The Keys to Fostering Independence in Teens with ADHD

Portrait of a teenage boyA primary complaint of many parents of teens with attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) is that they feel that they have to constantly remind their teen to do homework, chores, and other tasks in order for them to be completed. Constant reminders certainly help teens complete these tasks in many instances. However, this strategy does not always have desirable long-term outcomes, since it becomes harder to remind teens of things when they go off to college or move out on their own. Thus, it is important that teens begin taking responsibility to complete tasks on their own.

Getting your teen to complete homework and other tasks independently is obviously much easier said than done. The real secret to long-term success for teens with ADHD is giving them the tools they need to complete tasks themselves rather than constantly reminding them.

There are several different types of resources available to help your teen:

  • ADHD, executive functioning, or organizational coaching/tutoring: Professionals who work individually with your teen on time management, organizational, and other executive functioning skills.
  • Therapy and formal assessments: Therapists who specialize in ADHD or executive functioning issues can often provide “ADHD coaching” in terms of practical skills while supporting any underlying emotional or behavioral issues. Formal assessments, the same ones used to qualify for services in school, can provide a wealth of information about your teen’s functioning in different areas (i.e., working memory, processing speed) that can be used to develop interventions that help bolster strengths and reduce the impact of limitations.
  • Self-help books: For teens who have at least a minimal interest in making changes, self-help books can help in some cases. Books used need to be fairly short and should provide simple strategies that can be implemented easily without reading the whole book.

In addition to the types of resources discussed above, here are a few general suggestions. The guiding principle with any strategy is making it simple, and something that can easily be incorporated naturally over time into one’s daily routine:

  • Encourage your teen to use calendar and task-list apps to keep track of appointments and tasks. While the idea is simple, many teens won’t make good use of these apps because they haven’t tried out different ones to find one that works well for them. Thus, my suggestion is encourage them to download a few different ones, plug in a few items, and see what works best for them. A few ones worth trying in addition to apps that often come standard are EverNote, Wunderlist, myhomework, and To-Do 6.
  • Help your teen use visual prompts to remind them of things. Sticky notes placed strategically (fridge, video game console, TV, computer) can really help.
  • Encourage your teen to create and hang a visual schedule in his or her room or place where a lot of time is spent. Frequently viewing his or her schedule and tasks will likely help the teen to better remember to complete things.

No matter what strategies you try, usually the follow-through is the toughest part of improving skills needed for independence. Thus, it is important to not get discouraged, nor to let your teen get discouraged. If a strategy or intervention does not work, figure out why. Was it too complicated, time-consuming, or boring? By studying why certain strategies don’t work, as well as why the ones that work do, you can help your teen to better understand how he or she functions and give the teen the tool of insight. This tool will greatly help your teen to develop strategies to make independence a reality and a successful experience.

© Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Carey Heller, PsyD, ADHD: Inattention, Impulsivity, and Hyperactivity Topic Expert Contributor

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

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  • gabriel

    January 5th, 2015 at 10:56 AM

    I can tell you that as a parent of an ADD child it is so hard to teach them to do things on their own because I have this (bad) tendency to just want to do things myself to make sure that they are done right.
    I know, the wrong thing to do and I have to really scold myself at times and remind myself to step away from the situation when I can because this is not doing anything to foster that independence in him that his mom and I want both want and that he deserves to have.

  • Artie

    January 5th, 2015 at 3:52 PM

    I am not opposed to trying out some self help books with my son, but I know that this is not just something that I can say here look at. It would definitely have to be something that the two of us explored and talked about together.

  • Isabelle

    January 6th, 2015 at 3:49 AM

    I agree that we have to give them some different tools for coping than those that other children may have need for, but I would not want that to stifle their desire to become independent from their parents.

    I think that one of the worst things that we can do as parents is to continue to do things for our kids and pick up the slack for them. There will come a time when they will have to be able to do this on their own and they are not benefiting in any way if we continue to do it all for them.

  • seth

    January 6th, 2015 at 10:41 AM

    you can show them the way, but allow them to take that journey on their own

  • Townes H.

    January 7th, 2015 at 2:46 PM

    We have a big wall calendar in the mud room at the house with everything for the whole month written down so that any of us can take a peek at that see what we need to do and need to be at any give time of the month.
    I am not sure that any of us are ADHD or not but it serves us all pretty well in that it keeps us focused on the things that we should be doing, and also is juts a little visual reminder for us daily.

  • forrest

    January 12th, 2015 at 10:26 AM

    most kids will not seek to lose their dependence on you until you as a parent are fully willing to let them go a little bit

  • Carey Heller, Psy.D.

    January 27th, 2015 at 1:24 PM

    Thank you for taking the time to read this article and share your thoughts!

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