Teens & Young Adults

Have a Teen with ADHD? Encourage Communication & Avoid the Drama

When it comes to parenting a teen with ADHD, communication is key. Make both of your lives easier with these simple steps for positive reinforcement and organization.

Parenting ADHD Teens: Discipline and Behavior Tips
Parenting ADHD Teens: Discipline and Behavior Tips

Parents often ask me how they can get through to their teenager with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The disability adds stress to the task of communicating with a son or daughter who is already dealing with peer pressure and increased hormone levels. Most of the problems stem from a teen’s difficulty controlling what she says or does. Stress and conflict exacerbate her impulsivity. Reducing stress, verbal insults, and tension in your teen’s life will minimize the problems and clear the way for calmer communication and moments of discipline.

As a parent of two children with ADHD, and as one who has ADHD myself, I found the following strategies helpful:

Communicating With Your Teen

Most teenagers with ADHD need to have the last word in a conversation. You ask your son to do something, and he explains why he can’t. You resolve his concern, and he comes up with another one. It never ends. Peers are less understanding about a know-it-all, and will, after a while, write off your teen as a friend.

Explain to your teenager that it is not his fault that he behaves this way. It is due to his ADHD. Tell him that there is nothing wrong with occasionally having the last word, but when it happens all the time, it seems that he thinks he’s always right.

Becoming aware of how often he does it is the key to his minimizing it. Practice by having a mock debate with him, in which he lets you have the last word. Then, in the course of conversations over a three-day period, see how often he succeeds. Do not reward or punish him based on the results. Help him improve. This activity can be repeated as often as the teen is willing.

Organizational Help for Teens

Teens with ADHD — and adults, for that matter — often lose items like wallets, keys, books, glasses, and papers. These mishaps lead to panic and guilt, which can make the teen defensive. The more a parent blames a teen for not caring about his things, the less likely he is to listen to parental advice. Losing things becomes a flashpoint that interferes with communication between parent and teen.

To avoid this chain of events, wait until things are calm and friendly, and offer suggestions in a non-accusatory manner. Say, “I know you have trouble finding things. That must be frustrating. I have a few ideas that might help, if you would like to try them.”

Suggest organizing the things he loses most often. Hammer a nail in the wall, or buy a fancy key holder, so he can practice putting his keys there every time he comes home. Buy a large red folder for homework and agree on an easy-to-find place to keep it. Have him practice putting loose bills in his wallet instead of leaving them — wherever.

Choices and Decision-Making for Teens with ADHD

Choices give your teen opportunities to solve his own problem. Threats create a fight-or-flight response that leads to withdrawal or a heated argument. Have you ever heard your teen say, “So what? I couldn’t care less!” when you threaten him?

How do you tell the difference between a threat and a choice? A threat includes punishment as one of the choices. “Clean your room, or you can’t use the car. The choice is yours.” A better way to say this is, “You need to clean your room. You can do it now or after dinner.” Another example is, “You can choose to stop bothering your sister or to leave the table.” If choice two is a punishment, the teen interprets this as a threat. A better approach is to say, “Please find a way to stop bothering your sister, so we can all enjoy our meal.” Substituting positive choices for threats will improve your communication with your teen.

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