Parenting ADHD older teens

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    • #78340

      Any suggestions on how to parent an older teen who wants freedom but isn’t really mature enough to handle it well? How to establish boundaries while still maintaining a relationship?

      My almost- 18 yo son, junior in high school, was diagnosed with off-the-charts inattentive ADHD at 15. He flew under the radar for a long time because of good grades. He started medication at 16 which has been very helpful with school work- he now gets excellent grades with relatively little effort. Both his counselor and his physician have commented that he is about 2 years behind developmentally/emotionally from other kids his chronological age because of the ADHD, and he’s had a lot of catching up to do in terms of developing healthy coping and executive function skills. He’s very socially anxious and concerned about social status. He plans to go to college and has some ideas about what he wants to study but has no idea how to implement any kind of college planning (so he has been avoiding it).

      He has a phone (which we pay for in return for his chores, a relatively minor additional cost on our plan). It’s always been a battle between him wanting to spend alll of his time on it and us wanting him to do more productive things with his time. I think he realizes intellectually that he spends too much time on it and that he doesn’t feel good about it, but in practice, especially when he’s bored/angry/lonely, it’s the first thing he turns to. I’m not joking when I say that he checks it probably every 10 minutes or more often, all day. We’ve tried various methods of helping him control his use, and now the phone shuts off at 11 and has to be charged in a common area so that at least he has to go to bed at that time. He had been doing better with it for a while, voluntarily moving it to the other side of the room while doing homework and actually going to bed before the 11 PM cutoff. Since he started dating a girl 3 months ago, however, he’s once again inseparable from his phone. She is a lovely girl but rather immature herself and they text each other constantly– it feels like he’s constantly got another life, another conversation that he’d rather attend to than the life at home right in front of him. He’s socially insecure and loves this new-found attention she gives him. We are routinely getting into fights about how many days a week he can spend with her- if we allowed it, he would spend every day at his girlfriend’s house, where there is far less supervision than at ours. She hates our “stupid rules” and is convinced that we’re out to be overprotective and ruin his life. His younger sibs miss having him around and he’s always grumpy.

      Part of the problem is that he’s got nothing else to occupy his time. He recently quit music lessons and doesn’t have any other extracurriculars. My husband and I have encouraged him to get a job for months, to no avail. His m.o. is to half-heartedly fill out an application at one place, then after not hearing from them for a few weeks, apply at another. We’ve talked about being proactive, applying to multiple places at once, how it’s important to call back and ask about your application once you’ve submitted it… nothing. He gets very angry at us when we pester him about doing more and complains that all we do is criticize him about his phone, not getting a job, etc. He says he wants to marry this girlfriend before he’s out of college, but doesn’t seem to connect that to having paid employment necessary to support a family.

      I’m not comfortable with letting him lollygag around the house like a shlump all day, but I can’t force him to apply for jobs either, and our relationship gets more and more dragged down every time we say something to him about it. We don’t give him spending money for anything except necessities. Because we live in a college town, there are a lot of free activities he can do with his girlfriend and the need for money doesn’t seem imminent to him- about the only thing he pays for right now is gas, and so far the money he saved from a summer job (that I set up for him!) and occasional babysitting has been enough to carry him through. My recent thought is, once he turns 18, to take him off of our cell plan and make him buy his own (probably $40/month minimum), plus make him “lease” our (very old) car from us + pay his share of insurance (total probably ~$200/month) if he wants to continue using it. In return, he would no longer have cell phone restrictions and we would allow him more freedom in deciding when to go out with his girlfriend (he would still have curfews of course). My hope is that with a job he just won’t have the TIME to keep playing on his stupid phone and hanging around aimlessly with his gf.

      Has anyone been through similar situations with their older kids? If he were off at college I’d have an easier time letting go but being at home complicates things. Any advice is welcome.

    • #78378

      Not a parent, but a kid who sounded a lot like your son does.

      He will get a job. Eventually the need for money will propbably outweigh the lack of motivation. I don’t think you realize the rabbit hole you’re asking for though.

      When he gets a job he won’t be home, he will have an alibi to do pretty much whatever he wants, he will probably end up having more money than he really knows what to do with and he’ll end up blowing it on things he doesn’t need or worse. I started smoking weed daily when I had a job. If you trust him its not a big deal or a big risk, but just keep an eye out. If I were you right now I would let him work things out at his own pace, the boy has the rest of his life to spend working.

      When it comes to college planning, try not to worry too much, he’s not behind at all. I’d ask him about what colleges he’s interested in and if it’s viable go tour some campuses over the summer. After that, throughout senior year, push him to apply, his teachers at school will pester him about it constantly too, he will (most likely) get it done.

      As someone with ADHD I can personally say (about the phone issue) that it’s mentally VERY hard for me to not check my phone constantly. I get bored, there’s not too much better to do, I’ll check my phone. It’s habitual and when you have a girlfriend you also have social pressure to respond that adds on to your pre-existing habit. High school girls now-a-days get mad when you don’t reply to their texts in a timely fassion too.

      I’m not pretending to understand your family dynamic, also his immaturity may be worse than I imagine, but growing up in a household with 2 Kids with ADHD, 2 kids with autism spectrum disorder, 1 with bipolar, 1 with bulimia, and 3 with depression has taught me a few things about how to deal with children with mental health problems. I’d say be happy he isn’t out with his friends smoking weed everyday like I was doing and is maintaining decent grades, unlike me at the time. The screen time doesn’t seem like as big of a deal to me if they’re aren’t any major problems that it is causing. If I am being 100% honest it seems like he is doing fine and will be fine on his current path. Currently I am a junior engineering student with a 3.2 GPA with much worse circumstances than the ones you mentioned and a 2.7 GPA in HS.

