not really laziness – half the stuff took more effort to hide than to stick in the trash. I suspect it starts with thinking he’ll be in trouble for eating it, so he hides it and then he hides more and then it just becomes “okay” in his mind to cram garbage into places. That’s obviously not a mindset we want to encourage. But I can’t think of a way to get across that I don’t give a shit about a package of Pop-Tarts aside from plainly stating “Look, I don’t give a shit about the package of Pop-Tarts just throw the wrapper away”.

I don’t really see it as “hording”, at least not as I see it depicted on the TV shows. He has no attachment to the garbage and it’s obviously just garbage (even to him). It just isn’t going where the garbage goes. Our house can be cluttered and messy (we have a 14 year old, a 3 year old and two working parents) but it’s definitely livable, the kitchen especially is kept clean and the “stuff” is legitimate stuff that needs organizing, not garbage. I wouldn’t want the Pope to visit but I’m not ashamed to have friends and family drop by.

Although the title says “punishment”, I’m curious for any insight. Or discipline that could prove more fruitful than just “take away the video games”. And, again, I’m well aware and thankful that a bajillion other parents would love to have this be their biggest problem but that’s not a good reason for not taking care of this one.

This may be ridiculously obvious, but does he have a trash can in his room?
As punishment, I’d have him clean the rest of the house, grounded until complete to your satisfaction.

Get him a garbage can for his room?

(AnaMen beat me to it)

Just make him clean it out, and a get a full size garbage can for his room that he has to empty on trash day. It wouldn’t even occur to me to punish him for this - it would just set up control battles for the next several years, and it’s only some garbage. Who cares, really?

I puzzled that you use the word “caught” him with garbage in his room. And then for it to be a “big blow up”? Lighten up, Francis, or your sons’s teenage years are going to be hell, and he will become a bad kid as you tighten the screws on him. It will not end well.

Just say “dude, here’s a garbage can for your room. Empty it once a week - I don’t care if you eat Pop Tarts, just don’t leave the wrapper in your room”

Remember - this is his only space in the world, and he’s trying desperately to find something that he can control. It’s a good thing, because learning how to control things is best when you’re dealing with small things. I don’t even understand why this is an issue you’d get involved in anyway. It’s a messy room. Make him clean it once a month, and otherwise, give him some damn breathing room. He has grown up with the example of what your house is like - not messy, not dirty - and he is learning that that is how someone takes care of their house. It may not seem like it now, but it won’t be too long before he has his own place, and he will take care of it how he sees fit.

I don’t know if it’s relevant but my parents got sick of the constant messy state of the house when I was about 10 or 11 and instituted Scour Hour. No cartoons, no sugary cereals, no video games or anything until a person spent 60 minutes doing hardcore bandana round the head, bucket of soapy water and a sponge cleaning. Moaning in the middle of the bedroom floor picking up one sock and trudging to the hamper then going back for the other one didn’t count.

I don’t know why he might be hiding garbage but perhaps the opportunity to clean his room on a regular basis without feeling judged could be helpful?

Talk with him. Ask him why.

I seems to me that despite what you said about food being bought for eating, he still feels the need to hide his consumption. I think this is the issue that needs to be addressed.

He did not previously have a garbage can in his room because he was not supposed to be eating in his room anyway. Packages and plates had a habit of not making it back where they belonged so the solution was to keep eating to the kitchen or family room. That said, a garbage can for his bedroom would be a good idea regardless if even for the usual paper clutter. There was never any intentional decision to NOT have one (“Haha, this will stop him!”) it just never came up.

Given that it was intentionally hidden (and lied about), “caught” would be the appropriate word. The “blow up” was a more cumulative effect. Asking about it, getting evasive answers, asking if that’s it, being told yes, finding more, getting more evasive answers, etc etc.

Entirely possible, hence the acknowledgement that things could be a lot worse and the request for solutions beyond “tightening the screws”.

That’s true.

He’s told to clean his room regularly. Which is part of why it was an issue to find out that “clean your room” wasn’t a chance to get rid of the junk but rather to hide it all deeper. It’s an “issue” because – among other things – that’s how you get ants :wink:

Well, sure. Which is why you try to establish good habits and end bad habits now, right? Take responsibility in school so you learn to be responsible with a job, have an allowance now so you learn to manage money later, take a daily shower now so you learn grooming habits, etc.

Weird, we have the same problem at our house! Only our little hoarder is 22 years old. No matter what his dad says to him, he stuffs his drawers and bedframe with food trash. His dad recently stopped buying yogurt, even though he eats it himself, because all the empty containers wind up in the boy’s room.

We’ve tried this. He can’t say why. I’m partially convinced HE doesn’t know why. Not in a mental sickness sort of way but rather in a “do it until it seems normal” sort of way. I’d love to get a simple “why” because I’d love to address that “why”.

Maybe. This goes back to wishing I had a real “why”. But, on the sheer “food consumption” part, there’s little rules about what he’s allowed to eat aside from being respectful in the amount he eats. He has my metabolism from that age and I could eat a large pizza a day in college and still left college at 6’1" with a size 30 waistband. It’s mainly food I’ve purchased so it’s not as though he’s sneaking cookies to get away from our tyranny of apples and granola. But he may have other, non-food, reasons which I’d like to know.

Is he overweight? Perhaps he is trying to hide the evidence of his unhealthy eating, or not wanting to be seen eating all that snack food.

