"I got detention for forgetting my book three times in a row,” said the text *Michael sent to his mom. She wasn’t surprised to receive this text from him since she received similar messages previously about how Michael forgot to do his homework or misplaced it. At age eight, Michael was diagnosed with ADHD. Now that he is 13, she hoped that he would be more organized. She wondered if this was normal ‘teen behavior’ or due to his diagnosis of ADHD.
Teens with ADHD are four times more likely to get into a car accident. Also, 45 percent of teens with ADHD have been suspended from school and the majority of teens diagnosed with ADHD report being bullied. A parent of a teen with ADHD will need to find ways to help their teen cope with these potential additional challenges.
“Everyone has ADHD behavior at times,” says Dr. Sarah Cheyette, a paediatric neurologist and author of the book, ADHD & The Focused Mind: A Guide to Giving Your ADHD Child Focus, Discipline & Self-Confidence. She says the difference between everyone and a person with ADHD is that the person with ADHD is unfocused too much of the time.
So how can a parent help their teen with ADHD become more focused? “Most people become more focused when they decide they want to do something,” says Cheyette. By deciding to do an activity, you take responsibility for doing that task. If a teen is interested in doing that task, it will be easier to do.
But if your teen doesn’t like doing a task, such as homework, then changing their mindset can help them to become more focused. Cheyette explains how: “If you say to yourself, ‘I don’t feel like doing this,’ then you probably won’t.” She goes on to say that by changing your thought process to more positive thoughts will help your teen become focused and complete the task.
Cheyette also stresses the importance for your teen to receive adequate sleep, exercise, and eat healthy foods to maintain their focus. Lack of sleep has been correlated with poor impulse control and memory, which are issues already experienced by a kid with ADHD. “You need to manage electronic use and make sure they have friends who are not distracting,” adds Cheyette.
Cheyette says another way to help your teen with ADHD focus is to create goals. Once a goal is achieved, it will help them to feel successful, which will lead them to achieving more goals. It is important that your teen is an active participant in creating the goals so they ‘own’ it.
You may be tempted to provide direction or ‘nag’ your child to make sure they are working toward their goals. Instead, Cheyette says, “Make observations and ask questions. If you notice your son’s backpack is a mess, instead of saying, ‘You need to organize your backpack,’ try saying, ‘It must be difficult to find your homework when your backpack looks like this’ or, ‘How are you able to find your homework?’”
She adds, “Ask questions such as, ‘How can you help yourself?’ or, ‘How can you act differently next time?’ to allow your child to think about and own their behaviors.”
“There are differences between a child and a teen with ADHD,” advises Cheyette. When a child has ADHD, parents tend to be more forgiving and help them with their unfocused behaviors. But a teen with ADHD wants to be independent, yet they may lack the skills. A teen’s unfocused behaviors can often lead to more severe consequences, such as getting arrested or causing a car accident. It is important to understand these differences when trying to help your child cope with ADHD.
I spoke to three different parents of teens with ADHD. They shared their tips for helping their teen deal with ADHD:
*Amy, parent to her 15-year-old son diagnosed with ADHD, agrees with Cheyette and thinks exercising is helpful for her son. In addition to exercising, Amy saw the most improvement when her son began taking medication. “Once he was medicated, he could use self-regulating strategies. Before that, he wasn’t able to learn these strategies since he couldn’t pay attention,” says Amy.
*Emily, parent to her 14-year-old son diagnosed with ADHD says, “I encourage my son to stay after school to do his homework. This way, he doesn’t become distracted by things at home, like his phone, and he can receive help from his teachers. He pays attention better to his teachers than he does to me.”
*Jen, parent to her 12-year-old daughter diagnosed with ADHD, also agrees with Cheyette about the importance of eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep. She noticed that when her daughter doesn’t get enough sleep or doesn’t eat nutritious meals, her daughter experiences intense mood swings and has difficulty dealing with stress. She also suggests starting with small social settings. “Instead of having my daughter join a large group like Girl Scouts, I invited two or three girls over at a time and kept the gatherings short and monitored the group. Then I worked up to larger outings,” says Jen.
All the parents I spoke with and Cheyette agree that you are your child’s best advocate. This means having open communication with the school personnel, doctors, and anyone else involved in your child’s care. As Jen says, “The best advice I can give other parents is to tell them that there are going to be really bad times, but your child needs to know that you are in their court. When your child feels like a failure or has no friends or school is horrible, they need to be able to come home to you and release their frustrations and emotions.”
Cheryl Maguire holds a Master of Counseling Psychology degree. She is married and the mother of twins and a daughter. Her writing has been published in Parents Magazine, Upworthy, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings, and Twins Magazine. Find her on Twitter @CherylMaguire05. This article was originally published on Your Teen. *Names have been changed for privacy.
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