2 Eye-Opening Tips to Help Your ADHD Teen Act Like an Adult

Too often, we expect our ADHD teen to act like an adult.

The problem is… they’re just not. 

They’re not fully independent yet. They don’t get to make a lot of decisions for themselves or have much space to call their own. Their brains are wired differently, and they haven’t fully developed yet. They have to answer to teachers, parents, and coaches, and sometimes they’re lacking the internal motivation to take ownership of it.

So we criticize their ADHD study habits because we think WE know the best way to study with ADHD. 

We expect high-level functioning without holding their hands because we think it’s healthier for them to figure it out on their own. 

But all the pressure we put on our teens to perform seems a little silly when you think about some of the crazy things we do to motivate grown adults. 

🧑 Donate money, and I’ll run a 5K! 

🧑 Raise this much money, and we’ll match it! 

🧑 Eat healthy and you’ll get a kickback on your insurance plan!

Even adults need extra motivation to do things they don’t want to do. 

Shouldn’t we expect at least that level of resistance from our ADHD teens and help them find the motivation to do it anyway?

It’s our job to train them for real life and in doing so you will get your ADHD teen to act like an adult.

How to motivate a teenager with ADHD – Tip #1

Recently, for the end of the school year, I gave my teen clients a challenge.

For every missing assignment they turned in, I would create two social media posts. 

They were motivated by the prospect of watching an adult do something hard because they had to do something hard at the same time. It was all about modeling adult behavior so that they could start to learn how to cope with unwanted tasks as young adults.  

To set the stage, I explained to them how much I LOATHE creating social media posts 😂.

(Marketing is not in my skill set. It takes me a couple of weeks to wrap my brain around it and get motivated to plan a month of content. I pass off what I can to my team, and they tell me what I need to contribute.)

But hey, it’s part of adulting. I have to do the work to get the reward. 

The challenge was enough to get them to do something they didn’t want to do.

And it only worked for one reason—I followed through with my side of the deal. 

See, they didn’t have the internal motivation to work hard and bring their grades up to avoid summer school. But by copying some of the same “adult” challenges I’ve seen in the workplace, I helped them find external motivation for the thing they weren’t interested in. 

And I ended up with 2 months of social media posts planned out and ready to go 😂

Our  teens are watching us model adulting. They’re learning how life works through our approach to situations we don’t want to do. It’s our responsibility to teach them just as much as it is their responsibility to learn it.  

When we help them find that key that unlocks their motivation, we are giving them a life skill that they will use long into adulthood—crazy, ridiculous challenges and all.

Teaching executive functioning skills at home – Tip #2

Another assumption we make about our teens is that they have the ability to think through an upcoming task and create a plan to pull it off successfully. 

The problem is, this skill uses the part of their brain that controls executive functioning. And it’s not fully developed until their twenties.  

But still, as parents, we get frustrated with the process of holding their hand and repeating ourselves again and again and again. 

Tell me, does this happen in your home?

My teenage son had an orthodontist appointment at 11:00. I started frontloading a week in advance to give him time to tell his teachers and make plans for leaving school early. 

Every day, I gave him a reminder that the appointment was at 11:00 and that he needed to let his teachers know. 

Well, he did let his 11:00 – 12:00 teacher know that he would be leaving for an appointment. 

He didn’t tell his 10:30 – 11:00 teacher 🤦.

All he heard was that he had an 11:00 appointment, and he remembered it easily. GREAT!

But because of ADHD, his executive function (that part of the brain that should remind him to plan for the time before and after the appointment) didn’t connect the dots that we would need to leave school at 10:30 in order to go to an 11:00 appointment. 

What I want you to know is that it’s so common! 

As parents, we tend to get frustrated and want to speed up the process so that they don’t need us to spell out every little detail for them. But you can’t change the way their brain is wired any more than they can teleport from class to orthodontist at 11am on a school day. 😵

Just remember: with ADHD teens, we can never be too specific and we can never assume that they can read our minds. 

It’s not handholding, and it’s not babying. It’s what they need right now to get the skills to pay the bills.

As their parents, it’s our responsibility to help them think through the process. It doesn’t come naturally for our  teens. Someday it will, but right now it’s our job to help them develop those skill sets and that executive functioning and cognitive thinking with careful frontloading, patience, appropriate consequences, and a whole lot of grace.

If we start tapping into that working memory, helping them learn how to connect the dots, then one day, when we’ve done all we can, they’ll be the ones reminding us to pick them up at 10:40.

Responding to the critics

One of the common struggles parents of ADHD teens have is that their co-parent isn’t on board with the process of challenging their teens to motivate them or holding their hand as they learn adult skills. 

And I totally understand that! ADHD teens brains are just different from neurotypical teenagers’ brains. (Although, even your neurotypical teen needs grace while they learn how to take on more adult responsibilities.) We want to see change quickly. We want to speed up the process and watch them get it the first time without repeating ourselves or coaching them along the way. 

But that’s exactly what it is—a process of collaboration. And eventually it will be led by your teenager. But it takes time and patience to help them learn how to use their unique brains to get your ADHD teen to act like an adult. 

Maybe you feel like you’re not the best person to walk them through the process. Maybe it’s too much frustration to be their parent and their coach. Maybe you need a scapegoat like me to point the finger at: This ADHD coach told me he needs more time to process!

That’s okay! You don’t have to do everything by yourself. Because you want what we all want for our kids. We just want them to be okay and be independent someday when they’re ready. It takes time to get your ADHD teen to act like an adult.

ADHD Coach Near Me

If you need to pass off some of the responsibility and set your ADHD teen up for success, we can partner together to help them find their best practices for all areas of their lives through private coaching for your teen. After all, it’s about what they need, not what we can do for them. 

I have some spots open for teen coaching and programs through the summer that could be exactly what you’re looking for. Just hit the contact tab in the menu bar above, and set up a call to connect with me! I can’t wait to hear from you.

You can also join our Facebook group to connect with other parents of ADHD teens.