Actionable Tips for Parenting a Teen with Attention Issues

Raising a teenager is not for the faint of heart. Add an ADHD diagnosis or other attention issues into the mix, and parenting gets even harder. The routines and rules that work well for other parents can feel almost impossible in your home. Many teens with attention issues don’t process information efficiently, making it hard for them to listen and follow instructions. Impulsive behavior is a trademark of teens, but can be an even bigger challenge for kids with ADHD because their brains function differently. While their ADHD diagnosis or attention issues may make parenting more of a challenge, there are ways to make your job easier.

Modifying your parenting style to accommodate your child’s attention issues is a must. Kids, even teens, mimic the behaviors they see around them, so it’s important to set a positive example. Here are some actionable tips and ideas to put into practice in your home!

Be a resource. Learn as much as you can about your teen’s attention issues, treatment plans, and the resources available to them. Be hands-on when it comes to advocating for your teenager, and show them how to self-advocate as well. Help them set goals and break down the work needed to achieve them. Introduce him or her to the resources they’ll need to succeed in high school and beyond.

Action Plan: Facilitate open communication with your family and your teen’s doctors, therapists, teachers, and educational team to keep identifying and meeting their needs and goals. Give your teenager a voice and help them understand how to be heard in a positive way. Get them involved in finding the right tools and programs.

Keep things simple. Structuring your home and schedules in a simplified, organized way will help your teen stay focused on the task at hand and cut down on distractions. Show your teenager how much easier it is to stay focused when things are simplified and organized. Work with him or her to create the spaces and schedules that work best for your family and equip them with the technology they need to improve focus.

Action Plan: Sit down with your teen to create a home calendar with everyone’s schedule included. Talk with your child about how to organize schedules, what goes into getting everyone everywhere, and how time management can impact every part of daily life.

Set the standards for acceptable behavior. With a solid framework of the behaviors that are acceptable — and which behaviors aren’t — you’ll help your teen understand how to predict the consequences of his or her actions. When they understand the consequences, they will be able to work on controlling their impulses more effectively. Without consistency, your teen will have a harder time internalizing and understanding the rules and guidelines of appropriate behavior.

Action Plan: Write out a list of house rules and post them somewhere your child will see them regularly. Be consistent with your rewards for following the rules and the consequences when they are broken.

Get involved. It’s no secret that teenagers can be hard to talk to. Take a step into your teen’s world by volunteering at their school, attending school and community events, getting to know their friends (and their friends’ parents,) and network! The more familiar you are with your child’s world, the easier it will be to talk about the things happening around them.

Action Plan: Talk to your teen about the activities, classes, and people in his or her life. Tell them that you’re looking to get more involved in certain areas and ask if they have any ideas on how. Your teen may not show any interest, and may even push back against the idea of you getting involved, but you need to set the tone and follow through.

Test different disciplines. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to discipline for teens, so you’ll need to experiment to find the right solution for your family. Tackle problems head-on as they arise and evaluate the impact of your discipline after the fact. If needed, adjust the consequences. When you find an approach that works, stay consistent. Follow through with the same disciplinary approach every time the problem arises.

Action Plan: Give your teenager some input in the discipline they are receiving to promote responsibility and follow through. Put his or her problem-solving skills to the test and negotiate a fair and reasonable consequence so there are no surprises down the road.

Pay attention to your reactions. You can’t be calm, cool, and collected all the time. As a parent, you’re going to get overwhelmed and frustrated, and that’s fine. Demonstrate how to take care of yourself by taking a break, staying calm and positive when things get heated, and being flexible when things don’t go your way. Keep it all in perspective and react the way you’d want your teen to react.

Action Plan: When things start to escalate, talk through your reaction with your teen. Explain what you’re feeling, and what you’re going to do to stay in control of the situation. Help your child understand that he or she is in charge of their reactions and give them the time and tools to process things in a healthy, acceptable way.

Facilitate open communication. Ask for your teen’s opinion on things and ask interactive, open-ended questions. Don’t get discouraged by one word answers or one-sided conversations, just keep asking. Encourage your kids to think out loud and talk through the thoughts that preempt an action to help encourage self-control. Be patient and nurture open communication. Create a safe space for your child and be as supportive as possible, even when they are venting.

Action Plan: Set up family meetings regularly. Let the all family members talk about any complaints or issues they are having and share any good news with everyone. Vote on household decisions like a weekly menu or your next vacation destination. Demonstrate healthy communication within your home and with others as well.

Talk about their diagnosis. It’s important to talk to your child about his or her attention issues regularly. The biological symptoms of ADHD and other attention issues need to be discussed so your teen recognizes the difference between their symptoms and unacceptable behavior. A teen with ADHD will be impulsive, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences for the those actions when he or she is being impulsive.

Action Plan: Talk to your teenager about their specific symptoms and struggles, what impact that will have on their behavior, and their responsibility for their actions. Their lack of organization may be a symptom of their diagnosis, but it’s up to them to learn and use the organization strategies that allow them to get their homework in on time.

Allow your child to be different. The teenage years are hard enough for kids. The added weight of attention issues can make it even harder for your teen to feel like he or she fits in, adapt to change, follow the rules, and control their impulses. Learn to differentiate between the quirks that make your teen unique from unacceptable behavior. Don’t punish your child for being different if their actions aren’t hurting others or themselves. Help him or her develop the social skills needed in everyday life.

Action Plan: Help your child understand how their actions impact others, and work with your teen to understand the difference between a quirk or their symptoms and unacceptable behavior. With a better understanding of how others see him or her, your teen may be better equipped to control their impulses, improve their social skills, and focus on acceptable behaviors.

Above all else, help your teen understand their strengths. Empower yourself as a parent and as a family. The more you know, and the more proactive you are with your teen and their education and goals, the better.

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