Teenagers. I love them. And as mine move into the next stages of personal growth (college), I am finding myself a little wistful - in the same way that one wishes a child out of diapers and suddenly sends them off to Kindergarten. Where did the time go?!?! If you don't have a tween/teen just yet, pull up your bootstraps, as your child is about to become a self-proclaimed savant (because they know it ALL and we know NOTHING.
All three of our sons who have bucked the system now and then, each in their own way. My most persistent and complex kiddo, Bling, is fiercely persistent in his pursuit of new and shiny opportunities, conjures up strategies to level-up his collection of treasures, and possesses the uncanny ability to create opportunities for his own personal joy where others might color inside the lines. He is, in summary, a rule bender, relentless question asker, and tester of all boundaries.
Can you relate in any way? It can be exhausting to navigate when you, the parent or adult in their path, are unprepared or easily swayed! Parenting these kiddos is not for the weak.
For some of us, this type of child can create all sorts of undue stress, tension, and frustration when we let go of the reigns. But the catalyst is not always the child. It can also result from our own fear of flying solo. It can be simultaneously the most amazing and terrifying piece to parenting teenagers. With measured patience and a heap of persistence, everyone can have an equal opportunity to come out stronger on the other side.
For parents of teens and pre-teens, if is common to face a new level of resistance or pushback when it comes to curfews, time management, social schedules, technology use, rules, nutrition, exercise, and, yes, even medication. This is a healthy part of development - our kids are trying on a new level of independence at an alarmingly fast rate. Buckle up, buttercup, and please keep your hands inside the ride at all times.
Of all of these challenges, I am most often asked about how to have that conversation around medication. It's a sensitive topic, and a piece of the treatment plan that many parents oversee with autonomy if medication was started at a young age. Many kids in the 12-16 year range begin questioning the status quo. "How do I get my kid to stay on their medication?" is but one piece of the pie. And there are a whole slew of executive function skills that can be developed through this one topic.
Here are 3 strategies that clients and we have found helpful for molding an updated treatment plan for teens when they start to push back:
PARTNERSHIPS: Treating your teen as a partner in this can pay off in spades. Explaining what meds can and can't do is the first step - sometimes having the prescribing doc or a therapist to explain is very helpful and better received. Meds are a tool. In our own home, we agreed together to track symptoms when we tried medicine. Both parents and teens listing things they hoped for (i.e.- filtered background noise or easier to attend through entire classes, etc). Pulling in a third and professional partner like your prescriber, can provide an objective 3rd party expert to hear everyone's concerns and goals. For Bling, we spent the better art of a year talking about the "med tool". He elected to approach his first 2 years in high school med-free, and we partnered when he went back on medicine, it was his choice, his goals. He doesn't love medicine, but he loves that, right now, the medicine is easing his access to the academic success he knows he's capable of and enabling him to slow down those impulses just enough to decrease the likelihood of regret. Those two years were hard for us to witness, but the conversation was open, honest, and truly helped us build the close relationship that we have today.
CONTRACTS: Contracts offer an vehicle for clear, objectively defined boundaries and expectations for both parties. In that moment of weakness, a contract can be a great backbone to lean on. In middle school, we wrote a 6-week reverse contract with Bling, giving the reward upfront, because 6 weeks is a long time for ADHD. This contract specifically addressed his inconsistency in one important habit, which required an afternoon action he was avoiding. 3 strikes meant that coveted reward came back to me and had to be earned with lots of extra chores. Great for our impulsive kiddo and a strategy that was blessed by his psychologist (my DH wasn't so sure it was a great idea until the psychologist weighed in).
CONVERSATION: Remember, teens are sponges. They are always listening and masters at hiding it. In this new stage, revisiting their strengths can be a great conversation starter. Hearing their personal goals, affirming them even when they don't match our own, and truly listening to their perspective can build a level of trust and intimacy like no other. With respect to treatment plans, having an honest conversation without judgement, just might lead you to their newfound views or feelings on medication. Finding the courage to talk openly about teacher observations, parent observations, and the strengths that your kid possesses can serve as a springboard to what's swimming inside their heads. We spent a lot of time educating our children about ADHD, in small conversations, and usually when they are captive in the car. Open ended, "coaching" curiosities like "What is great about your ADHD?" & "What's hard?". "What do you wish people knew?", "What frustrates you?", "If you could change one thing about your ADHD, what would it be?", "Where do you want to be in 3,6,9 mo?" & "What do you need to do in order to get there?" Become an expert on all things related to their personal brain, things to try, goals to set. Investing in their mindset, feelings and future self is invaluable.
At the end of the day, this takes energy - from all parties. The best way to keep your kid from shutting down is to give them a seat at the table. One day, that seat may not be at our own table, and enabling them to practice and develop the reasoning skills, to navigate big decisions, to receive and provide meaningful feedback, and to create self-awareness can produce life skills that our children will carry into "the everyday" as adults. And if your kid isn't ready to partner, that's ok too. Keep trying. Stay curious. Just be there, quietly listening for that queue. Once that door opens, your relationship will never be the same. Remember, you're in this together, but the story is ultimately theirs. Remember, it takes two to tango.