Teens with ADHD

Q: “How Do I Help My Teen Make Better Decisions?”

“When you find yourself longing to tell your teen what to do, stop.” Learn how and when to coach your teen’s decision making — without overdoing it.

Illustration of confused young woman surrounded by blue question marks.

Q: “How can I help my teen, who has ADHD, make better decisions without overstepping or giving unwanted advice?”

Part of parenting a teen successfully is shifting from being your child’s CEO to their board of advisors. It’s a difficult transition, especially when a teen’s prefrontal cortex lags in maturity due to ADHD, and they don’t always make the wisest decisions. But if your goal is to raise an adult who can think critically, solve their own problems, and live on their own successfully, the path to independence starts now.

Reflective Listening

When you find yourself longing to tell your teen what to do, stop. Instead, ask: “Would you like my help?” Rather than intrude, let yourself be invited to join their solution process. When you are, ask questions that will help you understand their problem. What is their goal? Their need? What do they think the first step to solving it might be? How will they know when they have a good solution? Are there alternatives?

[eBook: The Parents’ Guide to Raising a Teen with ADHD]

Resist the urge to judge their answers. Instead, ask them what makes a good vs. a bad solution, and to define the challenges and advantages of each choice they might make. As they develop a list of possibilities, your guidance will help illuminate the best one.

Open-Ended Questions

Let’s say your teen has a friend who has been aggressive and unkind in the past, and they are considering ending the friendship — a decision you have long been championing. You are tempted to say, “Yes, end it! They are a terrible friend!” Instead, after being invited into the process, try questions like this:

  • “What is important to you in a friendship?”
  • “Who are your good friends and what makes them good?”
  • “How is [this friend] like/unlike those good friends?”
  • “How have they been a good/bad friend in the past?”
  • “What would you miss about them?”
  • “What might be better in your life if you weren’t friends?
  • “Imagine you’ve ended the friendship — now how do you feel?”

Growth Mindset

Cultivating a growth mindset means allowing your teen to come to their natural conclusions. You provide guidance but refrain from dictating those conclusions. When they see your confidence in their ability to solve their own problems — even if those solutions aren’t the best choices in your eyes — they will develop the confidence to tackle challenges in the future.

This confidence, especially for teens with ADHD who may have frequently felt less capable than their peers, is essential to their development. By asking questions instead of giving the answers, you light their path to adulthood.

Decision Making for Teens with ADHD: Next Steps

Merriam Sarcia Saunders, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and ADHD-certified clinical services provider. She is the author of the children’s books, My Whirling, Twirling Motor, My Wandering, Dreaming Mind, and Trouble with a Tiny t.

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