Parenting Teenagers with ADHD



​Achieving independence is a primary developmental goal of adolescence.

Your teenager will experience this urge as strongly as his peers without ADHD, but his or her impulsivity, inattention, and aspects of delayed maturity may mean moving slower toward this goal.  Specifically, you may need to:

  • Remove loss of privileges in response to a broken rule. Know that long-standing loss of privileges, however, harbors resentment and has little teaching value.

  • Work at consciously modeling responsible behavior. Watch the video Offering Boundaries & Being Role Models for more information and tips.

  • Break down tasks and responsibilities into smaller steps. Reward your teen for accomplishing them.

  • Develop a plan for transferring responsibilities over to your teenager as he or she works toward independence.

Addressing Your Concerns Directly

It's easy to imagine that a teenager would resent a 10:00 pm curfew, if his or her friends are, for example, were allowed to stay out until midnight. Talk with your teen about the reasons if you worry about his staying out later.

You may be concerned that parties tend to get wilder after about 10:00 pm, a time where you have observed that his or her impulsivity usually increases, or that drivingis potentially riskier late at night because his medication will have worn off by then. If your teen feels he or she is ready to take responsibility for staying out later, and you have made the necessary adjustments to ensure success (such as possibly changing his or her medication routine to enhance attention while driving), then extend the curfew for 1 hour. If he or she arrives home on time with no evidence of high-risk activity, give praise. Reward your teen with a continued 11:00 pm curfew. Moving in these small steps allows you to continue to build a mutual trust and respect—vital for your teen's self- esteem.

Providing Structure & Support

During your child's earlier years, you were encouraged to actively monitor his or her behavior in the classroom and at home. Now that your teenager is growing more independent, you may feel it is time to stop this type of monitoring. However, many teens with ADHD continue to need more parental monitoring and structure.

While it is best for parents of many other 15-year-olds to back off and let their child manage his or her own homework, for example, a teen with ADHD may need continued monitoring to see that he or she is completing work and turning it in on time.

While other parents may grow laxer about knowing where their older teenagers are every minute, you may have reason to continue monitoring where your teenager is, with whom, what he or she is doing, and when he or she will be home, particularly when you sense that he or she might be in a high-risk situation that may be difficult to manage. While monitoring is necessary, it must be done in a way that is also respectful of your teenager and his or her developmental needs.

Establishing & Enforcing Rules

Any teen might have an argumentative style, and your teen's resistance to your continued monitoring may lead to a great deal of boundary testing, negotiating, and possibly outright rebellion. When warranted, you may feel better— and will be able to save some energy—if you identify 4 or 5 nonnegotiable rules based on the issues you consider essential for your family.

You may decide, for example, that use of illegal drugs of any kind—including marijuana, alcohol, and cigarettes—will not be tolerated in your house, or that driving can only be done at times when stimulant medication still has an active effect. These strict, nonnegotiable rules should be reserved for critical issues of safety or family functioning.

When you have arrived at the 4 or 5 basic rules, write them down and discuss them with your teenager. Explain that the trust built through compliance with these rules can open the door to negotiating the other freedoms he or she craves. Discuss the rewards for compliance (i.e. extended privileges in other areas) and the consequences (i.e. increased restrictions) for breaking these rules. Enforce these consequences consistently. Catch your teen doing something good. Remember, rewards are much more powerful than negative consequences.

Negotiating with Your Teen

Once your teenager has shown he or she is able to follow these few essential rules, you are likely to feel more at ease when negotiating other issues. Negotiation is based on the assumption that, as a teen matures, he or she will take a more active role in creating the rules by which he or she lives. It is important to establish the fact that as the parent, right now you assume the final responsibility for rules and consequences.

A good way to negotiate rules or solutions to family conflicts is to use a technique called problem-solving training. This technique consists of the following steps:

  • Define the problem and its effect.

  • Come up with a variety of possible solutions.

  • Choose the best solution.

  • Plan how to implement the solution.

  • Renegotiate a new solution if necessary.

When first attempting to solve problems in this way, it is best to start with issues that are important but not emotionally intense for your teenager or for you. Eventually you may become so adept at this rational form of problem solving that you and your teenager will be able to resolve arguments on the spot, in most cases, using informal versions of this technique.

Providing Appropriate Consequences

You will need to "stick to your guns" in enforcing the rules and procedures on which you have all already agreed. Provide rewards and consequences consistently, and as soon as possible after the behavior has occurred. 

Pre–agreed-on losses of privileges, for example, may be temporarily losing car key rights for coming home late. The tighter the link between the behavior and the consequences the better. Try to let these negotiated consequences take the place of argument, recrimination, yelling, or nitpicking. Keep the conflicts and emotions out of it. Simply provide the appropriate response to keep family life relatively pleasant and upbeat.

Fostering a Positive Attitude & Giving Each Other Breaks

Research suggests that the presence of one fully supportive adult in the life of a child with ADHD is one of the key factors in determining that child's future success. Be sure to invest plenty of quality time in your teenager—and make it fun and rewarding for both of you.

Sometimes, when things get too tough at home, it is a good idea to take a break from one another. A weekend that you spend away can restore your awareness that your problems at home can be solved, and can give all of you the space you need to maintain a healthy relationship. Parents need support too!

As any teenager explores newly accessible choices, he or she will inevitably make some good and bad decisions. This is a normal and an important part of becoming a responsible adult.