Parenting Teens with ADD and ADHD
Written by Craig Rogers, in Section ADD and ADHD
6 Tips for Parents of Teens with ADD and ADHD
As kids mature into adolescence, you expect their skills to mature along with them, hoping that eventually, they’ll gain the ability to resist impulses, stay organized, and manage their time. But for teens with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, what we think of as the hallmarks of adulthood can be slow to develop.
Unfortunately, adolescence is often the time when these skills are most needed: social pressures become a routine part of life, and academic hurdles ratchet up. Grades really matter, because now they affect college outlook. This is when its time to get involved with some specific parenting strategies specifically attuned to the challenges your teen is facing.
1. Tailor Your Approach. The first thing to remember about your ADD/ADHD teen is that their brain works differently from 95% of their peers. Avoid falling into the trap of a “one size fits all” parenting approach: successful approaches for so-called “normal” kids must be customized to suit ADD/ADHD kids.
Keep an open mind, and keep trying new techniques for dealing with frustrating situations. If an approach fails to improve behavior, try something new. Note what works and what doesn’t. Try seeking out support websites for other parents in your situation: often, they will be your best source for parenting strategies that work.
2. Adjust Your Expectations. Assuming your teen will magically acclimate to the hours of homework his middle school class requires is probably not realistic. ADD/ADHD teens often struggle with self-discipline; they lack the ability to keep their minds focused on the task at hand—especially when it’s a task they don’t enjoy.
Some specialists suggest using the 30% rule to guide expectations: a kid with ADD/ADHD may be 30% behind her peers in socio-emotional development, so it’s unreasonable to expect a 12-year-old to react like her peers. She may react more in line with a nine-year-old. Set short-term, achievable goals, like, “I want you to work on this for ten minutes without stopping,” and offer praise at the five-minute mark.
3. It’s Not Personal. This may be harder to remember now that “acting out” has progressed from throwing crackers to ditching school, but keep in mind that, especially for ADD/ADHD kids, acting impulsively rarely carries the intent to inflict emotional strife on parents. Impulses are what they are: uncontrollable and irresistible.
Accordingly, resist the urge to punish your teen for following those impulses. Be firm but fair. Talk about poor choices; discuss how the problem can be addressed, and model positive behavior for your teen. Most importantly, try to see through what’s irritating in your teen’s behavior and find something—anything!—in it that’s praiseworthy. Instead of barking “calm down!” all the time, try commending their enthusiasm or creativity.
4. Structure It. Kids with ADD/ADHD are often most successful when they can apply a set pattern or routine to their life. By taking the guesswork out of your teen’s schedule, you can clearly establish your expectations and enable your teen to meet them. Avoid a hectically over-scheduled life as much as possible, and try to give yourself time to maintain a tidy, organized home. Knowing that everything has its place adds an important level of stability to your teen’s life.
5. Keep Them Active. Help your teen find a sport that suits their interests and learning style. Avoid sports like baseball where much time is spent sitting around waiting for a turn at bat; soccer or basketball may be better choices.
Additionally, consider the mental benefits an activity like martial arts or yoga can provide: as teens learn to be more mindful of their bodies, they will increase their self-discipline skills. Along with a boost in physical activity, ensure your teen is keeping a consistent bedtime, and that he or she is getting a minimum of eight hours’ sleep per night.
6. Stay Positive. Know that even with optimum parenting, a teen with ADD/ADHD is going to encounter frustrating situations. Assignments will be misplaced. Practices will be forgotten. Feelings will be hurt. Chances are, your teen knows enough to see these shortcomings in herself, and doesn’t need them pointed out or emphasized by others.
As much as possible, stay focused on your teen’s great strengths, or situations when your teen was really at his best. Use this approach with yourself, as well. Avoid comparing yourself to other parents: your teen is a special case with special needs, and the most important thing you can do is identify those needs and figure out how to work with them effectively.