I recommend a preventive strategy for the wars that can break out over how teens with ADHD will spend their time when given their own choices (e.g. social networking, fun seeking, media pursuits and avoiding responsibilities). The basic theme of the list is that first the teens fulfill basic family expectations, and then - and only then - have they earned privileges and rewards. It’s just like life: first we work, then we get the pay check.
Seven strategies for ADHD tweens and teens
1. During the school year, teens must always be engaged in one athletic activity, one extracurricular activity and one service activity. The teens are allowed to choices within these three areas, but not whether they engage in these three areas of positive youth engagement (all of which are optimal ways to build physical, social, emotional, character, spiritual and personal development).
2. Ideally, the extracurricular activity is at school. It is important that the teen feel connected to school and feel like they belong in the school community.
3. Homework “study hall time” is set in stone for an hour or more at night, depending on parental judgment. No electronic distractions are allowed with the exception of music. Computer access for homework is monitored. Phones are off limits. If teens claim that there is no homework, they can read ahead in their school work. (Parents should know that if teens can escape the burden of sitting for an hour, they will. Therefore, many teens will lie. Just a fact.) Parents control the sanctity of the study hall; they do not control the teen’s homework.
4. If the teen has difficulties with homework completion or grades, the parents should receive information every Friday from the school so that they can withhold social and fun activities on the weekend until after school work is completed.
5. All teens need 8-9 hours of sleep. The majority of teens suffer from sleep deprivation due to the overuse of media and social networking. Therefore, a bedtime should be set, with laptops and cell phones collected to avoid abuse.
6. Chores and their deadlines for completion should be highly structured whereby privileges are withheld if there is noncompliance with parental expectations.
7. If teens cooperate with the system above, they have earned the right to free time, access to social life, use of the cell phone and electronics. Specifics related to the latter are adjusted according to parent judgment, the teen’s track record, and the teen’s level of maturity. The advantage of this level of supervision and structure is that the teens are less able to overuse media and get into mischief, because there is less free time with this schedule. Expectations should be clear and consistently maintained so that there is a minimum of parent-child conflict. Re-negotiations of policies should only be made in “meetings” in which respect and self control (on both sides!) are maintained or the negotiations are discontinued.
Laura S. Kastner, Ph.D., is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington and a nationally recognized expert on teen behavior and development. She is the co-author, along with writer Jennifer F. Wyatt, of three books, including the just-released Getting to Calm: Cool-headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens.