Fact: For the child with ADHD, the difficult teen years are doubly hard. That’s because all the adolescent problems—peer pressure, the fear of failure both in school and with peers, low self-esteem—are harder for the ADHD child to handle. The desire to be independent, to try new and forbidden things—alcohol, drugs, and sexual activity—are ways that many teens with ADHD self-medicate. And you may wake up one morning to realize that the household rules that were working for years have been thrown out the window.
Know that now, more than ever, rules should be straightforward and easy to understand. Clear communication between you and your teen with ADHD is vital. Make sure they understand the reasons for each rule. In other words, when a rule is set, it should be clear why the rule is set. Sometimes it helps to have a chart posted in the kitchen that lists all household rules and all rules for outside the home (including social behavior and school).
When rules are broken—and they will be—respond to this inappropriate behavior as calmly and matter-of-factly as possible. Use punishment sparingly, but let your teen face the consequences of his or her actions. Even with adolescents, a time-out can work, though you might want to call it something different. Impulsivity and hot temper often accompany ADHD; a short time alone can help.
Know that as your teenager spends more time away from home, there will be demands for a later curfew and the use of the car. Listen to your child’s requests, give reasons for your opinion and listen to his or her opinion and negotiate. Communication, negotiation, and compromise will prove helpful.
I believe parents can help their teen with ADHD function successfully by coaching them in the following:
- Help your child get in the habit of using a daily planner for assignments and appointments: Kids with ADHD have a harder time than most adolescents keeping organized and together. Get a good daily planner and work with your child to make sure they are following the school schedule and tasks listed.
- Teach your child to make lists: Making lists is a great way for your child to both be organized and have good self esteem as they check off each completed item.
- Help your child keep a routine: Help your teen or pre-teen stick to a routine. This particularly helps kids with ADHD to rewire their thinking patterns through daily training.
- Set aside a quiet time and place to do homework: More than most, adolescents with ADHD need time to unwind and get away from outside stimuli. A quiet, uncluttered space will help their brain function and cognitive ability, and gives them energy to focus.
- Role model being safety-conscious: Kids with ADHD are more prone to accidents and injury. Make sure that you make safety a top priority in your house. Wear seat belts, use protective gear for sports.
- Encourage your child to talk about problems with you: Low self esteem issues are prevalent for kids with ADHD. Keep the lines of communication open and listen to what they have to say.
- Make sure your child with ADHD is getting enough sleep: It is critical for those with ADD and ADHD to get enough sleep each night in order to function. Talk with your child’s doctor about the appropriate amount of sleep for your child.
One last word of advice: although your child most probably has been periodically evaluated through the years, adolescence, with its raging hormones and physical changes, is a good time to have your child’s doctor do a complete re-evaluation of their health.