If you’ve worked with a teenager who has ADHD, you know it takes special attention to give them what they need. To thrive, kids with ADHD need intense support from all the adults in their lives, including – and most importantly – their parents.
Too often, parents abdicate responsibility for support to their child’s teachers when those teachers are specially trained, but they need that same level of support at home.
What is ADHD and how does it impact teenagers?
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Teenagers with ADHD often struggle to sit still, pay attention for long periods of time, and have difficulty controlling their impulses. Additionally, they can struggle with regulating their emotions and behavior.
All of these issues can negatively impact a child’s life. If they’re distracted and struggle to listen, they won’t always understand the lessons being taught in school. It makes it hard to follow directions, and the inability to sit still can cause them to constantly get into trouble at school.
The lifelong impact of untreated ADHD can be devastating for kids who never learn how to function socially in the world. As adults, they can be seen as rude, crude, and even disruptive.
Teens with ADHD need a different kind of support
The type of parenting that works for most kids doesn’t always work for children with ADHD. They need more than just a pat on the back and some encouraging words. They need structure, discipline, and training to correct disruptive behaviours and develop productive behaviors.
Parents who employ special techniques, like behaviour management strategies, see positive changes and improvement. One of the reasons ADHD teens need different strategies is because they have less dopamine – the neurotransmitter responsible for good feelings associated with rewards. They’re just not motivated in the same way most kids are. They need a good reason to modify their behavior, and that can be done through special rewards.
Teens with ADHD struggle with generating internal motivation, and although some people say parents shouldn’t use rewards to help them create new habits, it really does work. In fact, it’s human nature to experience an increase in motivation when you’re praised for doing something well. Teenagers are no different. For instance, if an ADHD teen struggles to complete homework assignments on time and is at risk for not graduating, it makes sense to create a reward system to get them on track. Being held back can have devastating consequences on teens, especially when they’re also battling the effects of puberty.
A good reward system for a teen will depend on their personal interests, but generally speaking, you can reward them with extra video game time, a pizza night, or a movie on the weekend if they turn in all their weekly assignments. Once something becomes a habit, the reward won’t be necessary.
Parents can support ADHD teens and young adults with therapy and medication
One of the most important ways a parent can support a child with ADHD is to seek the help of a licensed, professional psychiatrist to prescribe effective ADHD medication. For example, Dr. Sina Saidi, a psychiatrist in Boulder, CO approaches his teen and young adult ADHD patients with empathy and understanding.
Talk therapy with a psychologist who specialises in ADHD can also help. If your child is already in therapy, make sure you go to all scheduled appointments. Consistency is important, and you don’t want your child to miss even one session. The therapist will be a lifeline for you and will help you and your child.
Routines are especially helpful for teens with ADHD
Kids need to establish routines early in life in order for those routines to become solidified in adulthood. For teenagers with ADHD, routines can be difficult to create, and they can be even harder to follow when motivation is thin. Get them motivated by offering rewards for following their routine for the day or even by the week.
Teens with ADHD need time to practice focusing
Since focusing on one thing for long periods of time is a challenge, teens with ADHD benefit from being trained into focusing. It can start small. Consider their interests and come up with a fun project you can do together that has a definite goal. For instance, maybe you want to build a chicken coop together. Have them concentrate on the tasks they naturally take interest in, and when their attention wanders, bring them back to the project. Find things they enjoy and use those activities to train them into paying attention for longer and longer.
Patience is the key to supporting a teen with ADHD
It’s common for teens with ADHD to feel like a disappointment since people get frustrated with them, so do whatever you can to build and reinforce their self-esteem. Be patient with them and let them know you love them every chance you get.
Jeffrey Grant, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.