Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Parenting teens with ADHD can be particularly challenging. These tips may be
useful for parents who have teenagers with ADHD. However, it's important to
remember that no two adolescents are alike, and what works best for one family
and/or at one point in time may not be helpful for another. It is therefore
important to develop a repertoire of ways to parent the teenager with ADHD. The
following tips are based upon expert opinions and strategies that have been
useful for many families of children with this condition.
Work together as a team. This means that parents, educators, tutors,
therapists, physicians, and others involved in the care of the adolescent
should be on the same page regarding treatment plans, approaches, and goals.
Sharing information with the others involved in your teenager's care is
essential to ensure that he or she receives needed support. Treat your
teen's teachers as allies, and work together for optimal outcomes at home and
in the classroom.
Balance structure and predictability with appropriate flexibility.
Teens with ADHD need help achieving a balance of clear definitions of
routines and expectations with the need to begin to take more control of
their own lives. Predictability is also helpful for adults with ADHD. You
can help your adolescent use and understand schedules by getting their input
in making a daily schedule that includes time to get ready for school, do
homework, free or play time, and bedtime. They may benefit from the use of
clocks with alarms, as well the use of timers, or charts to help them manage
their day. If he or she enjoys this, your teen may check items off a
checklist as they are completed.
Clearly define rules and expectations. Teens with ADHD do not deal
well with excessive ambiguity or drastic changes in rules and expectations
but may balk at the rules used for younger children since those may seem
overly rigid. As with the daily schedule, it may be helpful to make a short
list or two of goals, rules, or expectations for behavior. Contrary to the
myth that talking about drugs, sex, or other dangerous acts encourages teens
to engage in those behaviors, research shows that teens with ADHD are less
likely to engage in impulsive acts like getting pregnant or causing a pregnancy,
using drugs, or participating in criminal activity when they are given clear
expectations to the contrary and taught how to avoid these pitfalls by their
Use positive feedback. It is always better to use more positive than
negative feedback when talking with your teen. Be clear and specific, and
praise your child for the things that he or she does well or completes on
time. Rather than offering costly prizes or incentives, reward positive
behavior with rewards such as sincere words of praise, special time with a
parent or friend, or a special privilege.
Use appropriate consequences for negative behaviors. Consequences for
negative behaviors should be fair and appropriate. Ideally, the consequence
for a teen with ADHD should be an immediate event rather than something that
occurs in the future or is excessively lengthy, as those types of
consequences quickly lose their effectiveness. As with other aspects of the
child's schedule, the consequences for negative behavior should be
predictable and consistent. Adolescents may also benefit from the natural
rather than parent-enforced consequences of their actions. For example,
advising them on changes that can be made to his or her study habits in
response to your teen earning a negative grade on an assignment or test may
be more effective than withholding privileges for a period of time.
Be specific when giving instructions. It may be helpful to focus on
one task or event at a time when giving instructions to your adolescent.
Breaking a task down into smaller component steps can be helpful. Specific
instructions, like "Read 10 pages of your assigned book," are more helpful
for a teen with ADHD than general instructions, like "Do your English
Tackle one thing at a time. While you may want to help your teen
overcome a number of difficult behaviors, it's best to focus on one or two
at a time. Set both short-term ("ask for a five-minute break when classwork
becomes frustrating") and long-term ("stop yelling in class when
frustrated") goals and remember to use praise and rewards for achievements.
Help your child eliminate distractions and manage time. Adolescents
may especially need help establishing a homework routine that is free from
distraction. You can help them create a homework space that is pleasing and
quiet that allows for productive work. Your teenager may appreciate the use
of a timer to help with homework in order to focus on one subject for a
given amount of time, or to schedule 10-minute breaks after every hour of
homework. It can also be helpful to look at long-term projects such as term
papers and draw up an "action plan" for the project, breaking it down into
manageable steps. Your teen may appreciate learning to use mobile apps to
help them manage their time.
Model a healthy lifestyle. Your teen will look to you as a model, so
be sure that you are modeling the choices you'd like to see him or her make
with regard to nutrition and exercise. Adolescents do as we do, not as we
say. Consuming a healthy diet, having a regular bedtime, maintaining a
normal weight, and avoiding toxins like
alcohol, and drug abuse
will help your child face the demands of ADHD and other life stressors by
providing them with a role model for healthy living and stress management.
Finally, value and embrace your teenager's uniqueness. Many famous
and highly accomplished people have lived and are living with ADHD. Remind
your teens of this fact, and help them find the areas in which they can
excel. And don't forget to show your unconditional love for the unique
person that is your child.