Dear Teen Parenting Coach

Q: How Do I Support My Teen Without Taking Over and Feeding Her Dependency?

With the heightened emotions of adolescence, the most innocent conversation can easily turn explosive. Use these tips to help your teen with ADD or ADHD pursue independence, without causing conflict and hurt feelings.

Q: “I have a 16-year-old with ADHD who is a junior in high school. There is a long list of things she needs to do to be ready to apply to college — taking the SAT, filling out applications, meeting with the school counselor — and none of these things make it to the top of her daily to-do list. It takes everything she’s got to do her homework every night, and she just runs out of time. I’m not sure how to support her without nagging, taking over, and causing conflict.”

With teens, outsourcing potentially explosive conversations is sometimes the best way to make headway. If you can, hire an executive skills coach — independently, or through the school — whose job it is to help your child remember these steps. A coach helps to bridge that massive gap between you managing your child’s homework and priorities in elementary school, and her managing it independently in college in a few years.

If a coach is beyond your means, I recommend talking to the parent of an older, responsible teen whom your child admires. Ask if that teen can come over to work on homework alongside your child. Sometimes, she will buckle down because she really looks up to that peer.

In addition, teens often do a better job setting goals with someone outside the family — someone who doesn’t set off a hot cognition by just asking, “Have you started your math yet?”

[The Ultimate ADHD Test for Teen Girls]

Teens don’t perceive the future like adults do. They can’t anticipate how their actions today may impact their lives two or four years from now. They are governed by the pimple that is going to make them feel self-conscious in school tomorrow.

You can help by modeling goal-directed persistence in your own actions. If your teen sees you working toward an achievement — like training for a 10k or finishing the basement — over time, that can make an impression. Help her set little goals to achieve each day or week, like picking a date to take the SAT one day, then signing up the next. These small steps add up over time.

When your child finishes part of her long list of tasks, make sure to praise her effort, saying, “You stuck with it!” “You figured it out.” “I can’t believe how hard you worked for that!”

Try using these parent-teen communication rules as guidelines to help stay in the zone of talking, not nagging, and to defuse emotional conversations when they erupt.

[Inside Your Teen’s ADHD Mind]

Don’t Do
Use insults State the issue
Interrupt Take turns
Criticize Note good and bad
Get defensive Calmly disagree
Give lectures Say it short and straight
Get distracted Pay attention
Use sarcasm Talk in a normal tone
Go silent Say what you feel
Yell Accept responsibility
Swear Use respectful, but emphatic language

Finally, be available to talk when your teen is ready. That is not in the middle of a meltdown. It may happen when you pick your teen up from a friend’s house on the car ride home. If she starts talking about her worries about college, use active listening to show you are engaged and ready to help. Say, “Here’s what I think you just said. You tell me if I heard that right.” When you’re talking about goals, be sure to stay focused on your child’s desires, not your own.

This advice came from “The Teen Brain on ADHD,” a February 2018 ADDitude webinar lead by Peg Dawson, Ed.D., that is now available for free replay here.

Peg Dawson, Ed.D., is a member of the ADDitude ADHD Medical Review Panel.

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.