Ask BBB: Parenting Advice from Betsy Brown Braun

QUESTION: My teenage son wants to wear the same jeans and sweatshirt every day even if they are dirty. Seriously, they are gross and sometimes they smell. I can’t even get the chance to wash them. How do I get him to wear clean clothes?

BBB: Welcome to teenage boys—teenage boys pre-girlfriend, that is. Looking grungy is very much a part of “the look” these days. Yes, it is gross to us. But to your son, he fits right in. In fact, he is downright cool.

And believe me, fitting in and getting his friends’ approval is much more important to him than doing what you, his mother, wants.

Until the time when he gets a girlfriend who won’t get near him because he stinks, it is still one of your mom jobs to encourage his cleanliness. You may not think he is getting the message, but you need to keep giving it. I promise you, he is absorbing it, though he may not smell like it.

In order to get a teen to do anything, it requires negotiation and compromise on both your parts.  You can make a rule, complain, insist, whine, cajole, yell and threaten, but unless he buys into it, you will lose.

For this reason, it is important to have a conversation and negotiate about this (or any) issue that seems to be driving you wild. At a quiet moment let him know you need some help in solving a problem you are having.

Do notice the exact words I used. You are not blaming him. The conversation will fail before it begins if you go at it with two guns blazing.

The process is as follows: State what you are feeling and what you would like to see happen, then let him react. Don’t judge. Just state the problem as you see it. Give your suggestion as to what is a solution—“I propose that you wear clean clothes every other day”—and see what he says.

If he disagrees, ask him what part of your solution he finds objectionable and ask for his ideas for a solution. Go back and forth until you agree on a compromise.

Do not judge. Just go for ideas for solving the problem. NO threats, please. It is not over until you both agree. It is even okay to take a break and agree to think about it, coming back at it at a later time. It is important that you not judge, disparage his clothing choices or anything else. Just the facts. He needs to feel respected by you…even if he does smell.

Allow me to remind you that this is a stage. I promise you that one day, likely one day soon, it will be gone. And rest assured, another stage will happen. It’s all part of the bigger plan called growing up.

Betsy Brown Braun, M.A. is a Child Development and Behavior Specialist (infants to teens), a Parent Educator and Multiple Birth Parenting Specialist. Betsy consults with parents privately, runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers and other professionals. She is the author of the bestselling “Just Tell Me What to Say” and has been featured on the “Today Show.” Betsy and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have five grandchildren, so far. Contact: or visit her website at To submit your parenting questions, email