Parenting My ADHD Teen Goes Much Smoother When I Let Him Have Control

by Kristen Mae

My kids schooled at home all last year, and I work from home, so that meant that for about a year and a half, we were able to sleep in. Most days we didn’t roll out of bed until close to 9:00 a.m. Returning to an early, inflexible wakeup schedule this year was going to be painful — especially for my 15-year-old son, who is definitely not a morning person.

The night before the first day of school, I knocked on the door of my son’s bedroom, preparing to tell him the predetermined times I’d set for him to get off the computer, get to bed, and wake up in the morning. But then I remembered, of all things, a TikTok video I’d seen. In it, a psychologist recommends that parents treat their teenagers more like adults — let them make more decisions on their own rather than dictate to them what needs to be done.

I’d planned to say, “Off in 30 minutes, then time for bed.” Instead, I said, “So, we have to leave at 7:45 tomorrow. When do you think you need to get up to be ready at that time?” He thought about it for a second and then suggested 7:00 a.m.

“Perfect,” I said. “Based on that, what time do you think you should be off gaming so you can get to bed?” He suggested 10:30. I reminded him that at his age he’s really supposed to get closer to nine hours of sleep. He asked if 10:00 was okay, and I told him that sounded great.

No arguing. No groaning. I never had to tell him what to do. With very little guidance from me, he set his own schedule. To some parents, this may seem like no big deal. It may even seem obvious. But Lucas has ADHD. He’s always needed tons of reminders — some would call it nagging — in order to get things done. Mornings in particular were always a bit of a nightmare. Peeling him out of bed every day against his will and attempting to get him to care about timeliness felt like a herculean feat.

But what I’m learning from this amazing psychologist on TikTok is that my teenager is not going to start taking initiative as if by magic — I’ve got to explicitly give it to him. I’ve spent a decade and a half managing the daily minutiae of our lives, but my job in that regard is almost done. In the three years I have left with him at home (*sob*), I’ve got to give him more control over his own life.

At this point, my job is less about telling him what to do and how to do it, and more about showing him that I have confidence in him — that I trust him to set and accomplish his own goals.

“When you focus on your teen, understanding what’s great about them,” says relationship expert Aly Pain, “you lift and empower them to go out and create their own version of success. It’s self-driven — not because they’re under your microscope.”

So much of what this woman has said in her videos has resonated with me. Every time I use one of her tactics with my kids, their eyes light up. They love it when I show I have confidence them. I saw it in my son’s face when I asked him to set his own time to get to bed. It was like a wave of appreciation washed over him, or maybe relief that I’m not just ordering him around like he doesn’t know how to figure out what time he should go to sleep.

I mean, in retrospect, duh?

But also, it’s honestly incredibly difficult as a parent to make the switch from being in control of every tiny detail to then handing over the reins. It feels really, really weird to walk away from this job that I’ve had for so many years. This shifting relationship dynamic is unmooring for both of us.

I’ve done the legwork to get Lucas to a point where he is a respectful, contributing member of the household. I read all the books about helping kids with ADHD thrive. I maintained high expectations of him in terms of his behavior and his efforts at school. But when I was strict with him in elementary and middle school, it was because I believed in him before he believed in himself, and I wanted him to see that he was capable of more than he realized.

He knows now what he’s capable of, and it’s time I stop micromanaging.

Now, in the mornings when I see him stalling or spacing out, rather than rattling off the tasks he still needs to do to get out the door, I ask, “What else do you need to do to make sure we leave on time?” I’m framing what could have been a command as a question — one that requires him to think about two things: “What else do I need to do?” and “How much time do I have to do it?”

Ordering him around isn’t helpful at this point. It makes it look like I lack confidence in his ability to do basic tasks. Again, to some this may seem obvious, but I think, especially for parents who for years have had to be more hands-on, it can be hard to let go.

But I know it’s time. It’s time to admit that sometimes I may not actually know best — or that even when I may believe I know best, I have to step back anyway and let him try, and learn, and perhaps even fail, on his own. He knows himself pretty well. He has his own goals and ambitions. It’s time for him to start making his own rules.

“Motivation doesn’t come from you through them,” Aly Pain says in her video above. “You can’t make anyone care about anything. But you can help them believe that they have what it takes to create success on their own terms.”

It’s hard to let go, but I’m learning.