Embark Behavioral Health
July 22, 2021
Lots of kids have messy rooms. They’re typically too busy focusing on other activities to be bothered to tidy up very often. But, disorganization and a messy room can be a sign of depression, and clutter can also cause stress and anxiety in teens.
It can start in small ways. Usually, people have their routines, and things are going fine, but then something can throw a person off balance. It may start with just not picking everything up or falling out of step with a routine they had before.
But, it can have a domino effect, depending on other factors, too. For instance, an ineffective response or reaction like anger from a parent can worsen the situation. If a parent is hounding their kid to clean their room, that could also add to the stress and make it worse because it may start to feel even more overwhelming than it is, especially if they’re experiencing depression. Craig Simpson, clinical director at Sunrise Residential Treatment Center, points out:
“If every interaction becomes about the room, that can start to deteriorate the relationship, and then that just compounds the issue more as well.”
As rooms start to deteriorate, it can increase stress. The reason for the neglect can be subtle, but big things can also cause it.
How to Tell the Difference Between a Messy Room and Depression
If you’re concerned, look at all the areas of their life. Changes in their performance at school, adherence to routines and schedules, connections with their usual friends, participation in regular activities, connection to family, sleep patterns, and appetite can all be signs of anxiety or depression in teens.
If the disorganization in their room is a manifestation of anxiety and depression, their effects may also show up in their hygiene or appearance. It’s a significant indicator that a larger issue may be at play if there are more and more places where things are starting to fall apart.
If you suspect your child may have depression, look for:
- Slipping grades
- Fatigue and sleep problems
- Neglecting hygiene routines
- Secession from typical activities
- Avoiding their usual friends
- Drug use
- Uncontrollable emotions
- Trouble concentrating or making decisions
- Changes in appetite and/or weight
- Prolonged feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- A sudden change from the cleanliness of a room and personal space to messy
“It’s difficult in teenagers because all of that is normal to a degree. They’re trying to figure all of this out, and they’re going through changes.”
If the root of their messy room is a more significant issue like depression, it’ll likely start to infiltrate into other areas. Multiple changes in their behavior and emotions are a clear indicator you should start talking with your teen.
When talking to them, it’s essential to come from a place of support, openness, and acceptance. Make statements or queries like ‘I’ve noticed this lately’ or ‘How can I help with this?’ to get them talking about what they’re going through.
How to Help Kids Feel Calm and Peaceful in Their Spaces
The most important thing to do is have discussions with them about how they’re feeling in their space and agree on the purpose of their bedroom. You know your teenager and what will work for them, but it’s critical to be intentional with space. Its primary purpose is for sleep, but you’ll also need to consider the other activities.
Ask yourself if your child’s environment is set up to be conducive for all that. Simpson explains:
“If they have a TV, a computer, and a fish tank in their room, you’ve just created a space that’s not meant for sleep alone. Now it’s meant for entertainment, fun, and stimuli.”
If your teen seems to retreat to their room because they want their independence, it’s important to set family limits and rules, such as no TVs in bedrooms or no computers in the room overnight. As parents, we can still put that protection in place for them while giving them the freedom to design and make their room their own within those boundaries.
Tips to Help Your Kid Keep a Cleaner Room
“It starts with those regular routines and habits, and the earlier you start and put them in place, the easier it is,” advises Simpson. It’s easier to get back into an established practice rather than trying to start from scratch. In getting a child into a routine, tidying up can become a part of that, such as picking up clothes as part of a bedtime routine or making a bed part of a morning routine.
In their younger years and teen years, it’s important to reinforce those habits with appreciation and praise. Simpson explains:
“As parents, we get quiet when we’re happy, and things are going well.”
Let them know you appreciate how clean their room is that week. Adding privileges or doing something special for them to keep their room tidy can help incentivize this behavior.
“Then the room doesn’t need to become a battleground, but certainly don’t die on that hill either,” says Simpson.
You also should be watchful of their level of motivation and how that ties to their mood. “We can get stuck in what’s called mood-dependent behavior, and teenagers are especially susceptible to it because of development and where they’re at,” explains Simpson. He adds, “They’re in pain, they’re experiencing increased emotions, they’re moodier, they have changing emotions, and their social interactions are getting more complex.”
Helping them form good habits as early as possible ensures that it’s not just their mood that determines what they do. If you start to hear that they don’t feel like it right now or they’re not in the mood to do it, those are warning signs of mood-dependent behavior, which can escalate to other areas and can lead to worse behaviors over time.
When to Step in and Help Clean
Suppose your child is experiencing extreme depression or anxiety and they’re feeling overwhelmed about the clutter in their room. In that case, you may need to help them clean their space in addition to dealing with depression or anxiety. Set aside some time to connect and talk about things, and make time to help them get organized, potentially starting with small areas at a time.
But most importantly, once you’ve determined your child needs help with treating depression or anxiety, start the process of finding the correct type of care and support for them.