Adolescence is a whirlwind time for both parents and teens. When your teen has ADHD, the routine challenges that come with parenting can become magnified.
Many parents begin to feel frustrated because they have read literature that ADHD symptoms often improve as children get older. However, the hormonal changes that accompany puberty, alongside social and educational challenges, can often exacerbate symptoms.
Some parents find that rather than ADHD symptoms lessening as their child transitions into becoming a teenager, they get worse.
One reason for this is that core symptoms of ADHD – inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity often remain the same.
As children reach adolescence these symptoms can sometimes be magnified because more is expected of them in terms of behaviour, studying and expectations for independent functioning.
Issues with Executive Functioning – especially when it comes to areas such as being able to foresee the consequences of choices – can be lacking in teens without ADHD, and when the condition is thrown into the mix these can lead to challenging times for both parents and teens.
Another area that teens may struggle with is emotional development. Because of difficulties with managing emotional responses, being able to pay attention or delayed emotional maturity some teens may struggle to find the independence they crave.
This, combined with fears for the future, peer pressure or the stress of studying for exams, can lead to problems with boundaries and with navigating social and educational challenges.
When it comes to negative self-image and issues with mental health, some teenagers with ADHD may struggle more than those who do not have the condition.
A study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that girls with ADHD have high rates of self-harming and suicidal thoughts. One reason for this could be because of years of pressure and fears of falling behind with schoolwork.
Many girls internalize their worries about their abilities and this can lead to depression and self-harming behavior.
This is obviously of immense concern to parents who want to know how they can best support their teenager who has ADHD during these challenging years.
Below are some ideas to help you to navigate your parenting style and better support your ADHD teen.
How to Support Your ADHD Teen
Many teenagers feel more pressure than ever to be independent as the expectations the school or other institutions place on them increase during their adolescence.
As children get older, they are often expected to be able to organize their own time, be responsible for their academic workload and to motivate themselves to study and keep up with homework.
Being aware of the pressure they are feeling and what is expected of them at school is important, so that you know how to help them find strategies to cope and to deal with these increased expectations.
It can be helpful to ask to speak to teachers or support staff at school to ask them what support they are putting in place to help your teen manage their workload.
Although awareness of ADHD and how it manifests is improving in some areas, many teachers and caregivers are still uneducated when it comes to knowing about the condition and how it affects teens who have it.
Some teachers may not realize what is happening for your teen and so write them off as being uninterested in schoolwork or ‘difficult’ if they have problems with impulsivity for example.
When writing about ADHD, Eileen Bailey compiles a list of some of the things teenagers would like their teachers to know about them when it comes to ADHD.
These include letting the teachers know that they are ‘not stupid’ and that they ‘do care’ about their schoolwork. Letting teachers know that issues with areas such as poor time-management or being forgetful does not mean that your teen is unconcerned with schoolwork can be really helpful in building bridges and support.
If you have family members or friends who are still not aware of how ADHD can manifest, this can also be a great time to educate them and to ask for support and encouragement for your teen.
Set Clear Boundaries and Enforce them consistently
Although adolescence is a time when teenagers need to feel free to explore their independence, not setting consistent boundaries and expectations for behavior can actually harm the move towards greater independence.
Boundaries that are not enforced consistently can be confusing and disorienting for a teenager with ADHD. Having a structure and routine, as well as clear expectations combined with support can help your teen to feel safe when exploring.
By using inconsistent parenting strategies you can end up confusing your teen and this can lead to further erratic behavior.
Inconsistent parenting strategies can include – yelling sometimes about a specific behaviour but not at other times. Being very strict over some areas, but very permissive in others. Punishing your teen for transgressions some days but ‘letting it go’ on others.
If you can, sit down with your teen and work out a set of rules, boundaries and expectations that you can both agree on. Then agree a way that these boundaries can be enforced together.
When your teenager feels engaged in this process and is able to articulate what will work for them it can lead to greatly improved behavior.
Offer Support and be willing to Listen
When it comes to offering support to your teen, be willing to listen to their fears and issues and be open to hearing about their challenges and how they would like to be supported.
Offering consistent parenting strategies and setting strong boundaries can be useful with this, but as a way to foster greater independence it can be very helpful to set up regular ‘family meetings’ where everyone gets a chance to talk and listen to one another.
Using this strategy can help your teen to feel more involved and to offer their own suggestions about what will work for them when it comes to managing ADHD symptoms.
Take time to learn the skill of reflective listening that’s done with empathy, and a desire to not only hear and reflect what your teen is telling you, but to deeply emphasize with their fears and worries.
For teens that are feeling lost, confused and are struggling with the additional challenges associated with ADHD, this skill can mean they feel safe to open up and voice their worries and fears.
Encourage Self-Care and Self-Compassion
Although most children learn the basics of self-care, like brushing their teeth and having regular baths, it’s important to emphasize the importance of self-care as they reach their teens.
Helping them to develop a routine where they learn to care for both their body and emotional well-being can work wonders when it comes to navigating the teen years.
Remind them of the importance of personal care and support them to explore making changes to their appearance and to experiment (within reason) with things like clothing, hairstyles and aspects like makeup if they are interested.
Teenagers becomes much more aware of their physical appearance as they get older and for teens with ADHD this can feel overwhelming and confusing.
It’s also important to model good habits when it comes to eating and sleep. Don’t allow screen time to close to bed, or install apps on screens that limit ‘blue light’ which can interfere with sleep patterns. Switching screens to an amber light can help foster the production of melatonin – an essential sleep hormone.
Getting enough sleep and adequate nutrition is essential to helping to maintain mood stability. Try to encourage your teen to eat as healthily as possible and to ensure they are getting enough sleep.
Encourage your teen to learn coping mechanisms that will help them deal with difficult emotions via learning meditation and relaxation techniques. This can help with exam stress, or anxieties about peer groups and school issues. It can also help to calm impulsivity or strong emotional sensitivity which many people who have ADHD find challenging.
Encouraging a practice of self-compassion can help your teen to be less harsh on themselves if they tend to beat themselves up or suffer from problems with self-confidence.
Practice Positive Parenting
Making a commitment to parenting from a place of positivity as often as possible can make a huge difference to teens with ADHD.
By focusing as much as possible on the positives and reinforcing any and all positive behavior, you can gently encourage self-acceptance and focusing on abilities rather than deficits.
This may involve spending time on yourself and dealing with your own feelings of guilt, anger or frustration via using techniques such as mindfulness.
Positive parenting doesn’t mean ignoring bad behavior or becoming overly permissive. But it does mean working each day to find the areas that your teen does well and reinforcing their strengths, rather than focusing on their weaknesses.
By modelling this behaviour you can teach your teen how to be more compassionate and accepting and help them to remember all the amazing things about them, rather than worrying about the ways that ADHD causes them negativity.