Smartphone Apps to Improve Self-Monitoring in Teens with ADHD

group young people using smart phoneParenting teenagers in general can be difficult. For parents of teens who struggle with monitoring/regulating themselves and/or executive functioning skills (i.e., sustaining attention, staying organized, time management), that job is even more difficult.

Parents often feel that they have to constantly monitor teens with attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) to ensure that they complete their homework, chores, and other obligations. However, parents sometimes lose sight of the fact that while monitoring may be helpful in the short-term, they need to teach their teens the necessary skills so that they can function successfully when they become adults and leave home.

Helping teens use smartphone/iPod apps is an excellent way to reduce the level of parental monitoring necessary and improve a teen’s self-monitoring, organization, and time management skills. These are just a few apps that can be very helpful for teens:

  1. Calendar apps: Obviously a very basic app that comes with all smartphones. However, teens rarely use their calendar consistently. Encouraging them to put their school day, after-school activities, and other appointments on their mobile calendar can be very helpful in providing teens with more structure related to their schedule. Additionally, helping them to block out specific time in their schedule to complete homework, chores, and even brush their teeth/shower (if have trouble remembering to do so) can be highly beneficial.
  2. Task list apps: Task list apps such as Reminders and To-Do are great because they allow teens to have a list of tasks that they need to complete and set reminders to complete them. Reminders, and certain similar apps, allow teens to set reminders based on location. For example, if Johnny is unable to regularly remember to attend tutoring on Tuesdays after school, he can set a reminder to go to tutoring, which goes off on Tuesdays when he leaves the school building. To-Do and other similar apps are great for keeping track of homework assignments. Teens can be encouraged to have a separate section in the app for each subject, and record daily and long-term assignments, as well as due dates and instructions. EverNote can also be a useful app, which combines a task list, calendar, and other functions, and also syncs with preinstalled calendar and task list apps on many phones.
  3. Notes apps: A basic notepad app can be extremely helpful for teens. They would highly benefit from writing down instructions that parents give them (i.e., list of things to pick up at the store, tasks that need to be completed by the end of the day, etc.), making daily task lists, and using notes apps for other tasks as well.
  4. Focus apps: Apps such as IntervalMinder play different tones at set increments. Some individuals find hearing a chime every two to three minutes helpful as a reminder to stay on task. For people who “get lost in space,” these types of apps can be very useful in redirecting attention back on task.

These are all pretty basic apps. However, using them regularly can be extremely helpful for teens in staying better organized and being more efficient. Often, the most difficult part of getting teens to use apps is helping get them in the habit of doing so initially.

Parents can help facilitate the use of apps by talking with their teens about their concerns regarding organization and offering apps as a possible solution to help them. In some cases, teens are more receptive when a therapist, organizational skills coach, or tutor suggests using certain apps.

In either situation, many teens are receptive to using apps as an alternative to being frequently nagged by their parents to complete homework and other tasks. While apps don’t truly “cure” difficulties with organization, time management, and executive functioning issues, they do go a long way in helping teens to better monitor themselves and provide them with tools that can be used to function more successfully in adulthood.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Carey A. Heller, PsyD, therapist in Bethesda, Maryland

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Maura

    Maura

    January 7th, 2014 at 10:32 AM

    Thank goodness!

    Finally something good that we can tell our teens about that they can look at online because everything else seems to be stuff about all of the bad things and how it is going to harm them!

  • Johnny W

    Johnny W

    January 8th, 2014 at 3:56 AM

    Heck, these are apps that won’t only help ADD kids but they can help any schedule struggling adult too! I have never been diagnosed with anything but I can tell you that once your schedule gets so full that most of are going to struggle with keeping it all straight. So all of these sound like a good way to allow most of us to focus and to get our lives just a little more organized. I think that that is a great way to start out being a good role model for our kids too.

  • Rhea

    Rhea

    January 11th, 2014 at 5:01 AM

    We have tried so many different things with our daughter, from agendas and calendars to hourly reminders about what she needs to be doing and when… for her it is all about writing things down that helps to keep her on task. Ask her to simply remember to do something and you are just waiting for nonaction to happen! But if you give her a list she is happy to complete it line item by line item so that has helped us out quite a bit. And her grades have really improved since her teachers have started helping her utilize this method in class too.

  • granger

    granger

    January 13th, 2014 at 3:49 AM

    Getting teenagers to give up the fun and games from their phones to install some of these apps will probably be kind of hard.

    But there are going to be those kids that this will be a lifesaver for. I know that I can’t manage without my daily little lists of things that I have to do for the day and it gives me a little pleasure every time I get to cross something off. I think that there are just as many students who would also like that visual confirmation that things are getting accomplished and this could be really good for them.

  • Ginny

    Ginny

    January 15th, 2014 at 4:46 AM

    I have always done things like this even before there were such things as a smart phone. It’s all about being organized, this is just the method that seems to speak to younger people today. I still make myself the old fashioned list of things to do for the week or for the day, but for kids their go to is always the phone or tablet so it only makes sense that these apps would come along and if they help them out then I see no reason why parents wouldn’t want them to use them. It’s something that will help them get ahead and hopefully stay on top of their responsibilities.

  • Andrei

    Andrei

    January 18th, 2014 at 3:15 PM

    I use Chronolog Evrika app for self-monitoring. It helps to focus attention on my activities, feelings and impressions and it doesn’t require too much attention to the app to keep monitoring. This app shows my personal history on a non-breaking timeline that is organized especially do discover relations of recordings so that I can see meaning of things that happen to me. I’ve been using this methodic for years and it helps me to see even rythms of events so that I could predict difficulties in relationships with friends and parents. You know, sometimes our life depends on regular reasons and I couldn’t recognize that before I began seting marks on events and just looking at them with the special visualisation of Evrika. Knowing the order also gives a push if I need to change my life.

  • Carey Heller, Psy.D.

    Carey Heller, Psy.D.

    January 31st, 2014 at 11:03 AM

    Thank you all very much for taking the time to read this article. I’m glad you have found apps very helpful and appreciate the suggestions you have shared with each other.

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