Quite the opposite. He’s very slender and, if anything, has trouble gaining weight.

To be clear though, he’s not eating this to gain weight. He took wrestling once and had issues due to his low weight (he was under the lowest class) and we got him some protein powder and various food items to help augment his diet to help him put on a few pounds. They went largely untouched. So it’s not “Oh, I wish I could gain weight” so much as just “These are yummy”.

I doubt there’s any big mystery. For some reason, in a teenage mind, it’s easier to cram wrappers into a drawer than it is to throw them away properly. I used to do that with my clean clothes - I crammed them under my bed with my feet even though the dresser was two feet away. My kids do similar things - it’s just something kids do.

There’s your why - kids are stupid. :slight_smile:

Just watch, twenty years from now. he’ll own his own recycling or waste management company. :smiley:

In that case, I guess maybe step away from the why and address the trash. You’ve probably already talked to him about ants and other health reasons it’s not good to have food trash in his room. Maybe have him clean his room out and then say the next time you find food trash in his room, no eating in his room for a period of time? My son (15 yo and about the same height/size as yours) is bad at leaving dirty dishes in his room. The natural consequence for that is no eating in his room.

Good luck and hopefully it’s just something he outgrows.

Even if he’s not overweight, he may still feel guilty about the amount of food he’s eating. Teenage boys are hungry. The media and society are constantly bombarding everyone with the message that you shouldn’t eat a lot, and if there’s the slightest hint of that message in your home as well, he could very well feel bad that he wants to eat so much. I’d really try to get it through to him that he can eat as much as he wants and it’s okay, and if you find that that’s the issue, take him shopping for his own supply of food, keep it in a separate cabinet and tell him he has free reign over it, or whatever would make him feel like he has complete control over what and how much he eats.

I was sorta that kid. I had the messiest room. Mostly I just couldn’t deal with organizing and keeping the mountains of paperwork for school, and so as the papers piled up so did everything else.

Of course even if I did manage to completely clean my room, my dad wouldn’t even look in and declare “It’s still a mess” anyway. So I figured well, why bother. Going to get judged poorly either way.

Don’t worry, I grew up into an adult that has a pretty good handle on things. My apartment is pretty normal. Mostly because I don’t have to haul home 25 more pieces of paper every day, day after day!

Also I’m not sure how you can’t have a garbage can in bedrooms. I mean, what do you do when you have a runny nose at night? Just toss the tissues on the floor? Not to mention all the other uses for tissues…

When I was a teenager, my room was the place where plates and cups went to die. It was sheer laziness on my part. My parents told me that I was to bring everything up once a week and wash it all by hand. If I did not, they would clean my room for me. If they cleaned it, they had the right to go through anything (it was their house, after all). It freaked me out enough to make sure I never had stray tableware in my room ever again. I still cannot eat/drink in my bedroom.

I would suggest a garbage can, noting it’s his responsibility to empty it weekly. Also threaten sporadic checks - if there’s gabage you’ll clean his room for him. Would the threat of loss of privacy work?

I think you’re experiencing repercussions from the “No eating in your room” phase. Clearly he got in trouble for all the dishes in his room at that time, and still feels the zing of fear whenever he eats in his room.

Try making clear that you have changed the rule again. Present him with a trash can, with a liner in it and more liners in the bottom of the can that he can easily pull up to replace it. Make him empty it himself every trash day and even if it’s empty he has to take out the liner, put it in the outside can, and replace it with a new one.

you say it’s not hoarding, but it is exactly how hoarding starts. Not throwing out worthless things and not taking out the trash is the beginning, and that is followed by the rationalization. The longer this is allowed to go on the more energy goes in to defending the rationalization, and if social isolation and depression enter the picture then a snowball effect takes over the person’s life.

I’m not suggesting that you/he are anywhere near there yet, just shining a flashlight down the path for you. Get him into the habit of removing the trash every week no matter what. And please do not approach this problem with any more negativity; especially avoid shaming him. You are the upbeat coach cheering him on as he develops these healthier habits.

Good luck!

Let me put in the standard “Thanks for all the responses”.

I’ve made this point to my wife. She’s more scandalized by this than I am on a “OMG garbage!” level whereas I’m more bothered by the poor judgment angle. Neither her nor any of her siblings ever did anything like this so it’s fairly alien to her. I used to have the usual teenage closet full of junk (but not food waste) so I at least get the “Teenage boys are often stupid slobs” trope.

He’s not supposed to be eating in his room anyway. Still, if he’s going to take advantage of us not being home to break the rules, I’d rather he eat in his room and then throw the waste away.

“Us not being home” is mainly him getting out of school and home by 2:30pm where we’re out of work and home by 5:00pm. I accept that he’s going to spend that time playing video games outside the allotted couple hours a night or doing other things outside the rules. That’s just part of being a kid and learning how to work the system.

Part of the discussion last night was around the fact that I buy lunch meat, bread and other “real” food that winds up going uneaten and discarded but there’s a bunch of cookie wrappers under the bed. I’d be all for the kid making a sandwich when he gets hungry. I try to go out of my way to purchase food I think he’ll like or to ask him “Hey, what meat do you want?”. We bought a big bag of frozen chicken nuggets and told him “Hey, if you’re hungry just heat up a couple whenever you want”. The bag went untouched until it was freezerburned and thrown away. Right now my inclination is to just stop buying the treats since having them in the house just makes them his staple diet.