Teens with ADHD: Getting a Job

Health Writer

As parents of teens with ADHD, we often aren't sure that our teen is ready to enter the working world. Tight schedules, being on time, organization and overwhelm frequently get in the way of being successful at work. But our teens, like most other teens, do grow up. They want to have money in their pocket, buy video games, music, cell phones or clothes. They want to feel independent. They might want to drive and need to pay for the insurance. Whatever the reason, at some point most teens have at least a part-time summer or after-school job.

Benefits of Employment

A job gives teens a sense of purpose and independence. It makes them feel worthwhile and builds self-esteem. Working also provides "practice" for life outside of high school. It gives them a chance to learn to get along with a variety of people, work together with their co-workers to accomplish goals; helping them to improve their social skills. It helps them to understand how the working world works, including taking orders from superiors and following them, even if they don't always make sense to your teen. Day to day employment also provides lots of practice for staying focused and controlling impulses.

Working, or volunteering, gives your teen a start on building a resume. The skills he learns will probably be valuable in future jobs. Even if he is working at the local hamburger joint, he is building skills like customer service, working with others and seeing how a business operates.

Challenges of Part-Time Jobs

The same challenges your teen faces in school - distractibility, impulsiveness, hyperactivity, problems with short-term memory and difficulties with time management - can hinder job performance just as they can interfere with school work. Before dropping your child off for the first day of work, talk about these issues and how he can work to manage them when working.

Some examples of how to manage symptoms include:

Distractibility - wear headphones with white noise to block out distractions, always complete a task before moving on to the next task, write down questions and talk with your supervisor later rather than interrupting what you are doing

Impulsivity - use relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, make a list of tasks to be completed to help you stay focused, anticipate times when impulsivity may be a problem and talk about ways to combat it beforehand

Hyperactivity - use breaks to take a walk and use up excess energy

Memory - write down questions and take notes during meetings, keep a list of tasks to be completed, use a day planner or your cell phone to keep track of what needs to be done

Time management - Use a day planner, lists and your phone alarm to stay on track. Depending on the job, strategies may be different.

Tardiness, frequently a problem for adults with ADHD, can cause your child to lose his job. Help him plan his daily schedule so he arrives for work on time. You might also look for a job where he is working the same day and same hours each week so he isn't constantly forgetting when he is supposed to work this week.

It might be a good idea to have your teen talk with the supervisor before the first day of work. He can ask about job responsibilities and duties. Some of the questions he might want to ask:

  • What is the dress code?
  • Is it considered okay to leave as soon as the shift is over or does he need to let a supervisor know he is leaving?
  • Who does he report to?
  • What should he do if other people on the job tell him to do something different than his regular duties?
  • Is he expected to report to work before his shift (some companies expect you to be at work 10 to 15 minutes before your shift starts)?
  • What are his main responsibilities and duties?

Knowing what is expected of him ahead of time can help him feel more confident.

For more information on ADHD at work:

5 Tips for Being More Productive at Work

3 Time Management Myths that Stop You From Getting Things Accomplished at Work

Tips for Surviving ADHD at School and at the Office

Communicating at Work with ADHD

Cutting Down on Distractions at Work