Dear Teen Parenting Coach

Q: How Can I End the Hostility and Blame That’s Ruining My Relationship with My Teen?

Teens with ADHD are overwhelmed — by their growing brains, their changing bodies, and the inviting (and terrifying) world around them. Unfortunately, this confusion and stress often results in defiant behavior, which can leave parents feeling frustrated and alone. Here, our Teen Parenting Coach explains how to guide your teen towards adulthood — without letting blow-outs and backtalk sabotage your relationship.

Q: “My 15-year-old daughter is only defiant and angry with me, not her father (from whom I separated last year). Everything — from not having any friends to struggling with homework — is now my fault. She’s become a disrespectful teenager, at least only toward me. How can I help her see what’s around her, help her make friends, and stop the angst between us?” —AspMom707

Dear AspMom707,

You are a safe haven for your daughter. You are reliable and constant. Meanwhile, she is struggling with self-management and a lack of self-awareness in a family that’s undergoing a dramatic transition. She’s more than likely overwhelmed — by her body, her brain, and her surroundings. That’s a lot for any child to manage.

Chances are she is defiant for two key reasons. First, you are a safe place to let out her emotions. She knows you’re still going to love her even when she behaves badly. She’s trying hard to “hold it together” for the rest of the world and, on some level, she trusts that she doesn’t have to put in that effort for you.

On the other hand, she’s pushing just to make sure that you will stand by her. She’s suffered a loss of expectations — she thought she could count on an intact nuclear family — and she has to come to terms with that. Again, it’s a lot for her to manage, especially with developmental delays in emotional regulation. So sometimes she’s going to push just to make sure you’re still going to be there.

None of this is easy for you as a parent, and I’m really sorry you’re going through it. It’s gotta feel isolating and uncertain for you, too. Even if she sees you as strong and capable, sometimes you probably wonder how to keep yourself going.

So my advice to you is to focus on your relationship with your daughter. Connect with her. Do fun things that don’t have anything to do with school or social skills. Make dates for things she likes. Take some time to re-connect to the love you feel for her, and allow her to feel it, too.

[Free Handout: 10 Ways to Neutralize Your Child’s Anger]

And then, when it comes to social issues, begin to shift your approach. Don’t try to help her see what’s around her — because she’s not going to listen if you “tell her.” Instead, slowly begin to ask her questions about what’s important to her, what she’s looking for in a friendship, what she likes about the friends she’s had over the years, etc. Allow these conversations to happen over time, naturally and easily. Stay focused on what she wants, not what you want (even if it’s in her best interest). If she suspects that you’re asking for your own agenda because you’re worried, she’ll shut down, and shut you out.

Parents progress through four phases when transferring ownership and responsibility to their kids. When your child has complex challenges, it’s easy to get stuck in the first phase: directing their work and efforts. So it sounds like it’s time to start shifting your role and guiding her to take ownership of her life. She might be resistant, at first, because it’s a bit scary. It’s a whole lot easier to make everything Mom’s fault than it is to take responsibility for problems.

You are passing the baton in a relay race. Stay focused on the transfer. Don’t throw the batons at her. Carefully hand them to her, one at a time, and make sure she’s got them and knows it’s her job to carry them forward. That takes a little finesse. And time. And it starts with focusing on reconnecting to your relationship.

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.

1 Comments & Reviews

  1. You didn’t mention for how long your daughter has been having difficulties, at what age she was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (now categorized as High Functioning Autism). Also, it is important to know whether she was also evaluated for ADD/ADHD whether at the same time, or subsequently. When Autism is present, it is not uncommon that symptoms of ADD/ADHD can also be present, but are often overlooked, ignored, or ‘missed’ because everything going on is attributed to the autism. It is not uncommon that some symptoms seen in ADD/ADHD can be similar to some of the symptoms seen in the autism spectrum, especially in the high functioning group, but are not attributed to ADD/ADHD. In your brief description of her, you describe some characteristics found in ADD/ADHD kids (and adults), such as having difficulty establishing or sustaining friendships, which could be related to having difficulties due to not having good social skills, not being able to ‘read’ social cues; difficulty doing school assignments or completing them, etc., which could be related to having difficulty staying on focus, even in class, too, being easily distracted, etc.
    In addition to the ‘normal’ storms of adolescent emotional development (and physical, and hormonal, especially for girls), she may have some undiagnosed or untreated ADD/ADHD symptoms, in addition to her “Asperger Syndrome” symptoms, on top of which is the change in family composition from your separation from her father, etc., which leaves you as the sole parenting authority, so you are the only one who can get the expressions of any and all of her frustrations, fears, disappointments, etc. (Who else can she dump on?) In light of her issues, she may not be “able” to handle the demands of regular classroom assignments, even socialization, organization, etc., so it can be that she is not ‘ready’ to be able to handle these stressors, and needs you to show understanding that it may be difficult for her, letting her know that you can understand she may have some difficulties with these things, and you want to get some professional help for you and her so you can be more helpful, supportive, and understanding of her limitations and now to help, rather than her hearing criticisms, complaints, all the negative stuff, some of which may be beyond her control, whether from the autism or the ADD/HD or both..

    It may be very helpful to have her evaluated by her pediatrician, if comfortable assessing for ADD/ADHD in kids with autism, or by a child psychiatrist, to see if she does also have ADD/ADHD, and whether a trial of treatment with medication might be appropriate, to see if it helps her be better able to focus on homework, on being better able to learn social cuing, be less agitated, irritated, frustrated, etc. Often, once on medication, ‘talk’ therapy can be more effective, since the brain can take in what is being discussed……

    There are some studies that report that in kids where the autism was diagnosed first, and early (before around age 6-8), the symptoms of ADD/ADHD are sometimes not recognized, because they don’t show themselves in the same way as they would if there were no autism symptoms, but where the ADD/ADHD symptoms are identified first and later, the autism symptoms may not be recognized as such……

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