Helping Your Teen with ADHD Become Independent
In last week’s post, Teens with ADHD: The Difficult Years, we talked about some of the reasons teens with ADHD can be problematic - emotional immaturity, mood disorders and learning disabilities can all add to the teen’s and the parent’s frustration. While you know you need to give your teen space and let him grow, he doesn’t always seem able to handle the freedom.
There are some ways you, as parents, can help your teen gain independence:
Household rules - One of the biggest problem areas is household rules - for example, what time is curfew, what chores does your teen need to complete, when does he need to do his chores and is there a set time for homework. Rather than dictate the house rules, involve your teen in creating and shaping the rules. If he is allowed to help and is asked for his input, he may be more apt to follow the rules. Set aside a time when you, your spouse and your teen can sit down together and talk about house rules. Listen to what your teen wants and be open to negotiation. If he feels you value his opinion, he may even be willing to follow the rules he doesn’t agree with. Talk about what appropriate discipline is if the rules are broken and decide exactly what will happen if, for example, he comes in an hour past curfew. Write down the rules and the consequences of not following them and have each person sign the paper. This way, there are no disagreements later on what was said.
Decision making - Your teen probably already makes decisions on what to wear each day and what to eat for breakfast. Try to include your teen in other household decisions to help him practice decision making and to make him feel that you value his input. While major household decisions are better left to you or your spouse, you can begin to include him in lesser decisions - such as what restaurant to go to, where to go on vacation, what color to paint his room. As he continues to mature, increase the number of decisions you discuss with your teen.
Responsibility - A good piece of advice: never do for your child what he can do for himself. Dependent children have a hard time making it on their own. Help your teen gain independence by slowly giving him additional responsibility; teach him how to do his own wash, buy him an alarm clock so he can wake himself up in the morning, have him pack up his lunch in the morning, have him call the doctor’s or dentist’s offices to make an appointment. Before you do something for your teen, think about whether this is something he can do for himself, and if so, delegate the responsibility to him. As you increase his responsibilities, you will see his self-esteem grown.
Money Management - Help your teen open his own bank account and budget his money. This may come from an allowance or a part-time job; either way, he should be able to budget his money and learn to save for what he wants. In an article, “Helping Your Teen with ADD Prepare for Independence,” Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D. suggests giving your teen a monthly clothing allowance. “They’ll need to do some long-term planning - for example saving enough money from the September and October allowance to purchase a new winter jacket as cold weather arrives.”  Have teens be responsible for paying cell phone bills and car insurance. Teach them how to balance a checkbook.
Time Management - Individuals with ADHD are notoriously weak in time management skills but your teen needs to learn to be on time and work within a schedule. Have him wear a watch to keep track of time or use his alarm on his cell phone to remind him of appointments, curfews and assignments. Help your teen develop a daily routine, such as getting up at the same time, doing homework at the same time and getting to bed on time. This also includes learning to prioritize and plan for important assignments.
As you help your teen become more independent, be consistent in what you expect. Choose your battles but stay firm on serious issues such as drug or alcohol use or sex. When an argument does erupt, stay focused on the issue at hand and don’t bring up everything he has done wrong in the past year. Lastly, keep your emotions under control. While raising a teen with ADHD is a roller-coaster ride, engaging in a shouting match isn’t going to solve anything. Stay calm but firm.
“Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD),” Revised 2008 , Staff Writer, National Institutes of Health, Publication No. 08--3572
 “Helping Your Tee with ADD Prepare for Independence,” Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D. ADDvance Magazine
Teenagers & ADD/ADHD, 2004, Chris Dendy, Adders.org