Reply To: Do we explain ADHD to our 17 year old son?

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Allison Russo

This reply was originally posted by user parentcoachjoyce in ADDitude’s now-retired community.

I recommend that you handle this with him as a team. He’s old enough for you and his dad to sit down with him and have an honest discussion about what the diagnosis means, and to talk about how to move forward as a family in the best way possible.

An ADHD diagnosis does not have to be approached as a terrible thing. In fact, you could approach it as “this is good news; now we know why you’ve had some of the challenges you’ve been having. Now we can move forward and become more informed and find some things that will work better for you and for all of us.” You could also tell him that you want to set goals together—behavior expectations as well as consequences. It’s important to include him in these discussions so he has some input and therefore some ownership in it.

Also, the goal with all parenting is to raise our kids to be responsible, productive adults and at his age, he only has a few more years until he’s out on his own. This diagnosis and your reactions to it (and your discussions with him) will show/model him some important things he’ll need to know and do as an adult: the fact that we all have obstacles or shortcomings to overcome in one way or another (his just happens to be ADHD), and that all that means is that we just need to find ways to deal with what comes our way (i.e., he needs to find the tools and techniques that work for him- which will mean trial and error). He will see first-hand by your actions that when an adult realizes something isn’t working, they simply regroup and reassess (as you are doing now that you realize your former parenting and discipline plan isn’t working).

He will learn a lot by seeing how you handle this: how to deal with obstacles, how to research and learn as much as you can about something, how to make changes and adjustments as you go, and how to apologize and course-correct when you make mistakes.

He may end up being very relieved that there’s a “reason” for him feeling so bad and having so many issues (many teens with ADHD feel really bad about themselves because they feel like they can’t “do anything right”. This could be an opportunity for him to see that he’s not “bad”, he just needs to find some better ways to deal with some of the challenges this disorder brings.)

In terms of parenting techniques (including discipline), I recommend “Parenting teens with Love and Logic” . Even though it’s not geared toward kids with ADHD, many of the parents I work with have a lot of success with it, especially with kids who want to constantly argue. Overall I think it’s a great program for helping prepare kids for adulthood while also developing a strong, mutually-respectful and loving relationship.

Joyce Mabe
Parenting Coach, licensed school counselor, mom of adult son with ADHD, author