Dear Teen Parenting Coach

Q: How Can My Teen Stop Spiraling Into Negativity?

The teenage years are ripe with intense emotions, and when adolescents get stuck on a negative thought, it’s easy for them to spiral down into a dark hole. Here’s how to help your child move past doomsday predictions and manage his daily workload.

Q: “My 15-year-old son with ADHD struggles to control his anger or negativity when faced with a project he doesn’t want to do, and it seems lately like he can’t mentally move past negative statements once they pop into his head — especially during homework time. He’s constantly repeating things like, ‘I’ll never get this all done!’ ‘Why do I have to do this?’ ‘I’ll never use chemistry in my life!’ and so on. How do we support him and help him get out of these negative thought spirals — while still helping him get his work done?” —Deborah

Dear Deborah,

This is a situation where parental honesty and openness really comes in handy. Most parents, when they hear “I’ll never use this! Why do I have to learn it?” or a similar negative reaction to homework, respond with something akin to, “Because I said so!” This answer feels monumentally unfair to a teen, and can actually force him deeper into a negative spiral.

Instead, be honest with your teen. When he starts ranting about how calculus will never apply to his daily life, acknowledge that he might be right. Once he finishes this class, he may never have to think about calculus again. But explain to him that the critical skills he’s learning while he completes his calculus homework — how to learn, how to plan, how to complete assignments on time — will never stop being applicable over the course of his life. Encourage him to look at homework not as a mere annoyance, but as an exercise that will help him when he starts a career, or raises a family, or owns a home. And you never know — once he gives it a fair shot, he may fall in love with calculus, and end up pursuing a career in the field!

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

It’s true that some teens won’t respond to this reframing method. Another approach is to tell your teen, “Your job right now is being a student. In every job, there are things we’d rather not do — but we have to do them if we want to avoid consequences.” Many schools revoke privileges — including participation in sports or after-school social events — for students who don’t complete assignments or maintain a certain GPA. Remind your teen that these natural consequences may happen to him unless he’s able to view his homework in a more productive light.

Thomas E. Brown, Ph.D., is a member of ADDitude’s ADHD Medical Review Panel.

This advice came from “The Teen Years with ADHD: A Practical, Proactive Parent’s Guide,” an April 2018 ADDitude webinar lead by Thomas Brown, Ph.D., that is now available for free replay here.

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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.