How do I get my teenage son to bathe? I’m lucky if my 13-year-old showers once a week! How can I encourage him to improve his hygiene without seeming like I’m nagging him?

Teens don’t want to smell bad, have acne or have peers make fun of them for being unhygienic. As a parent, it’s your responsibility to teach your teen the steps towards becoming independent and give them the space to practice independence. This includes having conversations about body hygiene, which should start in the pre-teen years (age 9+), regardless of gender.

The first step in getting a teen to shower is figuring out why they’re not interested in bathing. Some possible reasons include:

  • Lack of knowledge: Perhaps your teen doesn’t realize that now that they’ve hit puberty, they’re going to have body odor and greasy hair if they don’t bathe more often. If this is the case, talk to your teen about the changes going on in their body and explain that things like stronger smelling sweat make it important to shower more frequently. Lots of teens worry that they sweat more than others, but usually that’s not the case; instead the smell just becomes stronger. However, they may want to start wearing deodorant or antiperspirant once you or they start noticing the odor is stronger. The face, hands, feet, armpits, groin and buttocks are areas to target with soap regularly. You can discuss whether to wash hair daily or not, as that depends on how oily a hair type they have. Also teach them that body smells are normal, but can be too strong or become noticeable to other teens if they build up on their clothes. So they should start changing their clothes every day…especially clothes that touch the target areas, e.g., socks, underwear and shirts!! And your teen should change after exercising.
  • Better things to do: Teens are great at procrastinating and many of them would rather be playing video games or texting their friends than showering. If you think your teen’s lack of hygiene stems from laziness, you should treat the issue like any other responsibility – tell them they need to shower every other day and impose consequences like no TV if they don’t bathe.
  • Mental health problems: Sometimes refusing to shower can be a sign of a mental health issue. For example, if your teen is depressed, they may not have the energy or interest needed to take a shower. If this is what’s causing your teen to refuse to shower, consult with their doctor or talk to a mental health professional.

Whatever the reason your teen doesn’t bathe, make sure you broach the subject with care, or they may get defensive. Talk to your teen about the issue directly, and tell them they need to shower, rather than hinting at the issue and saying they smell. Also, point out the fact that lack of hygiene can lead to health issues, like skin conditions. And finally, be sure you don’t nag your teen, because that could lead to more resistance.

Teens can learn more about pubertal changes and other important issues through teen-focused videos at, and you can find some good teen hygiene tips on WebMD.


Brooke Bokor, MD, MPH, is a double board-certified Assistant Professor in the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children's National. Her practice at the Sheikh Zayed Campus for Advanced Children's Medicine focuses on primary and consultative care for adolescents ages 12-21, as well as inpatient care.

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3 replies
  1. says:

    Don t try to physically force your child to bathe or brush his teeth. Don t get him to shower by shaming him, calling him names, telling him that he smells, or telling him that you don’t want to be around him. Ultimately, you just can’t make another person do something they don’t want to do. It’s far more effective to focus on what will motivate your child andhold him accountable for practicing better hygiene.

    • Rise and Shine says:

      Here are some warning signs to look for if you think your child might be depressed:


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