Dear Teen Parenting Coach

Q: How Can I Inspire (or Force) My Child to Care About His Schoolwork?

It’s an age-old question that almost every parent ponders: How can I motivate my teenager to do well, when she just doesn’t seem to care? Our Teen Parenting Coach explains how ADHD plays in to motivational challenges, and what parents can do to help guide priorities.

Q: “My son is 14 and has no sense of time or urgency. He gets frustrated with homework, and then completely shuts down. He doesn’t seem to care about his grades. He can’t even find his assignments in the mess of his backpack. How can I get him to care?”

If there are 14-year-old boys out there who are organized and care about their grades, I have never met them. I have two sons. One had ADHD, and the other was very unmotivated.

To get both of them through high school, I had to accept that my job wasn’t to bring them up to their highest possible achievement. My job was to keep their heads above water so they didn’t drown. Sometimes the best you can do is keep your kids “in the game” until their brains mature enough for them to take over.

That can mean giving up on the least important things, and focusing on a few top priorities. For example, I threw out room cleaning, but I knew getting homework done and handed in on time was valuable. I made sure it was finished at the end of each night, but I didn’t judge the quality. That is the teacher’s job. Your child’s grades will reflect that.

If your teen comes home with a grade he didn’t expect, encourage him to go to his teacher and say, “I thought I was going to get a higher grade on that assignment. Can you give me some specifics about what I might have done differently?”

[Free Download: What to Do When Your Teenage Son Has No Motivation]

I settled for a child who was a B/C student, when I knew he could have easily been an A/B student. Yet, if I had been pushing him for As, it would have almost certainly undermined our relationship. I picked my battles, and in the process, maintained a loving relationship with my son.

When you think about what teens really want, it’s not the latest video game or phone. They are impatient to grow up, and have all the freedom that adults have. They are motivated by being able to make their own choices and decisions, by having their opinions valued. The key to motivating your son is to — when you responsibly can — give him these powers. If he wants to rush through homework and he understands the end result may be a lower grade, sometimes the best approach is to let him.

This advice came from “The Teen Brain on ADHD,”a February 2018 ADDitude webinar lead by Peg Dawson, Ed.D., that is now available for free replay here.

Peg Dawson, Ed.D., is a member of the ADDitude ADHD Medical Review Panel.

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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.