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Parenting a Teen With ADHD

Do these sound like your teen?

  • easily distracted
  • never seems to listen
  • can’t sit still
  • disorganized or messy
  • acts without thinking
  • has emotional outbursts

Even if you know that these behaviors stem from your teen’s ADHD, you may feel frustrated, embarrassed, or disrespected when they happen. Parenting a teen with ADHD is challenging. It takes extra patience. Teens with ADHD are becoming more independent. But they still need a parent’s guidance, help, and support.

What Parents Can Do

Learn more about ADHD. Brush up on what you already know about ADHD. Learn all you can. This can help you feel more patient and less frustrated by your teen’s behaviors. Remind yourself that teens with ADHD are not “being difficult” on purpose.

Teens with ADHD can learn to better manage their attention and energy. But it’s something they may always have to work on. It helps when they have plenty of help and support from parents, teachers, and therapists.

Know how ADHD affects your teen. ADHD affects different teens in different ways. Think about the biggest problems your teen has because of ADHD. Then think about what skills your teen needs to learn that can reduce these problems. For example:

  • Teens who are hyperactive may need to learn to slow down instead of rush. They may need to learn ways to calm themselves or burn off excess energy.
  • Impulsive teens may need to learn to interrupt less, wait more patiently, or think before they act in ways that could be risky or careless. They may need to learn to calm their upset emotions.
  • Teens who have problems with attention may need to build skills for planning, studying, and reducing distraction. They might need skills to help them organize their things, clean up, complete chores or projects, or be on time.

Talk together about ADHD and goals. Help your teen understand ADHD. Talking with teens about how ADHD affects them in school, at home, and with friends really helps. Show understanding.

Remind your teen that having ADHD is not a fault. At the same time, be clear about what you want your teen to work on. Help teens see that it’s their job to manage their attention, energy, actions, and emotions — and that you’ll help. Make goals that are clear and realistic. Start by working on one thing.

Give hands-on help. Is your teen’s room so messy they can’t find their homework or their shoes? If your teen lacks organization skills because of ADHD, it doesn’t help to yell or say, “Clean it up!” Instead, help them learn how to clean it up.

You may have to do it together at first. You may have to figure out ways to sort things and plan places for things to go. Work on it patiently together. If possible, find a way to make it fun. Know that things will probably get messy again. Plan to repeat this process frequently. It takes practice to learn a new skill.

Help your teen build social skills. Teens may not realize that ADHD can affect their relationships. If teens interrupt too often, talk too much, don’t listen well, or act in ways that seem bossy or intrusive, they will put other people off.

Help your teen notice when behaviors may affect friendships. Don’t blame, but do say that this can be part of ADHD. Say, “I know you don’t mean to interrupt. ADHD makes it hard to wait when you want to say something. And I know your feelings get hurt when your friend tells you to stop interrupting.” Then help your teen think of a new skill to practice. Use a phrase that says what to do and is easy to remember. For example, ‘wait to talk’ or ‘listen longer.’ Be specific about how and when to try it out.

Keep up your teen’s treatment for ADHD. Treatment for ADHD usually includes medicine, therapy, parent coaching, and school support. If your teen was diagnosed and treated for ADHD at a young age, their needs have probably changed. Work with your teen’s doctor, therapist, and school team to keep up with new needs and goals. Ask your teen’s therapist if they offer parent management training (PMT). This type of coaching helps parents learn specific ways to help their teen with ADHD.

Update the IEP. If your child has an IEP, make sure it gets updated for high school. This allows teachers to provide any extras your child might need — such as tutoring, more time to complete work, quieter workspaces, or seating with fewer distractions.

Keep your parent–teen relationship positive. Teens with ADHD are often sensitive to criticism. Many get too much of it, and it rarely helps change their behavior for the better. Instead, it’s more likely to lead them to feel bad about themselves — and to feel less secure with you. This can lead teens to feel depressed, angry, or misunderstood.

To keep your relationship warm and positive, focus on what you like and love about them. Pay attention to the things they do well. Be encouraging. Show interest in the things they love to do. Spend time together doing things you both enjoy. This allows time to talk and laugh — or just be together. Let your teen know you accept them as they are, struggles and all.

Avoid scolding, blaming, nagging, or lecturing. These negative ways of responding are more likely to increase unwanted behaviors than reduce them. Pay more attention to what your teen is doing well than to problems. Give specific praise as often as you can. This increases the behaviors you (and your teen) want to see more of.

Help teens develop (and appreciate) their strengths. Teens with ADHD often feel like they’re letting others down or they can’t do anything right. But people with ADHD have plenty of strengths. Some of their strengths go with ADHD, like quick thinking, adaptability, creativity, playfulness, or spontaneity. Help teens discover their strengths and find ways to use them in their everyday life. When teens use their strengths — and know a parent sees them — it can boost their self-esteem, resilience, and success.