Helping Your Teen with ADD (ADHD) Prepare for Independence
Kathleen G. Nadeau Ph.D.
Parents spend so much time worrying about their teenager's
grade point average, preparation for the SAT's, keeping up
with athletic practices, school events, and battles over curfew,
it's all too easy to overlook the increasingly complicated
set of skills that a teenager needs to learn before he can
succeed at independent living, whether it's away at college
or in his or her first apartment.
Until just a few short generations ago, life lessons were
taught on a daily basis starting at a very young age. Daughters
worked by their mothers' sides - learning cooking skills,
child-care skills, home-making skills, and needlework, and
sons worked side-by-side with fathers, or were apprenticed
to someone who taught them skills over many years. In addition,
life was much simpler. Choices were fewer and young adults
typically lived at home until marriage, and then only moved
a short distance away.
Today, teenagers don't have the opportunity to learn their
parents' work by watching. Many teens can barely describe
their parents' daily life at work. Parents are more likely
to emphasize sports skills and academics while ignoring basic
life management skills. Often, however, when a teen moves
away from home for the first time, the largest factor that
determines success is their ability to handle the practicalities
of their daily life. Here are some ways to prepare your son
or daughter with ADD (ADHD) for a successful shift to independent
Even young teenagers can begin learning the basics of these
important life management skills. Middle school years are
not too young. Many parents feel that their middle or high
school student is overburdened with so much that they don't
want to place any more demands on them. The confidence and
knowledge that he can take care of himself is important to
all teens and can only be gained through practice.
Middle schoolers can take at least partial responsibility
for their own laundry. While parents may bail out a middle
schooler if she has an exam the next day, or if he is late
due to a school activity, these are good years for them to
learn that clean clothes don't magically appear in their rooms.
One excellent way to help a middle schooler learn money
management skills is to give them a set 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. Young teens can
become excellent bargain hunters when it's "their"
money that's being spent.
These are good years for some time management responsibilities
to be gradually turned over to your young teen - helping him
learn to set an alarm at night and wake on his own in the
morning. He or she should begin wearing a watch and becoming
more responsible for being aware of the time.
Organizing personal space
The "battle of the bedroom" is often prolonged
during the teen years. Teens may not need or want to keep
their rooms neat, but do need to engage in a regular "dig
out" - perhaps on a weekly basis.
Wallets, purses and keys
Middle school years are also a good time for a young teen
to begin carrying a wallet, backpack, or purse every day.
They can learn to keep track of their personal ID and their
weekly allowance. Keeping track of house keys is also an excellent
skill to work on during these years.
Automobile driving, maintenance, handling emergencies
Once a teen has his or her driver's license, suddenly they
are at the wheel of a very expensive, potentially lethal machine.
Minor, innocent mistakes can cost parents hundreds of dollars
in insurance costs and deductibles.
Safe driving The first and foremost concern is
safe driving - always wearing a seat belt, not exceeding
the speed limit, and never driving after drinking.
Car Maintenance One parent recalls with chagrin
that he neglected to explain the meaning of "that
little red light" on the car's dashboard until after
his daughter drove home from the beach, ignoring that
little light until the engine started smoking a few miles
Emergency breakdowns And even if we're not concerned
about danger to the vehicle, teens need to learn how to
handle emergencies - what to do if the car breaks down
miles from home, what to do late at night in the dark.
In a few short years, teens need to move from thinking of
money as a means of immediate gratification - for pizza, clothing,
or entertainment - to learning how to plan , budget, and pay
Spending wisely - Cell phone bills can skyrocket
without careful planning, and parking and speeding tickets
can overwhelm a student's budget in the blink of an eye.
Handling Credit - Credit cards are hard to resist
as they are almost forced on unsuspecting college freshmen
in their welcome packet.
Balancing checkbooks - Financial record-keeping
in adulthood is detailed and complicated. The first step
is learning to manage a checkbook - learning to carefully
record all deposits and checks.
