Dear Teen Parenting Coach

Q: How Can I Encourage Balance in My Teen’s Busy Life?

Track practice. SAT prep. Debate club. Service projects. Movie nights. And of course, more classes (and more homework) than middle school. Teens these days have a lot going on. Here’s how parents can make sure adolescents with ADHD aren’t cracking under the pressure.

Q: “We knew high school meant a tougher academic workload, but what we didn’t expect was the huge increase in extracurricular activities. My outgoing teen is invited to more social events, sports practices, and after-school clubs than ever before — and, of course, she wants to participate in as many as possible. I don’t want to cut back on her social life or deny her the opportunity to participate in activities that interest her, but school hasn’t always come easily to her, and I’m worried about her grades suffering. What steps can I take to ensure balance?”

This is such an important question — particularly for kids with ADHD, who often struggle academically or proclaim to “not care” about their grades as much as their other interests. Taking a treasured activity away from a child (especially one he excels at) in order to improve his grades typically doesn’t end well for parents, no matter how noble their intentions.

Instead, figure out if your child is truly overscheduled. Many kids (and adults) with ADHD actually thrive when there’s a lot going on because they don’t have time to overthink or lounge around. But if your child frequently appears on edge or anxious, cries easily, and/or isn’t getting to sleep at a reasonable hour because she’s trying to balance mountains of homework with her after-school activities — those are all signs that she’s taken on too much, and would likely benefit from cutting back.

If that’s the case, begin by having an open conversation with your teen about balancing her extracurriculars with her academics. Let her know that you won’t be disappointed if she cuts back on one (or more) of her activities, and discuss ways she can pursue less-critical interests when she has more time — trying out for the school play when volleyball isn’t in season, for instance, or taking an art class over the summer break. If her homework load, not her activities, is causing the majority of her stress, discuss with her teachers or her IEP team strategies for cutting back, or procuring some additional in-class help.

[Free Resource: Help Your Teen Manage Her Time]

If, on the other hand, your teen isn’t feeling the pressure — and is, in fact, perfectly content playing three different sports and taking six AP classes — you can still teach him ways to balance his responsibilities and use his limited time more wisely. One strategy that works well is called “Weird Windows,” where teens train themselves to look for small, versatile chunks of time to squeeze in productivity. Say your teen gets out of school at 3:00 p.m., and lacrosse practice starts at 3:30. Instead of chatting with his friends or dawdling in the locker room, he could use that time to quickly study for a test or complete a short French worksheet. When it comes to finding balance in a teen’s busy life, every moment of the day can be used positively!

I also encourage parents to have regular “check-ins” with their teen, at least once a week, to discuss his upcoming responsibilities and to make sure he’s not feeling overwhelmed. Just 15 minutes of honest dialogue each week can help parents (and teens themselves) identify trouble spots and keep conflicting priorities in check.

Ann Dolin, M.Ed., is a member of the ADDitude ADHD Medical Review Panel.

This advice came from “High School Success: A Strategic Transition for Teens Moving to Higher Grades,” an April 2018 ADDitude webinar lead by Ann Dolin, M.Ed., that is now available for free replay here.

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The opinions and suggestions presented above are intended for your general knowledge only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your own or your child’s condition.