Get Your Teen Ready for Life
It’s almost time for you to step back and let your teen solve his own problems — but before you do, check out these ways to prepare him for the challenge.
Parents walk a tightrope trying to help their ADHD teens get ready to take responsibilities on their own. Perhaps you are a micromanager and you’ve been acting as your teen’s “surrogate frontal lobe.” Now that he’s older, you’re getting some pushback from him, and you wonder if there’s a way to step back without seeing him flounder.
Perhaps your daughter gladly accepts your assistance in getting organized and attending to everyday chores, but you’re unsure about how much to help her. You don’t want her to become dependent on you, but you don’t want her to fail. Maybe your son has dug in and refuses to acknowledge that he has any challenges at school or his job, but you feel that if you don’t push him to act, he won’t be able to overcome his problems.
What’s a parent to do? Follow these guidelines, many of which allow your teen to take the lead in solving a problem.
Provide Only the Help Your Teen Needs
1. Whenever possible, communicate indirectly — using a note or text message. The idea is to create distance between you and your teen, so that the cue can work without both of you being in the same place at the same time.
2. Send notes, don’t nag. A voicemail, note, or text message reminding your son to empty the dishwasher before he goes to the dance may get him to do it. Nagging won’t. In the case of regular chores or routines, try reminders for a few weeks. Then stop prompting him and see if he does the chore on his own. If not, return to the reminders.
3. Ask your teen to develop his own cues. This is a way to hand off the skill to the teen, so she can remind herself in her own way.
4. Edit your words. When it comes to reminders, parents talk too much, include lessons and lectures, and use an irritated voice. This frequently leads to conflict.
5. Use an outside expert to teach your child a skill. If teens are going to be independent problem solvers, they need to use people and information, not their parents, to help them. While we all feel good when our teen asks us for help from time to time, this does not increase their independence, unless they internalize the information and stop coming to us.
Identify One Challenge and the Times It Occurs
6. Let your teen choose which challenge to work on first, and how to address it. It could be moving too slowly in the morning or driving carelessly. Anything that increases your teen’s interest in the problem increases her investment in solving it.
7. If your teen is open to help, choose a goal for which implementation is shared. By letting your teen decide in what way you can help, you decrease the burden the task places on you. The objective is to fade out your help over time, but not so quickly that your teen fails at a task.
8. Start with a problem that is small and easily tackled. This will build your teen’s confidence and will increase the likelihood that he will be willing to work on other problems. In the morning routine, you can move from waking your teen to having him wake himself.
9. Address a problem that puts your teen at immediate risk. This is when parental judgment and decision-making must override teen choice. If your teen has trouble controlling emotions or sustaining attention, which you fear may pose a risk of unsafe driving or substance abuse, closely monitor his behavior. This will strike your teen as intrusive, but a parent’s job is to keep the teen “in the game.” This does not mean that parents should lock up their teen during his adolescence, but it does mean that parents find ways to balance choice and risk management.
Meet Resistance with Creativity
10. Be open to negotiation. If you have approached a problem as a “have to” or a “do it or else,” consider offering an exchange. You’ll give up something you want if the teen will give up something she wants (or do something you want). If you want chores done in exchange for using the car, change the chores to errands you need done and offer the car if she’ll run a couple of errands for you before she goes off with friends.
11. Use your teen’s personal goals to teach executive skills. Virtually any goal requires planning, time management, sustained attention, task initiation, and goal-directed persistence. Focus on personal goals that are a high priority for your teen — saving to buy a car or going to Europe next summer. These are ideal vehicles for learning executive skills, and have the advantage of built-in motivation if they come from your teen.
12. Consider more rewards. Parents are often cheap in terms of what they will offer their teen, because they are annoyed at having to offer anything at all. If you accept that these are difficult skills for your teen to learn, understand what is needed for her to make the effort.
Excerpted from Smart but Scattered Teens: The “Executive Skills” Program for Helping Teens Reach Their Potential, by Richard Guare, Ph.D., Peg Dawson, Ed.D., and Colin Guare. Copyright © 2013. Reprinted with permission of The Guilford Press, New York.
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Updated on August 25, 2020