Dear Teen Parenting Coach

Q: How Can I Empower My Teen to Advocate for Himself?

One of the goals of high school is to teach children independence, confidence, and the power of self-advocacy. Here’s one easy exercise to help parents pass the reins to their teens with ADHD.

Q: “My son will be starting high school next year. I’ve heard that our high school doesn’t want to hear from parents when there’s a problem — instead, they greatly prefer to hear from the students themselves. Basically, they want kids to self-advocate. But my teen, who has ADHD and some social anxiety, has never had to do that before. Do you have any suggestions for empowering incoming freshmen?”

First, let me start by saying that, if you truly feel you need to reach out to your child’s teacher, coach, or principal, please don’t hesitate to do so. The school certainly doesn’t mean they never want to hear from parents — just that they want kids to be more comfortable taking the lead wherever they can.

That being said, let’s assume that your child will be his own first line of defense for most problems that he encounters at school. The initial step, then, is for him to have a brief introductory conversation with his teachers — he can start with the one he feels most comfortable with, if he’s nervous, but he should ideally talk to most (if not all) of them.

What does this conversation entail? It doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometime during the first week of school, he should wait after class (or write an email, if the teacher encourages online communication) and ask the teacher one simple question: “If I need help, how can I get it?” (If your child chooses to send an email, develop a simple template together; if he goes in person, try a quick role-play where he can practice what he plans to say.)

[How to Motivate a Teenager with ADHD]

Asking this question early in the year accomplishes a few things. First, it paves the way for an open teacher-student relationship before a lot is going on. If your child waits until November to build rapport with his teacher — when he’s likely overwhelmed or falling behind — it will be much harder for him to get the help he needs. He may be too uncomfortable or embarrassed to ask for help that late in the semester, or his teacher may be busy with other students’ needs, so it’s important that he practices asking for help when the stakes are lower.

Second, this small interaction will soothe a great deal of the anxiety your child may have around self-advocating. His teacher will most likely respond in a positive, encouraging way, and point your teen to office hours, tutoring sessions, or other resources at his disposal. With that success under his belt, your teen will realize, “Hey, this advocacy thing isn’t so bad” — and will be more comfortable going back on his own later, if (and when) larger problems arise.

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.