Monday, March 1, 2010

Parenting Teens with ADHD

Parenting Teens with ADHD by Sara Fleehart, MS, LMFTA

On February 8, 2010, King 5 posted a video on their website about helping teens with ADHD. Julie Ogata from ParentMap, which can be accessed at, outlined a few tools for parents who are raising teens with ADHD. First and foremost, Ms. Ogata talked about the need for extra structure for teens with ADHD. This goes beyond the basic structure that helps many kids and teens to thrive to include even clearer and consistent rules, procedures, guidelines and rituals. This extra structure, including things like study time that is set in stone (with no cell phone), is of great importance to the academic, emotional, and social success of teens with ADHD. Part of the need for this extra structure is due to the findings of a recent study, which show that a child with ADHD is two years behind in certain areas of brain development compared to same age peers. This means that it is often not reasonable to expect that your ADHD teen will function the same as his or her peers when it comes to remembering things, task persistence, and even understanding of responsibilities. Understanding that your expectations of your child should more often match up with a child two years younger than yours can help lead to the second important feature of parenting a teen with ADHD: patience. Kids with ADHD are not trying to be impulsive, they are not trying to forget things, and they are not trying to distract themselves. Your child’s brain simply works in such a way that these things are difficult for them and require more practice and more prompting than kids without ADHD. Your child with ADHD is likely to experience a fair amount of negative feedback from teachers and peers at school, and therefore what they really need from you is patience and understanding. This is not easy, but it is something very worthwhile to strive for.

Ms. Ogata recommended a few key things for parents to do to help not only their teens but themselves. Help your teen to get involved in an extracurricular activity at school that may reduce some of the feelings of negativity your teen may be experiencing. Get updates every Friday on homework, due dates, projects, success in the classroom, etc. so that you are informed and can help your teen to not get overwhelmed or behind in work. Also, make sure that your teen is getting at least 8-9 hours of sleep at night. Structure and routine are your best friends when raising a teen with ADHD. Remember, around 5% of kids today are diagnosed with ADHD. You are not alone. To combat always feeling like your conversations with your teen are negative, help your child find his or her passion and nurture it so that both you and your teen can feel a sense of accomplishment and pride.

As recommended by Dr. Laura Kastner, a highly respected Psychologist in Seattle who is giving a lecture series with Dr. John Gottman, one of the best things you can do for your ADHD teen is to hire a tutor. Tutors can help your teen with academics, study skills, organization, and other school related struggles. Almost more importantly, as Ms. Ogata articulated, make sure that it is someone who really connects with your teen and can help boost his or her self-esteem. In my work as a tutor for teens, I have seen that confidence is often the key factor when it comes to doing well in school. The more you believe in yourself, the less likely you are to be paralyzed by that paper, that project, that math test and therefore put it off to the last minute and then have to cram all night long. It is often in this process of helping a teen to have confidence in their abilities combined with academic instruction that I feel the greatest reward in my work as a tutor. The peace students experience from feeling competent and able is a joy to behold, and keeps me coming back for more!

So don’t get discouraged. Use your resources and implement the strategies outlined in the King 5 story. To view the full interview, visit

Sara Fleehart, M.S., LMFTA is Lifespan’s tutor and therapist for teenagers. To contact Sara, email her at or call the main Lifespan office at (206) 780-7782. Look forward to working with you!