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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. It helps you remember that teens with ADHD are not "being difficult" on purpose. Teens with ADHD can learn to manage their attention and energy. They can do it best when they have help from parents, teachers, and therapists.

Know how ADHD affects your teen. Think about the biggest difficulties 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 physically 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 she can't find her homework or her shoes? If your teen lacks organization skills because of ADHD, it doesn't help to yell or say, "clean it up!" Instead, help her 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 — like waiting to talk or listening 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, his or her needs have probably changed. Work with your teen's doctor, therapist, and school team to keep identifying and meeting new needs and goals.

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. Be encouraging. Pay more attention to what your teen is doing well than to problems. Correct your teen in a supportive and calm way. Help teens with ADHD learn how to act or what to do before they do it. That's better than reacting after-the-fact to what they should not have done.

Avoid scolding, blaming, nagging, or lecturing. These will likely cause your teen to tune out what you say. Teens with ADHD are often sensitive to criticism. They may feel upset, angry, or hurt when criticized or punished. These strong emotions can stop them from really hearing the message you're trying to get across. Find teachable moments when you're both feeling calm.

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, creativity, playfulness, or spontaneity. Help teens discover their strengths and find way 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.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: November 2017

Note: All information on KidsHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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