Stop Trying to “Fix” Your Teen
“Our teenage daughter, who has been diagnosed with ADHD, finds it hard to manage her life — keeping up with school projects, maintaining friendships, and handling chores. We keep trying to ‘fix’ her challenges, but an ADD coach said that we should focus on empowering her instead. What does that look like?”
It’s true: you can’t “fix” attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). It is a chronic, brain-based medical condition, and most children do not “outgrow” it. And there is a lot more research to support that ADHD coach’s recommendation to you. A strength-based approach can teach your daughter to 1) understand how her ADHD brain works (without shame or embarrassment); 2) find long-term success by meeting short-term challenges; and 3) thrive with ADHD as she becomes a young adult!
But how do you stop being a “Fix-it Fran” and shift your approach to one that is more empowering for your teen? Here are some steps to get you started:
1. Take the long view. You may feel like you’re racing the clock before your daughter leaves home. You want to make sure she’s ready for anything by the time she turns 18. But try to remember that change is a gradual process, and you can’t rush it, no matter how hard you try. Don’t expect that you’re going to read a book or put a reward system in place, and she’ll do everything that is expected of her. She is a teenager with ADHD. Set reasonable expectations and allow change to happen over time.
2. You’ve both got some learning to do. You can’t “fix” a problem if you’re not clear about what it is. We know she has ADHD, but what does that mean for her? Does she have trouble getting started? Following through? Turning in assignments? Do her social challenges come from being distracted or something else? The more you understand how ADHD affects her, the better you can help her determine how to manage it.
3. Choose one area to take aim at and avoid the temptation to tackle many things at once.
Work on something that your daughter wants to change. Her “buy-in” is essential, because you want her to take ownership of managing her ADHD. Ask, “What’s in it for her?” before you decide where to start. You may want her to focus on feeding the dog, but she might want to focus on social issues first.
Get specific. Don’t take aim at something too general, like “projects” or “maintaining a social life.” Instead, focus on the history project that is due after spring break, or on staying connected with two friends from dance class. Help her experience progress. Once she has had success, she’ll be willing to tackle the next issue.
4. Motivate her to manage ADHD. People with ADHD do not have a “just get it done” button. Many teens with ADHD have faulty wiring in that area, and identifying motivators is essential to creating strong mental circuits. We usually want our children to do something because it’s good for them, or because they’ll learn from it. The truth is that they’re not likely to do something just to cross it off their list, or because it’s a valuable life lesson.
It’s more likely that she’ll begin to do something independently if she wants to, because it’s interesting, novel, or creative. Learning to motivate herself is an essential strategy for long-term management of ADHD in adulthood. So instead of trying to convince her how important it is to contribute to the family by doing the dishes, help her identify a reward for herself once the job is completed (to your satisfaction), like watching an episode of something, or having a little dessert.
You cannot “fix” your daughter’s ADHD. Instead try to inspire her to consciously take responsibility for managing her own ADHD.