13 Tips for Parenting a Teen with ADHD

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

ADHD Symptoms in Children

ADHD teens and driving

Three areas -- driving, homework, and alcohol/drugs -- are areas that may spark a fire between the parents of a teen with ADHD and their child. It is appropriate that parents anticipate and formulate a plan to address these issues with their adolescent.

Motor-vehicle accidents are the number-one cause of death in children 16-20 years of age. Approximately 63% of the deaths are drivers; the remainder of those killed are passengers. Driving requires focus, concentration, good judgment, and the ability to adapt to sudden and often unpredictable changes in the immediate environment. The younger the driver the more likely a lack of experience and behavioral immaturity will result in risk-taking behaviors. It is imperative that parents lay out concrete concepts and consequences for their young ADHD driver. These might include the following:

  1. Driving is a privilege. It needs to be earned and may be forfeited for infractions.
  2. A teen with ADHD must take his medication.
  3. Limit passengers for the first six to 12 months of driving -- only family members (including siblings).
  4. Limit rush-hour, freeway, and late-night driving for the first six months of driving. Practice with parents to gain the necessary skills for such a high-stakes environment.
  5. Consider a no cell phone, CD, or music car environment; all of these elements provide distraction to an equal degree. Hands-free cell usage is not superior in safety when compared with non-hands-free cell phone use.

ADHD teens, school, and homework

Middle school and high school can be a minefield to effectively negotiate for teens regardless of whether they have to deal with the effects of ADHD or not. Part of the issue is the "nature of the beast." Students must learn how to effectively deal with multiple teachers who believe that their subject is the linchpin holding the teen's entire academic experience together. Likewise, the usual lack of integration of the school curriculum may be another hurdle to overcome. Parents should be their child's advocate with his or her teacher. Establish a good rapport and communication between your child's teacher and yourself. This implies a give and take regarding their adolescent's ADHD diagnosis, possible side effects of his/her medication, and informing the teacher of any comorbid learning disorders and learning styles (for example, visual vs. auditory) which will promote success. Often such information and teacher feedback may be exchanged using a school's email system. At home, parents can strive to maximize an effective learning environment. Organize an area for homework and limit distractions. Provide structure with consistency for start and finish times. Several studies have demonstrated that one hour of vigorous physical activity after school and before starting homework allows for more efficient use of time, quicker mastery of the material, and improvement in accuracy in subjects requiring calculations. (Simply put -- the ADHD teen needs to "burn off" his or her extra energy.) Since nothing succeeds like success, praise your teen when they have worked hard and done their best.

Teens with ADHD and their parents may note that homework projects are often much more challenging from 7:00 p.m. and later. Often their medication effectiveness has waned to minimal. Speak with your teen's pediatrician. One option is to take a short-acting (three- to four-hour duration) version of the same medication taken in the morning. Taking this preparation at about 6 p.m. will enable continued effectiveness for academics but should not interfere with dinner appetite or sleep patterns.

While the natural inclination of a parent is to intercede to resolve problems between their ADHD teen and an instructor, a better long-term strategy involves the student and teacher discussing the problematic issues without the direct input of others. Teens need to learn how to present their case in a rational way. Such an approach will guard against a parent from being trapped between their teen and the teacher. There are always two sides to any story. Better results usually occur when the discussion is restricted to the two principal parties involved. Otherwise parents may become the victims of hearsay.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/2/2016
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