      Take this all with a grain of salt though, I have never been a parent and respect your authority to do whatever you see fit.

      – Hope this at least gives some perspective 😁

      • This reply was modified 3 years, 10 months ago by CollegeishardwADHD. Reason: Typos and an addition
    • #78389
      Penny Williams

      Individuals with ADHD are as much as 30% less mature than same-age peers. That’s a huge gap in functioning. We are so programmed to think that age is when kids should be able to function independently, that it’s hard to accept and remember that our kids with ADHD just aren’t likely to be successfully independent at 18.

      Grow Up Already! Why It Takes So Long to Mature

      It is important to have goals and facilitate independence too, of course.

      Steps to Independence

      ADDitude Community Moderator, Author & Trainer on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

    • #78708

      I’m a teen with ADHD, and I can relate to his role in your situation- I’m sure my support network can relate to your side, lol! I was about 15 when my counselor and I first started exploring the possibility that I might have ADHD, and by 16, I started meds, which were enough to keep me on course for a while. That while has passed, and I can’t keep choosing to live as if I don’t have ADHD. I’ve had to come face to face with some uncomfortable truths that I spent years pushing to the back of my mind, and I’d be willing to bet he’s trying to keep the truths he’s uncomfy with bogged down for as long as possible- a very “ADHD” thing to do, I’ve learned.

      Since I’ve decided to actively try to embrace my ADHD, I have realized that there’s a lot more to ADHD than is presented, and it shook me to my core, but in a positive way. I’ve always been painfully aware that I’m different than most people, but I didn’t know that a lot of the things I’ve spent years ashamed of are symptoms of ADHD! For example, I’d always assumed that I was lazy and had poor self discipline because of how easily I fold when tasks get overwhelming, and subsequently, consciously watch the hole I was digging myself into deepen, all the while doing nothing about it and wishing I could find the “willpower” to remedy my situation. After spending a few minutes on this website, I stumbled across an article titled “The Mystery Of ADHD Motivation, Solved” and I almost cried tears of relief, because I finally realized there was a reason for my behavior- I’m not just defective, and that success and ADHD aren’t mutually exclusive.

      My two cents isn’t a suggestion on how you should parent, I’m nearly 20 and have my hands full just taking care of myself, but I know what I felt as a high schooler and now as a college student with ADHD trying to live life as though I was neurotypical, and hopefully can give you some insight on what your son might be going through. For starters, I’ve always been very very painfully sensitive to rejection (I’ve now learned this is common in people with ADHD, it’s even got a name!! Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria- “Why ADD Makes You Feel. So. Much” explains it much more clearly than I can), and taking even the smallest of chances results in paralyzing fear of failure &/or rejection. I have been known to reject opportunities, great ones, so I don’t have to deal with the constant fear that comes along with them- sometimes I’ve even self sabotaged to the point of failing myself, a very destructive spin on the “make fun of yourself before anyone else can” method of taking control of an undesirable situation. It was usually done subconsciously, and I didn’t realize the pattern I’d created until my counselor pointed it out. That might explain his avoidance towards planning for college and his half assed job applications.

      Another thing I’ve learned- the hard way, of course- is that I can’t be without structure & routine and keep my grades up. This can pose a problem at college, where you’re in charge of creating your own structure. You’re supposed to be able to function without the rigid, omnipresent structure provided for you, but a lot of us just can’t, it’s literally not how we’re wired- another good article on here is “Uncomfortable Truths About The ADHD Nervous System.” By no means do I say this as if it’s a limitation of anyone’s capacity for success, it’s just a prerequisite for some people to have the chance to be successful; and a lot of people, including me, have internalized shame surrounding this subjective truth because not being completely independent can easily be construed as a sign of weakness. I know I’ve mentioned quite a few articles already, but I’m going to suggest one more, because I figured I might as well save the best for last. It touches on most, if not everything I’ve already mentioned, and would be a good TLDR for what I’ve mentioned thus far.

      You mentioned your relationship with him has suffered in the past three months, and I know your intent wasn’t to damage your relationship with him and that you want him to grow to be independent just as badly as he does, but I can also remember how I used to swear that my mom hated me and was out to ruin my life, lol! One of our biggest fights was over why she wouldn’t let me go to a very large music festival with my best friend a state over, because a trustworthy adult wasn’t going with us… we were MAYBE 15, in my mind that was totally old enough to go places by ourselves! She most definitely didn’t hate me and just wanted me to be safe, but I wasn’t yet in a place that I was able to see the forest for the trees, so it translated as her trying to keep me from being happy. I imagine as your son grows up, he’ll realize you’ve only ever had his best interests at heart. I don’t know the dynamics of your relationship with him, but if you don’t already, I would suggest pointing out & acknowledging the good you see him doing as often as you tell him his behavior isn’t satisfactory/ needs to change and just generally reminding him you love him, especially if you know he’s having a bad day. It might seem counterproductive to praise him when he’s not doing well, but as always when ADHD is a part of the equation, motivation is key, and validation from a loved one that they recognize your effort has never de(un?)motivated me! Hopefully a glimpse inside the brain of another older teen with ADHD was at least a little helpful, and you can gather some insight from it! Good luck with your boy 🙂

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