What’s the Problem with Neurodiverse Teenagers, and How Can You Help?
Ahhh… It’s a Friday night. Your house is quiet. The tv is all yours. Your teenagers are nowhere to be found. You prop your feet up on the coffee table and relax.
That’s worry’s cue to start pestering your unsuspecting brain!
Wait… where are the kids? Were they staying with a friend tonight? Did they take their phone? What time did they say they would be back? What are they having for dinner? Should I text them? No, that would be too controlling, right? Unless they need me…
Adolescence not what you thought it would be?
Our parents were right when they said we would understand how they felt when we had kids of our own. Go figure!
Let me guess… even though you enjoy the perks of kids who can do most things on their own, you’re plagued by worry that they’re hanging out with the wrong squad or falling behind in school, maybe even getting in trouble on social media.
You’re worried that you’re going to push them away instead of being their safe place to air their drama.
Well, sweet parent, you can’t be with them every minute of every day, nor should you! But there are some things you can do to help your teen (and yourself) through the adolescence transition.
What are my neurodiverse teens struggling with?
T(w)eens are dealing with increased hormones that can cause mood swings at any given time.
They are tired! Their sleep schedule is changing. Physically, they need more sleep, and they don’t always get it.
They have more school pressure and learning struggles (teachers with different teaching styles, more home work, virtual learning).
They have the added danger of social media. One wrong post could ruin their academic year. Nothing is private.
Their life revolves around their friends and that can lead to lots of drama.
**Positive!** Their executive function improves during adolescence (PTL!), but your teen still needs help staying on track without constant reminders. It takes no time to get way behind if you don’t have the structure. (Hint: Nagging is not structure!)
**Positive!** Your teens will get better at handling transitions. They’ll have less hyperactivity, greater sustained focus and emotional regulation.
**Positive** Middle school is their time to test out their wings and practice flying (with a safety net of course).
With all of these changes, your first instinct might be to increase your presence in their lives to guide them through the hard stuff. But, no! That’s just not how it works. Teens are like cats. They only come when they want to. They’re only nice when they feel nice. And they tend to pounce on you when you least expect it!
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to stay involved in their lives without being too obvious about it?
You really want them to learn how to function without you. And you REALLY want to stop being the bad guy for everything that goes wrong in their life.
In fact, you’ve been thinking about how they would manage their independence since they were diagnosed with ADHD. You asked yourself, would they ever be able to hold a job, graduate high school, or (let’s be honest) finish a to-do list without you constantly redirecting them to the task at hand?
In elementary school, you were their frontal lobe. But now, all of that function falls to them.
And it’s HARD. Yes, hard for you, but SO hard for them.
What is my teen’s role during adolescence?
So it sounds like you get to take more of a backseat and let your teens take the wheel, right? Sort of… Parenting teens is more about the collaboration now.
But I know you are asking yourself, “How do I get them to participate?”
The truth is, the teens are already participating in the adolescence, but your role to guide and encourage them as you pass the baton of responsibility is of the utmost importance.
And if the parents miss the point or keep a tight grip on the steering wheel, teens might become disheartened and stop communicating and participating in the family.
You can be in the know, without being in their business. And if you’re in the know, you won’t have to be in their business! -Kelly
I know, that sounds like an oxymoron, but there IS a way to be in the know while allowing them to develop into responsible adults.
Systems, routine, calendars, and organization are going to be your new best friends.
They let you take a step back from parenting so that your kids can step into the lead and you’re not worried because they have guidelines to keep them safe and accountable.
So what is your job now that they’ve reached adolescence?
Say to yourself, “My teen is having a hard time controlling their emotions right now.”
Be their safe space for raw emotions and changing moods
Remember that they are dealing with so many moving parts and most of it isn’t your fault
Support their goals
Allow them to take the reigns and determine the career direction they want to move toward
Allow them a measure of privacy (But not complete privacy! I’m a huge fan of phone checks and asking them to tell me about who they follow on social media, etc.)
Be a good listener. If you spend more time listening than talking… when you do talk, they will listen.
Don’t take things too personally
Don’t invade their physical space
Let them figure out how they are going to manage academics and social responsibilities
Give them guidance (or a coach) to help them set up systems for chores. (Psst! Grades don’t really matter until high school, so let them work out their systems now so they can implement it very well in high school.)
Pause Before You Pounce
Give Grace to YOURSELF
Even with my own, angelic teenage boys, sometimes I have to practice pausing, stopping, being in a calm, quiet , peaceful place to tell myself, “Do not say what’s on your mind. Do not say what’s on your mind. Do not say what’s on your mind.”
Neurodiverse teens (and neurotypical teens) are highly sensitive; our response to them has the ability to help or hurt.
When I want to put my son in his place, I have to remind myself, “He is really having such a tough week. He is really having such a tough week. He is really having such a tough week.”
By doing this, I can immediately feel sympathy towards my teen, vs. anger and frustration.
I also realize that I (usually) have nothing to do with his mood and ‘tude… but I just happened to be the recipient of it. Ahh…the joys of parenting teens. That’s my badge of honor, right?
Your Badge of Honor for Parenting Neurodiverse Teens
But really, my badge of honor is always being the safe place for our sons.. I always want them to feel safe by being their moody, authentic selves with no judgement.
That’s the mistake that parents can make during the teen years and it can make or break your relationship. Sometimes it’s literally… THAT fragile.
We have to give them their space to be moody and we have to not be reactionary…no matter how many buttons they push!
Whatever it takes, however it looks, whatever you need to pause, to bite your tongue, to not say what you really want to say, that’s when you grow, you expand, you build your character, you realize you can have MORE POWER IN THE PAUSE, and your teens will remember it, they will savor it and they will appreciate it….even if they don’t show it…
Here’s to POWER IN THE PAUSE!