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Tips for Parenting a Teen With ADHD (cont.)

10 Tips for Parenting an Adolescent With ADHD

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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. Therefore, developing a repertoire of parenting techniques to help the teenager with ADHD is imperative. The following tips are based upon expert opinions and strategies that have been useful for many families in helping children with this condition develop the discipline necessary to be successful at home, in school and in their community.

  1. 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 the necessary treatment and support. Treat your teen's teachers as allies, and work together for optimal outcomes at home and in the classroom.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 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 parents.
  4. 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.
  5. Use appropriate consequences for negative behaviors. Consequences for negative behaviors should be fair, timely, 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.
  6. 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 homework."
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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 cigarettes, 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.
  10. 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.


American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

Bussing, R., Mason, D.M., Bell, L., Porter, P., and Garvan, C. "Adolescent outcomes of childhood attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in a diverse community sample." Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 49.6 June 2010: 595-605.

Harpin, V.A. "The effect of ADHD on the life of an individual, their family, and community from preschool to adult life." Archives of the Disabled Child (2005): 90.

Molina, B.S.G., Hinshaw, S.P., Arnold, L.E., Swanson, J.M., et al. "Adolescent substance use in the multimodal treatment study of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (MTA) as a function of childhood ADHD, random assignment to childhood treatments, and subsequent medication." Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 52.3 Mar. 2013: 250-263.

Stannard, G.E. "Gender Differences in ADHD." Psych Central 2010.

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)." Nov. 13, 2013. <>.

Last Editorial Review: 8/13/2014

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