Screen Time

I Nagged! She Yelled! It Wasn’t Pretty!

My teen daughter with ADHD has trouble transitioning from playing Minecraft to getting chores done. Here, what I’ve learned about her need for independence.

One of my daughter’s chores is to feed the dog and cat, but when that time comes, she is rarely within sight. Last night, I stood in the kitchen cooking dinner, our dog begging, cat meowing, and called, “Lee!” No answer. The cat knocked over his food bowl with a loud clang, just in case I was hard of hearing.

I walked to Lee’s room, pushed her door open and announced, “The animals are hungry.”

Lee came out from under her headphones, eyes still fixed on her chat in Minecraft and said, “I’m busy right now.” Then she went back to her game.

I couldn’t sit down and explain the urgency of Minecraft chat to the cat, who was now swatting at me with his paw or the dog, who was whining. I could feel the blood rise into my cheeks, and everything I had learned about not reacting and staying calm flew out the window. “Now!” I said in a loud, authoritative voice.

Lee took off her headphones and glared at me. “Why are you on fire today? All I needed was five more minutes!” She looked at her screen. “Way to go, Mom, I just died!” She grabbed the cat, hoisted him around her shoulders, and stomped down to the kitchen, dog racing behind.

I thought, Yeah, way to go, Mom. Haven’t you learned anything from the last 16 years? Because I did know that hurling a command at my strong-willed teenage daughter was the best way to start a battle. I could hear her banging cupboards, dumping kibble into bowls, and feel her anger rolling off her and coming down the hall at me in waves.

I closed my eyes and took a breath. She was right. I knew better. I hadn’t given her any time to break hyperfocus and transition to the next activity. All I had to do was say, “I’m glad you’re having fun. How about feeding them in five?” She would have agreed, appreciating the time to stop the game.

I gave into my annoyance, and Lee responded on cue by exploding. I knew well that her low threshold for frustration, mixed with hormonal mood swings, and topped off by difficulty managing her emotions, was typical for teenage girls with ADHD. Lee’s need to be independent and call her own shots at 16 was another reason hearing a command made her see red. I’d lost sight of that, and now the animals, chowing down with their food, were the only winners.

OK, enough beating yourself up, I thought, and made my way to the kitchen. I said, “Lee, I’m sorry, I…”

She whirled around from the sink and faced me. “Is it OK if I just take out the trash now, instead of later, so I don’t die again?”

“Of course,” I said, a huge grin spreading on my face. I wasn’t the only one who’d learned a lesson here. Lee was planning ahead, a mental skill that didn’t come easy to her, let alone many children with ADHD. My command had her thinking. She would do her chores in her own time, without Mom nagging. Now if someone could explain that to the cat.