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If you have a child with ADHD, you know already that life can be a whirlwind. But as you move into the middle school and high school years, it can at times seem even more overwhelming.

"You're navigating puberty hormones on top of everything else, plus there's a real widening gap socially and academically compared to peers without ADHD," says Suzanna Trice, a writing instructor in Peachtree Corners, GA. Trice has a 12-year-old son, Logan, (not his real name), with ADHD.

All of this may sound stressful, but there are things parents can do to make life easier for everyone once their child hits the rocky road of adolescence. This includes everything from parent training to medications to school support. You'll still need to buckle up your seat belt as you embark on this journey, but you'll feel better knowing you have safety measures in place.


It's very important to stay in touch with your child's teachers to get detailed instructions on how they're doing. Angela Stephens of Springfield, MO, remembers being in a sixth-grade meeting for her son Drake, now 22, to talk about his academic performance.

"The teacher showed me an assignment he did in his second period that looked great, then showed me another, similar assignment from sixth period that looked like it had been done by a first grader," she recalls. "I had a moment of panic, and then it hit me: his medication had worn off."

He was able to tweak his dose, which helped solve the problem. But "if I hadn't insisted on those monthly meetings, I wouldn't have caught it," she says now.

Sometimes, kids with ADHD do so well with these school supports that educators automatically assume that they're not needed anymore. That's what happened to Deborah Armstrong, a mom in Greenwich, CT, whose 16-year-old son, David (not his real name), has ADHD.

"When David was in middle school, they wanted to exit him out of special education entirely, which means he would have lost all of his accommodations," she says. Armstrong fought back, and made sure David kept all the supports he needed, which included extra time on tests and preferential seating in the classroom and for SATs. Now, her son is thriving as a junior at Greenwich High School.


See things from their perspective.

Rather than just trying to motivate your kid to do what you want them to do, think about what really motivates the ADHD brain: novelty, urgency, interest, competition, and enjoyment. Then consider some ways to win them over.

For example, if your teen fights you about bedtime, think about what may motivate them. It might be getting to school on time in the morning to talk to their friends. Once you frame it to them in that way, they may come up with the idea themselves that they need to go to bed earlier.

Pre-planning is your friend here as well. Making a nighttime routine will help your teen's brain recognize the cues for sleep and make it easier for them to unwind. Plan to turn off electronic devices that can interfere with the body's sleep rhythms about an hour before it's time to turn in. They can spend that time reading or doing other quiet things as they relax.

Expect resistance to medication.

Nearly half of all kids with ADHD don't take their medications as directed, especially during the teenage years. Sometimes, it's a way to rebel against parents, or they just feel negatively about taking any medicine.

If your child wants to stop, talk to their doctor about a trial period where they stop using them under medical supervision. You can work with your child to set goals and make a plan to help stay on track academically and socially. This could involve things like tutors or behavior interventions.

You also should be specific about what they need to do to stay off of medication, like keep up good grades and behave well at home. If they can't do that, they'll need to go back on medication.

Keep them organized.

When Angela Stephens' son was in high school, she realized that the coding system his teachers had put in place for the labels on his homework folders didn't work: "it was a sea of black," she recalls.

She moved everything to color-coded folders, which helped Drake immensely. She followed up with systems to help him keep track of other items, like his phone, keys, even his passwords.

Let them chart their own path.

"Our culture has a specific path laid out for success, but not all kids are cut out for it," Penny Williams says. "Projecting far in the future can be really hard for kids with ADHD. And the more anxious a teen with ADHD gets, the less capable their brain becomes to actually learn."

Williams' own son is currently living at home and working part time. "He struggled a lot in school, and it was traumatic for him," she says. "He needed to heal from that while he explores different possibilities about what to do next."