Ask the Experts

ADHD Child Tests Parental Authority

“My 12-year-old son tells little lies, even when I question him and explain how important the truth is. If I give him instructions, he still does whatever he wants and can’t understand later why I’ve punished him. How do I get through to him?”

Telling little lies, ignoring parental instructions, and not understanding why he is being punished are fairly typical behaviors for teens. At your son’s age, mild rebellion is common. Many preteens think their parents are a nuisance and treat them unfairly. It’s not surprising! The developmental task at this age is to form an identity separate from parents, and to accept responsibility for one’s actions. Understand that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) is an added complication.

When you give your son an instruction, his ADD/ADHD may cause him to focus on immediate gratification — hanging with friends, not going straight home when he gets off the bus. He may hear what you say, but his thoughts center on what he wants to do. He may tell a lie to get you off his back. Don’t be alarmed, don’t take his protests personally, and don’t challenge him about lies.

Stay the course. Be consistent, and state the behavior he did or did not do in simple, matter-of-fact terms. Tell him the consequences, ahead of time, and enforce the rules. Consider using a behavior contract. It’s hard to argue with the written word!