Do You Let Your ADHD Teenager Fail?


Kurt turns seventeen in a month’s time.


There was a time when I couldn’t believe how quickly he was growing up, but the last year has moved intolerably slowly at times.


As many of you know, we survived a tumultuous year with our ADHD son last year. If the word ‘teenager’ makes you shudder, then try handling a teenager with ADHD.


All teenagers offer up challenges, but with the right ground rules in place, you hope as a parent that they will ultimately emerge unscathed on the other side. But the ground rules are more difficult to lay down with teenagers with ADHD, because they don’t understand the notion of ‘consequences’.


I’m an advocate for allowing kids to fail to teach them resilience in preparation for the real world, but with the complication of ADHD, the perspective is different.

ADHD (Photo credit: LeoAmadeus)


So here’s my conundrum. Because Kurt didn’t come with the same skill set as NC. Every step of the way, life has thrown up challenges for him that he hasn’t always been able to tackle, whereas NC has experienced both peaks and troughs, but enough peaks to keep her going.


I admit that I’m in danger of ‘over-parenting’ when it comes to my son.


NC is horrified at what she considers my favoritism of him. She accuses me of being a pushover when I ferry him around, for example, but in my defence I do it because otherwise his anxiety disorder would prevent him from going out altogether.


Thankfully, life has improved dramatically since the Dark Ages of 2013 *touching wood*. Kurt started Year 11 at another school this year and he genuinely seems to be making a go of it. His behavior at home is far from exemplary, but because historically we know that for many ADHD kids the wheels come off in Year 11, (which is when they often make the decision to quit school), we have had to become masters of compromise and have stopped sweating the small stuff in an attempt to be supportive.


The nose ring still tests us, admittedly.


As the level of the work becomes more challenging and the quantity of assignments increases dramatically at school, those organisation skills that Kurt should have honed in years 9 and 10 are still not available in his toolbox.


He was busy in years 9 and 10, focusing on other ‘life’ skills. Up until this year, (and in spite of my support), he had barely turned in an assignment and to this day, he has never read a book.


If his twelve HSC modules could include Top Gear, the history of Marijuana, Nirvana and Brit pop music, he’d be offered a place at the best uni in Sydney. But the curriculum is not yet that diverse.


He gets through the demands of school aided by my constant nagging. The other day when I reminded him to take his medication, he asked me, ‘Have you taken your nagging medication yet?’


I prefer to define my strategy of support as ‘notifications’ but there is no doubt that scaffolding my son doesn’t strengthen the frail threads that bind our relationship together, especially as the pressure continues to build.


I’m actually quite amazed that he can read at all and the talent he demonstrates for producing laborious assignments for English about books he has never read blows me away.


He is a master at the art of ‘copy and paste’ and restructuring just enough to make whole paragraphs of Wikipedia look like his own work. He even adds spelling mistakes for authenticity.


There must be a job for that skill. Ah yes, I think it may be called ‘being a fraud’.


I have no expectation of him going to university, not because he doesn’t have the intellectual ability to get there, but because it wouldn’t suit him. But I would like him to complete his HSC – mainly because he doesn’t have the emotional or social maturity to leave school yet.


So I’m torn. Do I scaffold him because of his ‘disability’ – because his ADHD means that he needs more help with organisation than the average child and he deserves a fair go? Or do I let him fail to give him a valuable insight into the relevance of responsibility?


The decision is simply not as  straightforward when it comes to teenagers with ADHD.


If I leave him to flounder, I know that his self-esteem could hit the floor with failure and he will give up. Yet, one of the major roles of a parent is to prepare your children to become independent.


What would you do?


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6 thoughts on “Do You Let Your ADHD Teenager Fail?

  1. I still don’t know that answer if it was related to a ‘normal’ child, regardless of ADHD complications. Certainly my own attempts at ‘removing the scaffolding’ parenting has seen one child go off to uni (where she’s hideously lonely) and the other fail her exams, re-sit, but fall pregnant, keep it secret, have a baby & drop-out from her second chance. I’ve come to the decision that when it comes to teenagers we can need to offer an open ear, a shoulder to cry on and our opinion only if we’re willing to have it thrown back in our face. We need to realise that we’re way down the list on ‘things that influence our kids’ behaviour’. We still need massive baseball gloves to catch the pieces when things fall apart, but not to take it personally or judge our kids when it does.
    I notice Gina Ford doesn’t have a ‘Contented 6ft Teenager’ book to accompany her ‘Contented Little Baby’ guff. The lack of parenting advice when things get truly tricky probably says it all.
    Good luck! Xx


    1. What a great idea for a book – The Contented Teenager – ha ha! I still fervently believe that we keep pushing them in the right direction even if they throw it back in our faces. Obviously, we mustn’t judge them if they fuck up. We’ve all done that and you learn from your mistakes but it’s always nice to have someone there with the baseball gloves on.


  2. Reading your blog is like listening to a replay of my mind grappling with the horrors of trying as a parent to juggle all consequences of each course of action we take – even trying to pick the option with the least damage isn’t clear cut.

    The emotional Goalposts continue to change and make the game play impossible to predict. We spend so much of our time just trying to prevent our son sabotaging his own future that our emotional and physical tanks run on empty. But………

    I have noticed a maturing over the last six to twelve months that kindly allows me to see glimpses of the polite loving man he will become…….so along the way there are blessings of great encouragement that fill the tanks and allow us to continue to fight the good fight.

    it helps that he is no longer at school (that option did become unbearable however he stayed until a viable option for leaving was found) – left last year at the end of 11 – and is now doing art at college – the one thing that calms his troubled soul……

    I think its just one day at a time on a wing and many many prayers – I don’t know what the right answers are for any of us but I believe they do take in the moral compass that we as “good loving decent parents” continue to ram down their throats and I remain positive that the highs will soon outweigh the lows and the destination will have a pretty awesome view. xxxxxx


    1. I love your comment, Cath. One thing I’ve learned from Kurt is that the straight path is not necessarily the right path and he has opened my mind to embrace creativity and choices. I wish I had known that at his age. As a parent, that fear that difference brings lurks all the time and there have been so many times when I have wished he had a ‘normal’ brain whatever that is. But as long as he knows how much we love him and we try to support him the best we can, that’s all we can do as parents.


  3. I know of a young man now 29 who has ADHD, he completed school, went to Uni to study psychology, took up with my daughter, broke her heart literally, he then took a two year break and played around Europe and the ski fields of Canada. Hooked up with another girl in Melbourne, stalked my daughter for another year, (broke up with the other girl) came home to Perth, continued to wheedle his way back into my daughters life, (he’s pretty stubborn) completed his masters, and is now working as a psychologist. They have just bought their first home together and are of course very much in love, he regrets his wretched ways and states he was an idiot to ever let the best thing in his life get away from him (his words). Signs of his ADHD are evident, his work thinks he’s stressed when in fact he is not, he’s very happy, he likes to flit between tasks quickly, (which makes them think he’s stressed) my daughter is very patient and says at home, he starts something then rarely finishes because he has moved onto something else. So thankfully for us and his family his ADHD had a good outcome so far.


    1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. So great to hear a good news story. Relationships are not the easiest thing for people with ADHD but I do believe that my son has so much love to give and once he finds the person who ‘gets him’, he will fall madly.


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