The Holidays, Teens and Risky Behaviors
Over the past few weeks, we have written a great deal on managing young children with ADHD through the holiday season. But teens also can feel the impact of hectic days, lack of sleep and depression that are often a part of the holiday.
Some studies have shown that teens with ADHD participate in risky behavior more often than their non-ADHD counterparts. According to Dr. Sam Goldstein ["Risky Behavior in Teens with AD/HD", GreatSchools.org] the problem is not that teens don't know what to do, but they engage more often in "non-thinking" behaviors such as sexual activity, experimenting or using drugs, alcohol and smoking.
The added stress of the holiday season combined with a teen's need to seek independence may increase these types of behaviors.
In an article Parenting Teens and Young Adults with ADHD - A Discussion with Dr. Ari Tuckman, Dr. Tuckman talks about the need for parents to find a balance between interfering in the life of their teen and providing direction and guidance. According to Dr. Tuckman, "parents must be clear on their expectations. Be clear, be straightforward, and keep it simple."
For risky behaviors, such as drinking, parents must set limits, but can focus on the reasons drinking interferes with their daily abilities, rather than lecture on the merits or dangers of drinking. For example, Dr. Tuckman explains, "drinking each night can interfere with their ability to get up on time for work, and can interfere with their ability to do their job well. When parents focus on the merits or dangers of drinking, it comes across as nagging." Nagging will only turn teenagers away and drive them to the very behavior you are trying to stop. Parents are able to set limits, such as taking away the car keys, providing food and shelter and not giving extra money to fund activities you don't agree with.
Teens and driving can be a dangerous combination. Teens with ADHD are more likely to get more speeding tickets, have their license suspended or be in a car accident. Parents can take steps such as:
Not allowing passengers or limiting the number of passengers to one.
- Insist the cell phone be in the glove compartment, turned off, while driving.
- Have your teen choose one radio station and not change the station while driving.
- Make sure your teen leaves in plenty of time to get where he or she is going to avoid rushing.
- Set a curfew your teen must be back in the house.
Parents can create a "driving contract" listing the rules and expectations for using the family car (or their own car). The contract should spell out the consequences for not following rules, such as limiting the use of the car for a certain period of time.
Teens with ADHD want to have friends and want a sense of belonging. They may, however, be emotionally immature for their age and end up feeling out of place, different or rejected by their peers. Because of this, peer pressure can lead to teens with ADHD seeking out the wrong crowd or joining in activities parents see as unacceptable.
Instead of rejecting your teen's friends, take the time to get to know them. Encourage your teen to invite new friends over to your home. Let your teen know you want to know his or her friends and are interested in finding out more about them. Don't openly insult their friends. If, once you meet his or her new friends and you are still concerned, talk with your teen about your concerns and some of the behaviors you noticed that cause you that concern. Try to find alternative activities that will allow your teen to feel part of a group.
The holiday season can be overwhelming for everyone, and this is certainly true for teens as well. In addition to less sleep and more activities, teens may have mid-terms and more academic demands at the school quarter ends. Some of the signs of stress in teens are:
- Physical complaints, such as an increased number of headaches or stomachaches.
- Withdrawing from family activities or avoiding friends
- Irritability or anger
- Problems sleeping
- Decreased appetite
Parents can help teens to deal with some of the extra stress of the holiday season by making sure their teen continues to eat regular, healthy meals and goes to bed at a reasonable time. If your teen normally exercises, making time to continue to the exercise program is important as well. Stress reduction techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation can help.
In addition, you may want to help your teen break down school projects, reports and studying for exams into small chunks to avoid overwhelm in trying to get everything accomplished in a short period of time.
It is important for teens to take breaks and have fun activities interspersed with academic responsibilities.
"Helping Teens Cope with Stress", 2009, Jennifer Dyl, PhD, Lifespan.org
"Teens Behind the Wheel with ADHD", 2008, Eileen Bailey, ADHDCentral.com
"Risky Behavior in Teens with AD/HD", Date Unknown, Dr. Sam Goldstein, GreatSchools.org
"Teenagers and Peer Pressure", 2007, Eileen Bailey, ADHDCentral.com
"Parenting Teens and Young Adults with ADHD", 2009, Eileen Bailey, ADHDCentral.com