Dear Teen Parenting Coach

Q: How Can I Motivate My Faltering Teen — Without Starting a Fight?

At the beginning of the year, your teen was confident, organized, and motivated. As the months tick by, however, his homework is rarely done and his backpack is a disaster. Here’s how to identify your teen’s needs and help him re-discover the path to success.

Q: “Our high-school freshman started the year strong: fairly organized, great grades, etc. Now it’s the second semester, and he’s fallen into a slump: no longer using his planner consistently, completing his homework on time, or using the tools we set up to help him stay organized. I’m trying to reignite his desire to complete his work, but he becomes bitter and angry whenever I try to talk about it. It’s impacting our relationship, and I would love some tools for motivating him without losing our strong mother-son bond.”

Motivation is complicated. Parents often wish there was a switch they could flip that would make their child want to do well in school — but unfortunately, for teens with ADHD, motivation is just one piece of a very complex puzzle.

If this drop-off was very sudden, there may be something else going on — feelings of depression, maybe, or a conflict with a teacher that your child hasn’t told you about. Ask your child if anything has happened recently that’s causing him to struggle at school; if he’s resistant to a conversation, redirect the question to his teachers, counselors, or coaches. You may have to do some digging, but anytime grades suddenly fall off a cliff, that’s a red flag that parents shouldn’t ignore.

If your detective work does unearth additional struggles, it may be in the best interest of your relationship — and his well-being — to shift your focus away from his academic performance for a time. If therapy is available, I encourage you to consider it; if not, your best option is to be as supportive as possible, focus on how your child is feeling, and do your best to have open, honest dialogue — without getting hung up on his overdue assignments.

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

If the decline was more gradual, on the other hand — your teen started off confident, but started to feel the pressure more and more as the year went on — additional help may still be called for, but this time in the form of an ADHD coach or a tutor. If your attempts at helping your teen are consistently met with resistance, it can lead to bitterness and tension; removing yourself from the situation and entrusting it to another resource is a strong option for getting your teen the help he needs without damaging your relationship.

You don’t need to spend a ton of money. Older high schoolers, college kids, or a trusted neighbor can all be great tutors or organization coaches. Homework clubs — found at many high schools across the country — are also great (free) options. When teens work together to finish their homework, the final product may not be perfect, but at least it will get done!

Ann Dolin, M.Ed., is a member of the ADDitude ADHD Medical Review Panel.

This advice came from “High School Success: A Strategic Transition for Teens Moving to Higher Grades,” an April 2018 ADDitude webinar lead by Ann Dolin, M.Ed., that is now available for free replay here.

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.