Ask the Experts

Q: “Must I Helicopter to Teach My Teen Time-Management Skills?”

Your teen’s executive functions are weak, and his time management needs help. But he doesn’t want to hear this (or solutions) from you. Should you hover and push? Or retreat and let him fail? An ADHD coach weighs in.

Overprotective couple hovering with a telescope and a binoculars, watching over their children.
Overprotective couple hovering with a telescope and a binoculars, watching over their children.

Q: “I’m trying to work on time management with my 15-year-old son before he returns to school, but it feels hopeless. He won’t listen to me or try my suggestions because he either doesn’t like my ideas or feels he can do it alone. It’s always a fight. It gets toxic at worst and frustrating at best. Should I force him to do it my way or leave him alone?” — HopelessMom

Hi HopelessMom:

It’s exhausting and frustrating to share tips and tools to help your child, only to be repeatedly rebuffed or shut down.

So, what is the right thing to do? How much should you push vs. back off? And can you really teach him the skills he needs to be successful? The short answer: Absolutely!

The long answer: Time-management challenges affect most teens — especially those with attention deficits and executive dysfunction. I’ve heard countless stories from parent-coaching clients and friends about their teens — tales of research papers written the night before they were due, struggles to get out the door in the morning, or consistently being late for activities — that, when examined closely, are all centered around time-management issues. And unfortunately, these issues — and parents’ efforts to address them — tend to create a very toxic environment in the household.

While this problem is ubiquitous, common ground can be found. Because though teens will insist, “It’s not a problem,” or “I’ve got everything under control,” or worse, “I don’t need your help,” very few teenagers enjoy all-nighters, last-minute scrambles, or constant arguments with their parents.

[Free Resource: Transform Your Teen’s Apathy Into Engagement]

Teens want to do well. And succeed. They just don’t always know how or want to do it their way. If we start with those understandings, we can get on the path to success. Together.

I’m often asked if all my student coaching clients are “success stories.” No, of course not. But many are. Here are the three important lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Lesson #1: Neither Helicopter Nor Hands-Off Parenting Is 100% Right

Parent involvement is critical to helping a student succeed. I don’t mean you need to turn into a helicopter parent and hover over your teen each minute. It also does not mean being completely hands-off and letting your teen figure out everything on their own. Granted, your degree of involvement will depend on your teen. But whether you’re offering support and guidance from the sidelines or providing scaffolding every step of the way, creating the proper nurturing, collaborative, and positive environment in which your teen can reinforce what they’ve learned is essential for them to master these skills.

Lesson #2: Time-Management Skills Take Practice

Time-management skills are not something to be taught once, mastered, and moved on from. They are LEARNED skills. To master a learned skill, one must PRACTICE. A lot. There is no magic elixir here; consistency is key. Trust me on this one.

[Self-Test: Does My Child Have ADHD?]

When my son was younger, I made every available opportunity and situation into a teaching moment. “Eli, if you need to be at play rehearsal at 5:15 p.m., what time do you need to leave the house?” “We’re leaving the house at 8 p.m. How much more time do you have to get ready?” And my favorite, “What’s your plan on studying for your math test on Friday when you don’t get home from play rehearsal on Thursday night until 9:30 p.m.?” And on it went.

Lesson #3: The Best Teacher Rarely Helicopters

Know when it’s time to bring in professionals.

Your teen needs to be on board and willing to work with you for any strategies to work. And, truthfully, parents aren’t always the best teachers for their children. Whether emotions get in the way or you don’t have the skill set to teach your teen, don’t be hard on yourself. An ADHD/student coach or executive functioning tutor may be the answer. How often have you said, “He won’t listen to me, but he’ll listen to his coach/teacher/tutor!” In my years of practice, even the students most resistant to their parents’ help came around. It just took time.

Don’t get discouraged. Trust yourself — and your son. Try different approaches until you find one that works. Learn together if he will let you. Just keep the lines of communication open. Remember, if it doesn’t work out, you can always bring in a professional. This is only the beginning.

Good Luck.

Helicopter Parent vs. Hands-off: Next Steps

ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!

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