This is How You Raise Independent, High Functioning Teens with ADHD

For me, summer is a time for continuing my education, revamping my website and brand, spending time with teens, and remembering to take time for self-care as well. 

And for our teens, summer is a great big safety net for practicing life skills.

I was reading an article by Michelle Garcia Winner (my favorite), and she laid out the 10 levels of living independently. I love all of her resources, but this one in particular really helps to narrow the focus for what we’re all trying to do as parents to our ADHD teens—raise independent, high functioning adults.  

Having a list like this is so helpful because it shines a light on the skills we’ve maybe overlooked but are absolutely necessary to raising capable adults with ADHD. 

They’ll need to know more than just the best way to study with ADHD.  

So what are the life skills our teens need by the time they go off to college? 

Michelle lists 10, but I want to narrow it down to just 3 you can focus on this summer.

Three life skills for living independently with ADHD

1. Healthy Sleep Habits
Okay, maybe it doesn’t feel like summer is a great time to practice this life skill. (If your teens are anything like mine, their social time starts at 11 pm and lasts at least an hour or two.) But, if they can form healthy sleep habits in the summer, they can definitely stick with it during the school year too. 

Teens and adults need a consistent nighttime routine. Protecting your sleep is one of the marks of a responsible adult.   

You can expect some pushback on this one because, as we know, teens tend to take liberty with bedtime as a little form of revenge when they feel like they don’t have enough control over their day. 

Just remind them that in college and life after high school, they will be responsible for ensuring they get 8-10 hours of sleep every night. It’s what they really need to be healthy, think clearly, and have a good mood, especially with ADHD on board.

My rule is, “If you choose to stay up all hours of the night, you need to at least ACT like you were well rested, or there will be consequences.” 

Another level of living independently according to Michelle is…

2. Managing Meds (and Supplements)
*Gasp* They really will have to manage all of these pill bottles on their own one day, won’t they…

Truth be told, they should start now. 

When they turn 18, the doctors need your teen’s permission to keep you in the loop, so it’s important that your juniors and seniors are taking their meds independently before age 18. 

Work together to figure out what type of reminders they need and make sure they actually listen to those reminders. Summer is a good time to start handing over the control of the meds because your teen can get really really off kilter and really mess themselves up if they don’t take some of their meds at the same time every day. 

(This is where a healthy sleep routine can do double duty. If they add meds into their nighttime or morning-time routine, they can use habit stacking to make sure they knock out two responsibilities at once—every day.)

3. Healthy Eating

Okay, don’t hate me. I know a lot of people take it easy in the summer and eat more junk food than they would normally partake of in the summer. But it’s a good idea to start passing responsibility to your teens before they go on to college and have complete freedom of their diet. 

What we eat affects how we feel, how we think, how we perform, even how well we stick to ADHD study habits we’ve learned.

On a side note… proteins are super, super important to our teens. has a great article about the ADHD diet and explains that  “Protein-rich foods are used by the body to make neurotransmitters, the chemicals released by brain cells to communicate with each other. Protein can prevent surges in blood sugar, which increase hyperactivity and impulsivity.” 

SO important. 

When they go off to college, there will be sky-high temptation to skip sleep and load up on energy drinks, vending machine food, and other really bad choices. Caffeine is generally okay, but all these soft drinks are not.

But before you get overwhelmed, keep in mind that eating healthy is not something that happens overnight. It’s a marathon, a lifestyle. Your teen’s junior/senior year is an incredibly important time to help them understand how food makes them feel and bring awareness of how much better they function when they eat healthy and get regular exercise. 

I know. It’s summer. We don’t want to think ahead to next year or the next 3, 4, 5 years, but neither do our teens. They’re brains think of time in terms of “now” and “not now”. It’s our responsibility to pass responsibility. I promise you, it will pay dividends.

So how do you implement a plan for teaching these life skills over the summer? 

Just take it easy and one day at a time.  

Some parents use summer to teach their teenagers how to do laundry or give them a shot to take over the cooking 1-2 nights a week.

How to motivate a teenager with ADHD

You can consider working with your teen to set up some sort of accountability system for healthy eating and healthy sleep (remember, even adults need external motivation to do the hard things). 

Or maybe you can help them get a summer job so that they’re learning responsibility while they flip burgers and mow lawns.

How to talk to my teen

If you’re struggling in the health department yourself, maybe this is just the nudge you need to get yourself and your teen on track in these last few years before they go off to college or leave the nest. Make it a bonding time, a goal that you work toward together. There’s no better way to earn respect than eating humble pie.

ADHD Coach Near Me

For the other 7 levels of independent living, check out Michelle Garcia Winner’s article. And keep checking back in the group for more tips on parenting ADHD teens all year long.