Most of the time, our teens are living in an abstract world. That’s just the way the teenage ADHD brain works.
They have a bunch of vague ideas floating around in their heads, and it causes them a huge amount of anxiety because they aren’t sure what needs to be done, how long it’s going to take, and how to get real clear on what they’re going to do.
And as parents, we may not be the best of help, and we also question how to help….
We tiptoe around the issue trying not to set off any bombs that will make them upset at us. They’re getting older, and they want more responsibility, so we are moving away from the constant reminders.
It’s true. They are getting older. They shouldn’t need constant reminding.
They still need some direction to get them on the path to good study habits they will carry with them into adulthood. They haven’t mastered their executive function (and probably won’t master it for a while).
So as you move away from constant reminders, remember, it’s not about making them do it your way. It’s about helping them develop the skills they need to do it on their own successfully—their way.
Keep reading for the 3 hacks to improve your ADHD teen study habits.
ADHD Study Habits Hack #1 – Know your Limit
It might hurt your brain to realize it, but your teenager is “studying” for too long. 🤯
Maybe you’re thinking, “No, they’re not studying enough. They need to stop getting distracted and just get it done.”
But that’s not the way the ADHD brain works.
We all have a time limit for how long we can stay focused. That’s when we can be in our zone of genius and really knock things out, absorb information, engage with the material.
But then BAM. We hit that wall where nothing else can go in and nothing productive can come out.
For our teenagers, they probably have the capacity for about 30 minutes of super-genius focus time, and then they start to fade away. (23 minutes for my son.)
And even though this might seem like a huge disadvantage, the truth is, if your teenagers really knew how long they could study for, they could get even more done and cut their study time in half.
Right now, they think they’re “studying” for an hour at a time, but really they’re studying for about 20 minutes and trying to get back on track for 40.
But if they know that their focus dips at 20 minutes, they can plan for a break at 20 minutes. That gives them 10 minutes to go do something else, have a quick jog around the block (whatever they need!), and then come back to study for another good 20 minutes.
That’s twice the actual work they would normally get done in an hour—even factoring in a little bit of wiggle room. (and yes, daydreaming too!)
I know it sounds a little bit too idealistic, but when you help your teenager uncover his or her best practices, you really can see improvement like this. I help my teen clients find their best way to study with ADHD all the time. It takes weeks and lots of encouragement, but, when they begin implementing this focus time of genius- it works!
They are capable of focusing and finding a way to shift their mindset so that they can get along just fine through high school and into their adult careers.
ADHD Study Habits Hack #2 – Know What Needs to be Done
What’s due? When is it due? How you are going to do it?
These are the three questions I ask my teen clients, and even my own teenagers, on a regular basis.
When the abstract portion of their brain takes over it sabotages their efforts to get anything done. They might think they’ve completed an assignment when they haven’t even started it yet. They may think they’ve read through the details or the instructions, but they haven’t nailed down the specifics.
And it applies to real-life situations too, not just studying.
When we help them figure out when an assignment is due and how they are going to get it done…
…or when we tell them specifically what, when, and how we want them to do something…
…it removes all the abstract and helps eliminate the uncertainty.
If you can eliminate the uncertainty, you can eliminate the anxiety.
It’s that simple.
Our teens are not mind readers. We may feel like it’s overkill, but they really need the specifics to help take any task in their brain from abstract to concrete.
So next time you ask your teen to take out the trash, just know that it’s an abstract concept for them. They’re going to have it floating around somewhere in their brain, and you better believe they will wait until the last minute to get it done.
Try saying, “Please take out the trash and roll it to the bottom of the driveway before we sit down to have dinner.”
Be specific about What-When-How and help eliminate their anxiety.
And train them to ask themselves the questions, “What’s due? When is it due? How you are going to do it?”
ADHD Study Habits Hack #3 – Write. It. Down!
At this point in the year, my teen clients can pretty much predict the questions I’m going to ask them when we hop on our virtual meetings.
And that’s a good thing because it means I’ve been successful at guiding their thought process toward asking all the right questions that will eliminate their uncertainty when it comes to completing assignments and staying on task.
Pretty soon, it will be second nature, and they won’t need my constant reminders.
One of my favorite questions to ask is: “How are you going to remember all this stuff?”
And they know the answer now: “I just need to write it down.”
Every time they say it back to me without my prompting, I do a little happy dance on the inside.
They’ve come to understand that when they write down the details of what needs to be done, they’re actually so much more likely to do it.
There’s something about the process of writing out a to-do list that etches each task on our brains. It’s no longer an abstract concept; it’s a concrete task that needs to be crossed off.
When they write it down intentionally, they remember it, and when they remember it, they will do it.
Some of my teens are writing by hour what they need to do on a chalkboard, in a notebook, on a post-it. By next year, some of them will learn to take it a step further and write it down in a planner. We’re not there quite yet, but we will be!
The important thing is that they are taking what needs to be done and they are writing, seeing, and remembering.
How to Motivate a Teenager with ADHD
It’s not always easy to instill lifelong study habits in your teen. Sometimes you are the last person they want to talk to at the end of the day.
It’s not personal… it might just be the natural way of things—for now.
Stress makes our teens antsy. They take it out on the people closest to them because they haven’t learned how to handle the combination of ADHD, stress, and hormones. For teens with ADHD, life is one big learning curve. And it’s got you googling crazy phrases like, “ADHD Meltdown Teenager” to try to find answers that will make everything feel normal again.
So if you aren’t in that place where you can be parent/coach/manager for your teen, just know that you have options.
If you’re interested in the idea of hiring an ADHD coach for your teen, book a call with me and we can talk about what that might look like for next year.