Learning to save for long-term goals - The saving
habit is difficult for most adults, but the earlier it's
learned the more automatic it becomes. One recent study
of savings behavior in a large corporation demonstrated
that automatic savings is much more successful than savings
that has to be regularly initiated. This is an easy and
valuable lesson to teach your teen - to open a checking
account and arrange for an automatic monthly deposit from
that account into a money market or savings account.
Typically, until a teen leaves home, records are maintained
by parents - academic records, medical records, social security
registration, birth certificates, etc. Unless a teen has experience
in developing a simple system for keeping important papers
in a place where they are easily found, his or her life may
become quickly chaotic after leaving home. Receipts of purchases,
copies of paid bills, insurance contracts, and financial records
for tax filings will soon be part of his or her life.
- Teaching your teen to develop a filing system - Parents
can help prepare their teen for this essential life management
skill by developing a simple filing system for them during
high school. At the beginning, it may be safer to file copies
of essential information in your teen's personal file, keeping
the originals safe in another location. A portable file
box that contains hanging files can be a handy system that
your teen takes along to college or to his or her first
The transition from parental responsibility to personal
responsibility for all aspects of personal care is a long,
slow process that should begin in elementary school and continue
until your son or daughter is ready to leave home. In elementary
school years, parents typically remind their children when
to bathe, to brush their teeth, to go to bed, as well as when
to visit the doctor or dentist. But gradually, your child
needs to develop good self-care routines. Young adults who
leave home without good habits in place will have a difficult
time making a successful transition to independence.
Sleep. Good sleep habits are critical because lack
of sleep can greatly increase ADD (ADHD) symptoms. And sleep
problems are very common among adolescents and adults with
ADD (ADHD). Fighting against a night-owl pattern and developing
a regular bedtime are important habits for your teen to develop.
Equally important is to transfer responsibility for waking
up on time to your teen. He or she will not be able to function
well in college or on the job until a consistent morning routine
has been developed.
Exercise and Nutrition. Teens, if left to their own
devices, often eat an unhealthy diet of fast food and snacks
with poor nutritional content. And although they make get
adequate exercise while participating in organized sports,
many young adults fall into routines of inadequate exercise
and poor nutrition when they first strike out on their own.
It's important that your teen is educated to understand the
importance of good nutrition and adequate exercise in reducing
the impact of ADD (ADHD).
Daily Life Management
The transition to taking charge of daily life management
is critical to successful independence, but often takes a
number of years to accomplish. Parents should gradually turn
over the reins, even if it means a few stumbles and falls
as a teenager learns to rely upon himself instead of depending
upon a parent for constant reminders.
Time Management is a key to daily life management.
Most individuals with ADD (ADHD) have a very poor sense of
time - a poor sense of how long things take and of how much
time has passed. Learning to wear a watch and to be on time
are skills that need practice.
Daily routines are an important aspect of time management.
Your teen needs to develop both a morning and evening routine
- going to bed at a routine time, getting up at a routine
time, and having a set routine of activities to prepare for
bed and in the morning to prepare for the day ahead.
Daily planning and prioritizing. Much of the day
is already planned for a teenager. Between school hours and
after-school activities, your teen may have little free time.
It's still important to learn to plan and to prioritize -
for example, thinking about what academic assignments must
be completed to allow time for recreational activities during
Planning ahead. High school years are a good time
to begin to develop the habit of making long-term plans. Your
teenager may have long-term school assignments that can give
him or her good practice in planning ahead. Looking for summer
jobs before the school year ends is another opportunity for
planning ahead. And the lengthy college application process
that should begin sometime during the junior year of high
school is one of the most important and challenging opportunities
to learn to organize and plan ahead.
Teens with ADD (ADHD) mature at different rates and parents
should keep in mind that, generally speaking, all teens with
ADD (ADHD) mature more slowly than their age-mates without
ADD (ADHD). Helping your teen to develop the skills for independent
living should be a gradual process that parents support through
being consistent and encouraging. Take a positive approach,
don't start too many new skills at once, and be prepared for
stumbles and problems as your teen learns to take over the
reins of his life. The path may not be as smooth as you would
like, but with humor and patience you and your teen will make
the transition together.