Teens with ADHD

Muddling Through the Action Shots

When your teen with ADHD starts to move from passenger role into the driver’s seat, how do parents build independence without letting him crash?

Regaining Self-Esteem: Man Driving
Regaining Self-Esteem: Man Driving

As a parent, there is a transition one begins to make when your child hits middle school, no matter what kind of child you have. At one point we manage our kids; in adulthood, they manage themselves. In that in-between time of the ‘tween and teen years, there is an awkward dance in which one does not know the rhythm.

The best parents make the effort at this time to take the transitional role of a coach. But navigating that line can be extra maddening if your kid is attention-challenged. It’s like they ask for the car keys and get in the front seat, but never start the motor up.

In my son’s senior year of high school, there were many scary moments when it seemed the transition from Mom in the driver’s seat to Enzo in the driver’s seat would not be a calm one. This is true, I’ve discovered, for many parents of teens with ADHD. Instead of giving Enzo the keys and letting him take over his life when the time was right, it often felt more like a stunt scene in a movie where the passenger crawls into the driver’s seat at high speed on the highway.

It’s mostly because of one thing: that form the school district sends out, saying you, the parent, are responsible for your child’s attendance.

If it had really been up to him, he’d miss a lot of classes. There is some chemical in his brain that makes waking up harder for him than for other kids. It runs in the family. When we were college-age, I was the only person in the world who could wake up my brother. (To be fair, I could do it only with the antics of one certain teddy bear.) I can’t do that anymore. Stuffed animals are powerless against the Morning Sleep of Enzo.

It’s not just sleep, either. It’s getting to appointments. It’s keeping commitments. It’s sticking to a schedule and remembering what his goals are. Sometimes Enzo was great at these things, an example to us all, but you know what they say, the hallmark of ADHD is inconsistency. The possibility of him missing something crucial (like which school to show up to for the untimed ACT you fought so hard for him to be able to take) might actualize just when we thought everything was under control. (Yeah, that.)

When Enzo was a year away from college, we still didn’t know if he would go. All of the parents were baffled by the efforts we, and our kids, had to undertake. It wasn’t this complicated when we were kids; we got ourselves into school and didn’t come out a hundred grand in debt. There are so many marks to hit: tests, applications, interviews, plus all the schoolwork. We struggled to find the fine line between helicopter mode and missing deadlines.

I had a funny conversation at that time with the father of Enzo’s gal pal, Bizy. We laughed at how both of our ADHD kids did fine when you put the work in front of them, but they couldn’t get themselves started. He and I both have ADHD, and joked about taking meth, I mean, about the sort of pressure we had to put on ourselves to get started. He laughed and misquoted Flannery O’Connor: “She would of been a good woman if someone had held a gun to her head every minute of her life.” We both realized that, as parents, that gun was a GPA. That gun was a test score.

This is how we muddle through the action shots.