When our son was first diagnosed with ADHD at age 9, my husband and I worked hard to put a consistent system of rewards and consequences in place to help him manage his behavior. Now that he’s 13, however, he’s gotten very good at circumventing one parent’s rules by getting the other to agree to concessions, and even just ignoring the limits we’ve set. For the first time this year, he was suspended from school for behavior issues, and we’re afraid things might be getting worse. Are we doing something wrong?
First, it is important to remember that nearly all adolescents test behavioral limits and experiment with how best to circumvent parental rules. That said, it is especially important during these years that you remain as consistent as possible when discussing, setting, and enforcing a behavioral “bottom line.”
Talk seriously with your teenager about the reasons why he needs to follow certain rules. It becomes more and more important at this age to make sure that he agrees that the consequences and rewards are fair to him—but negotiate these beforehand and not in the heat of battle.
Make sure you and your partner are presenting him with a united front—allowing him to play one of you against another is one of the easiest traps that parents fall into. If you feel that he believes there may be no consequences to his behavior, consider creating a written contract for all of you to sign, stipulating the rules to be followed and related rewards and punishments.
Keep in mind that teenagers with ADHD can be impulsive, and many find that it is difficult to keep their behavior within tolerable limits. However, where impulsive behaviors in grade school may have included pushing in line and blurting out answers before the teacher finished asking the question, impulsivity in teenagers can include high-risk behaviors leading to drug use, teenage pregnancy, serious conduct problems, and school dropout. This makes it particularly important to develop a parenting style that includes your adolescent in the decision-making; leads to good self-esteem; and includes setting firm, but also sensitive and fair, limits when appropriate.