Building Trust with Your Teen with ADHD Takes Knowledge, Patience and Structure
This post is sponsored by Adlon Therapeutics L.P., a subsidiary of Purdue Pharma L.P. Personal opinions expressed within this post are my own.
Being a parent of a child with ADHD changes the lens of how you look at child-rearing and the responsibilities that go along with shaping an independent and responsible young adult.
Development of attentional functions (skills needed to process day-to-day life demands such as emotional regulation and decision-making skills) are often delayed or develop slowly in children with ADHD compared to those without ADHD. It can feel like a burdensome job for the parent with no end in sight.
I used to say that my child with ADHD would do everything once. The learning curve for her was an experience. Good and bad. She was the first to jump in and try something out. She did not have a lot of cognitive stops in place and I was often her backstop. She was and still is impulsive. This placed a lot of stress on me as a parent navigating a teenager who wanted to be independent.
I tried to stay ahead of her journey to independence. I researched the strengths and weaknesses associated with having ADHD and considered her potential outcomes.
I joined as many ADHD support groups and associations that I could find at that time. In fact, I even became a specialist through my quest for knowledge, all to be prepared for what she “might” do. On a side note, I discovered meditation during this time, which was a savior for me to sustain mental toughness during the rough times.
By the time my daughter was 16, she wanted me to hand over the keys to her car, stop volunteering at her schooling events and let her be in control of her medication. Giving up the volunteering at the school events meant I had to give up my insight window into her teenage shenanigans. You can learn a lot about your teen’s decision-making skills by attending these events. Losing the ability to monitor her periodically reckless behavior was the most challenging part of giving her the independence she craved. I increased my meditation times from 5 to 10 minutes a day to deal with my anxiety around wanting to trust her to handle the temptations and dangers she would inevitably face. One of my favorite mantras was, “This too shall pass”. I used that a lot during those teen years.
Teenagers with ADHD are 36% more likely to get into a car accident than newly licensed drivers without ADHD, and in a study of all college students (both those with and without ADHD) almost 16% admitted to misusing prescription stimulants as study drugs., Misusing prescription drugs is when a medication is not used the way it is intended by the prescribing doctor.  This includes not just overusing but also sharing it. Read more about one student’s story here when he shared his medication with a fellow student.
If you are worried about your teen misusing their ADHD medication, here are some things to look out for:
- Being more alert and hyperactive
- Acting withdrawn or hostile
- Being frequently tired or depressed
- Trouble sleeping, agitation, anxiety and paranoia
- Saying they need higher doses than prescribed & running out of pills
- Excessive mood swings
Knowledge is powerful. Here are a few tips:
- Ask for your doctor’s opinion. Many doctors these days have a portal where you can ask questions directly to them.
- Know how the medication should be followed: read the prescription Medication Guide carefully
Knowing what to expect with medication can help you monitor the effects and better communicate with your doctor.
- NEVER allow using prescription medication other than your own (even a family member)
It sets the stage that it might be OK to share it with others.
Discuss the consequences of prescription stimulant medication misuse with your teen and reiterate that the medication is prescribed for them only.
- Set rules & establish contracts
Sometimes, all it takes is setting up some ground rules and consequences for breaking them so they understand the importance of using their prescription stimulant medication correctly.
- Keep their prescription medications safe
Help them to get away from temptations, keep track and lock up their prescription medications in a safe place, like a locked cabinet or box. This is also to make sure that they are not selling their medications to other people.
Leaving unused and expired prescription medications should be avoided. You may consult with doctors for the proper way of disposing of unused medications.
Through my deep breathing and in-depth research, I formalized my plan to allow for my daughter’s independence.
I gave her a longer leash but stayed close so that I could help her out when she needed it. We created a contract that entailed what she wanted while sticking to my boundaries. We agreed on what consequences would be invoked if I became aware of any violations.
We signed it together and each kept a copy. I meditated more and then let go of my fears…sort of.
The outcome was good overall. We did have to enact the consequences a few times…ok…quite a few times over the next 4 years.
Notice that I said 4 years. We maintained this contract until she was 20.
Since she lagged a few years in maturity, it took that long until she was truly independent. The point here is that it worked. I survived it.
So, what can you do to navigate building trust with a young adult with ADHD? Knowledge is the key to success. With the knowledge, I was able to stay a step ahead, notice signs of trouble and intervene quickly. I found resources for attentional issues while driving and risks of prescription medication misuse.
With my newly gained knowledge, I was eager to share it with her. The next challenge was getting her to listen to me. I mean, really listen to me. I knew she needed it broken into chunks of information with minimal distractions. I chose times that were strategic, like taking her to get pedicures where she was my captive audience for a solid hour. We can now look back at those times and joke about our conversations and how she knew that this would be a dual event when I booked the appointments. She got her nails done at the expense of having to discuss topics important to me. It was a good trade in her teen mindset!
During this uninterrupted mother and daughter time, we accomplished the groundwork. We worked through my concerns of newly found statistical information around ADHD. I would ask her questions to test her knowledge and thoughts around the issues. It proved to be very helpful to bring attention to it and talk through scenarios of what-ifs.
- What if she was asked to share her prescription medications?
- What would she do if she was driving to volleyball practice late knowing the coach would be upset at her?
- How would she handle these and other types of situations?
My goal was to get her in the mindset, so that WHEN it did happen to her, she would have a plan of action.
Was my method perfect?
- Was it a good one? I would say yes. By preparing myself with information I was able to address the biggest concerns I had at the time: safe driving and not misusing her prescription medications. I had the knowledgebase to start these conversations with my daughter. My goal was to get her thinking about these situations and how she would handle them independently. It helped me let go of some of the control I felt as she gained independence.
Over time, the contracts became less of a parental threat and more of an agreement that we both could refer to when needed. It was the beginning of helping my daughter gain independence with tools to help make decisions that had some thought.
So, dig in and find out as much as you can about the risks associated with ADHD and stay a step ahead of your teen.
 Berger, Itai et al. “Maturational delay in ADHD: evidence from CPT.” Frontiers in human neuroscience vol. 7 691. 25 Oct. 2013, doi:10.3389/fnhum.2013.00691. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3829464/. Accessed February 2021.
 Curry, Allison E et al. “Motor Vehicle Crash Risk Among Adolescents and Young Adults With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.” JAMA pediatrics vol. 171,8 (2017): 756-763. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.0910. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5710634/. Accessed February 2021.
 The Ohio State University. “2018 College Prescription Drug Study.” https://cssl.osu.edu/posts/632320bc-704d-4eef-8bcb-87c83019f2e9/documents/cpds-key-findings-2018.pdf. Accessed February 2021.
 National Institute on Drug Abuse. Commonly Used Terms in Addiction Science. July 2018. https://drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/glossary. Accessed February 2021.
 Prescription for Disaster: How Teens Abuse Medicine.; 2018. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/resource-center/Publications/DEA_Prescription-For-Disaster_508ver. pdf. Accessed February 2021.