How To Help Teens with ADHD Be More Productive

Therapy for teens with ADHD in Newport Beach and Irvine. Psychologists and counselors for teens with ADHD in Orange County California.

It’s already hard for teens to get work done. ADHD doesn’t help. Have you had this conversation at home? “Son, you need to take care of your room. It’s a disaster in there.” “Uh huh.” “Did you hear me?” “Yep, the room, got it.” Hours pass as the room remains disastrous... “why is your room not clean yet?!” “What room?” Every parent and teen knows how real the struggle is.

When school is out, or the weekend is here, teens (particularly those with ADHD) tend to collapse into a puddle of poor productivity. Homework and chores fall low on their list of priorities – much lower than the beloved phone, social media, and video games. As grades diminish and the to-do list piles up over time, parents tend to lose hope and patience with their teens.

The team at OC Psychology Center for Assessment & Psychotherapy knows how many of the symptoms of ADHD make this problem worse for teens, acting as productivity killers for even the most motivated and dedicated teenagers.  Let’s dive in to what the Top 5 Productivity Killers look like and what you as a teen or parent can do about them.   

Check Out These 5 Tips To Help Your Teen With ADHD Be More Productive

Tip #1: Reduce Chaos. Teens with ADHD need less distraction and more organization to be productive.

Chaos, or the opportunity for unstructured randomness in your teen’s day, provides a breeding ground for poor concentration and focus.  Your teen may try to complete chores or finish their homework, only to be distracted by a dozen other activities and interactions.  This leaves the work half-finished and the parents fully-frustrated. 

In a recent blog post, we talked about the importance of setting a routine to help keep your teen on-track.  In addition to establishing a routine, you can also find ways to reduce external chaotic distractors from interrupting your teen’s workflow, such as:

  • Turn off media distractions, such as the television, until work is complete

  • Provide a quiet space to complete homework (preferably other than their bedroom)

  • Have your teen use headphones while listening to instrumental music to cancel out external noise

  • Use checklists to provide step-by-step instructions for certain tasks

Tip #2: Reduce Boredom. Teens with ADHD need to be stimulated and engaged to be productive.

Teens with ADHD are prone to boredom.  Unless the activity is exciting or engaging, your teen may not feel motivated to stick with it.  Unfortunately, chores and homework tend to be less than entertaining.  If your teen tends to complain about being bored or under-stimulated while completing their to-dos, here are three things you can add to help:

  1. Add challenge or competition – Many teens with ADHD actually find themselves more engaged in a task when the difficulty level is increased.  When the chore feels bland or pointless, try adding a countdown timer or putting them head-to-head with a sibling in a sibling clean-off. Add a reward at the end of the task to add extra motivation.

  2. Add music – With some caution (you do not want to create distraction, of course), have your teen play their favorite music while working.  This extra stimulation can help decrease the distraction-seeking behaviors that often come with ADHD. 

  3. Add food – Just like with music, having your teen snack while completing homework can increase the level of stimulation just enough to help them focus. 

Tip #3: Minimize Multitasking. Teens with ADHD think they are master multitaskers…they are not.

Teens with ADHD are much more distractible than other teens. Distractibility often leads to overstimulation and engaging in too many tasks at once.  This leads to inefficiency, which makes the task feel much harder to accomplish. Research shows that multitasking is really a form of divided attention, which can limit productivity. Teens with ADHD may think they are multitasking, when really they are distracted. If your teen tends to be good at starting their work, only to bounce between several activities without really finishing anything, here are some things to try:

  • Take away the cellphone

  • Take away the cellphone

  • Also, try taking away the cellphone

Seriously, your teen’s cellphone is the most likely cause of their multitasking.  They carry millions of more enjoyable activities in the palm of their hand – no wonder they aren’t motivated to finish cleaning the bathroom! 

However, if the cellphone isn’t the problem, you can also try limiting the number of expectations or to-dos given at once.  Rather than giving your teen a list of chores, try giving them one at a time with clear expectations about what needs to be accomplished.

Tip #4 – Limit Daydreaming. Teens with ADHD often cope with frustration by daydreaming about more enjoyable activities.

When teens with ADHD sit down to do work they are likely anticipating the experience to be difficult. Not because they aren’t intelligent, but because they know it will take a great deal of energy and effort to stay focused and push through their work. This leads many teens to daydream of less frustrating activities, wishing they were doing something else, something more enjoyable.  When your teen stares blankly at their textbook, they may be sitting and thinking about how much they would rather be on their Xbox.  This is an internal form of distraction, a sort of dissociation from the present moment that distracts them from completing the task at hand.

  • Set a Reminder Timer - Set a reminder timer to go off every 5 or 10 minutes during a study period. This serves as a reminder for your teen to re-orient to their work. Five minutes of distraction hurts productivity much less than 30 minutes of distraction.

  • Make work meaningful (and more tolerable) - Let your teen know that as soon as they finish their homework, chores, or other tasks, they will have access to the more enjoyable activity they would rather be doing, i.e. Xbox or youtube. This way instead of daydreaming about these activities, they will know they are within their reach and just on the other side of the difficult task. If they become distracted provide them with reminders “As soon as you finish your homework you can play Xbox”.

You can help your teen deal with these moments by encouraging them to be more present, but ultimately this kind of thinking is best addressed through psychotherapy.  If your teen tends to fixate on preferred activities in a way that distracts them from getting work done, let us know!  Our team at the OC Psychology Center is here to help. 

Tip #5 – Manage Exhaustion. Teens with ADHD expend a lot of energy trying to focus and be still.

Teens with ADHD work hard to keep their focus in-tact during school and work and so when they return home, they have little energy remaining for other necessary tasks.  This is made worse by the tendency of ADHD medications to wear off later in the day. 

Fortunately, the teenage brain is in a state of rapid growth and development. This means that as your teen develops increased capacity to push through exhaustion and low motivation, they will become stronger and more resilient.  Of course, making that sort of push is no easy feat.  Here are some things you can try to help your teen get through the slump of exhaustion:

  • Reward and recognize – When your teen puts in extra effort or works through difficult tasks while exhausted, point it out!  Encourage your teen and express pride in their work ethic. 

  • Provide space for rest – Make sure your teen has adequate time to recharge.  With the demands of school, work, sports, church, and family time, your teen may feel at their limits before the work day is done.  Try to schedule in time for them to be themselves and rejuvenate.

  • Set realistic standards – Parents want their children to succeed and live up to their potential.  However, we sometimes push our teens to work harder without being realistic or attuned to their personal goals.  Set standards of achievement that are appropriate and support your teen in their journey of growth.  

What else can I do to help my teen?

We are here for you!  If you believe your teen might have ADHD, we offer psychological testing and assessment to help give your family answers.  If your teen has been diagnosed with ADHD and would like additional support, we also offer therapy for teens specifically designed to address ADHD symptoms

If you or your child are interested in our therapy or assessment services, contact OC Psychology Center for Assessment and Psychotherapy.  We would love to answer any questions you might have about the process. 

Our office is located in Newport Beach, California.  We work with families from all over the region – Newport Beach, Irvine, Orange, Fountain Valley, Costa Mesa, Anaheim, Huntington Beach, Mission Viejo, Laguna Beach, Rancho Santa Margarita, Aliso Viejo, Laguna Hills, Tustin, Seal Beach, and beyond.  If you feel we would be a good fit for you or your child’s mental health needs, let’s connect!

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