Dear Teen Parenting Coach

Q: How Can My Teen Make Friends When the School Bars Him from Extracurricular Activities? 

For a socially isolated teen with ADHD, finding a sport or other extra-curricular activity that “clicks” can make the difference between failure and hope. But when the school considers only achievement — not incremental progress — his GPA may get in the way. How to respond as a parent who understands ADD motivation.  

“My son has a hard time making and keeping friends, and spends all of his time at home. He joined the track team three months ago, and it was the only social interaction he got outside of school. But even that was recently taken away when the coach cut him because of his grades. That was devastating to him. He came home crying, saying that he’s a failure and no one wants to give him a chance to show he is trying. (He was recently diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) and placed on a 504 Plan at school. His grades were all Fs before he joined track, but he has been trying his hardest to do better.)

Was it right for the coach to cut him? What should I do to help him?”


Dear Thatkidsmom,

I’m so sorry your son is struggling in this way — and that you are, too. Parenting a complex child isn’t easy.

It’s great news that your son has received a clear diagnosis and a 504 Plan; that should help you start making some changes! In the meantime, keep breathing. Change takes time, and it won’t all sort itself out immediately. At ImpactADHD we encourage parents to take a marathon view — remember that you are preparing to support your son for the long haul, not just for this school year. Patience is hard but essential to keep moving forward.

You have raised two issues: one about social challenges with making friends and one about playing a sport with failing grades.

Regarding social challenges, it’s very common for 14-year-old kids to spend a lot of time at home. Most of them (even those without ADHD) do not have the executive function skills to plan active social lives, and they don’t want parents planning activities for them either. So the first couple of years of high school tend to be a more isolated time for many young teens. As your son begins to get more involved with activities, hopefully that will slowly begin to change.

[Self Test: Could Your Child Have an Executive Function Deficit?]

Which brings us to the next topic: the tug-of-war between sports and academics for kids with ADHD. Getting your son back into sports should be a higher priority than improving his social life, for now, because it accomplishes many of your goals for him.

I can’t say whether it was “right” for the coach to pull him from the team, but it certainly seems that the issue was not handled as well as it could have been. How receptive do you think he might be to a conversation?

You could share some of the recent research about how exercise is an essential part of your son’s treatment for ADHD, and ask if he’d be willing to reconsider his decision as long as your son shows incremental progress. If he understands that your son was actually beginning to improve in school once he started track, that might convince him to offer a second chance. If so, you’ll want to make sure that the coach is in closer communication with you, and that the three of you set clear, short-term goals to help your son begin to see gradual successes.

It also sounds like the school needs to address your son’s academic challenges more systematically. Hopefully, there is someone in the resource department who can help with this. His success does not necessarily depend on working “harder” — he needs to learn strategies that work for the way his brain is wired. Running track offers a key motivation for him to engage and want to try, which is great! Next, you and he need to identify which aspects of executive function are a challenge for him and determine ways to manage them more effectively.

As a parent of a teen who was recently diagnosed, there is a lot for you to learn about all the ways in which ADHD impacts behavior and the strategies for managing it. I urge you to take a parent training course so that you can help your son take ownership of his ADHD one step at a time.

Do you have a question for ADDitude’s Dear Teen Parenting Coach? Submit your question or challenge here.

The opinions and suggestions presented above are intended for your general knowledge only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your own or your child’s condition.