Advice for teen motivation: Anyone else... - CHADD's ADHD Pare...

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Advice for teen motivation


Anyone else struggling with this? My HFA/ADHD HS freshman had a great middle school experience and completely fell apart this year, particularly the past semester. She took mostly honors classes (a mistake) and there were a lot of assignments.

--Her 504 allowed her to complete partial assignments but that didn't help. Unmotivated to do schoolwork, procrastinated, finished work but didn't turn it in. She blew off assignments with small point values, figuring they wouldn't matter. They did - it added up over time and incomplete work is always a 0.

--Some teachers do not have homework websites so there's no way for parents to keep track of what's assigned and when it's due. Her school counselor was incredibly helpful, but by the end of the semester, her interventions weren't working. My teen wasn't doing her part.

--She had a study buddy for each class and we required a checkin with each teacher after every class. She didn't do either one - said she was but actually wasn't.

--Therapists told us to let it happen - until she's motivated to do the work, she just won't. No amount of carrots or sticks help. Counseling and medication don't seem to be working.

Any advice for next school year?

21 Replies

We had the same thing happen in Middle School. My grandson is in honors magnet program and took Chinese as part of the program. I wish I'd known that he didn't have to take those too cuz he hasn't been able to pass the class practically all year.

Tutoring helps him a lot. He likes working one-on-one with the teachers and catches up in these sessions.

He does not have an IEP but his brother does. And we limit homework and give him extra days to get assignments back in.

I have a 16 yr old who's a junior in high school, is a great kid, and has ADD inattentive type with dyslexia. Not sure I have any real answers for you, but since she's a few years ahead in school I can tell you what's happened to her because all 3 years of high school (so far!) have been pretty similar to what you describe. Lots of sick days out of school (15-20%) but that's happened since 2nd grade, lots of high anxiety (to the point of mentally paralyzed), social withdrawal (but she does have a small group of good friends who are rather similar to her), and even crippling low self-esteem. We have tried so many things to help but...basically her executive functions at the front of the brain (but NOT her intelligence at the back of the brain) are maybe 3-4 yrs behind in development so how could she ever thrive in the demanding world of high school with competing deadlines? She can't: every year she limps along and barely passes. Fingers crossed for this year.

Great small middle school experience (considering her challenges) with a 504 Plan, then went to a large high school and fell apart. We finally started ADHD meds in 9th grade although she'd received the ADD/ADHD diagnosis a year or so before and we just kept hoping to address it with behavior therapy through a 1-2x/week "educational consultant" who specialized in ADHD/ADD (big mistake to waste MORE time). School counselors not helpful really as they had a mere 20 min to give a student per week and nothing much was achieved. Also it seemed that the counselor could only make suggestions to teachers but it was up to the teachers to accept the accommodations.

In 10th grade we revised to an IEP (Individual Education Plan) to get the teachers to take things more seriously and she was assigned a case manager with a provided amount of time to spend with her assigned students. We're in Washington State but I'm not sure if this is common for other states. The IEP definitely helped but maybe too much in some ways. Although no assignments were shortened, now she had no points removed for late submittals. It's good but what happened for her is that they just pile up, never being completed or turned in. That equals never-ending anxiety year after year. Near the end of each semester, her psychologist will make her remove everything from her black hole of a backpack, sort into subject piles, then she mails large envelopes of the partially finished work to the teachers at the school. It's a bit crazy, yes, but partial points are better than no points! Another thing the IEP did was provide her with a study period (officially called a Teacher's Assistant class) at the school where she seems to study much better compared to home where she often daydreams out the window. Also, the IEP allowed us to come with class-specific solutions with teachers like in-person meetings after school to discuss chapters (easy for her to do) rather than produce written chapter notes. Currently her history teacher will use her chapter test score to base a grade for her chapter notes and she doesn't even meet with her anymore because the teacher knows that our daughter knows the subject. Time management and prioritization are big issues. I have given her a big timer clock and made up lots of different organization methods for her try over the years. Sometimes she kind of uses them, or maybe it's only when I'm around to keep the nagging down. Currently I have her a clock time schedule to help manage it: the first ten minutes of each hour are for her break, otherwise she's to be working hard without distractions. That way, she can't just say she happens to be on a break every time I walk in and I don't have to keep a time log to see if it's true.

In hindsight now, I wonder if we should qualify the IEP's unlimited turn in time without deducted points to specific large projects or essay assignments. I wonder if we should set specific homework hours of X to X so there's some reserved personal time...but I know from experience that does NOT actually result in her working harder during the time she does have like you might logically think. It's really challenging to find solutions but it's not logical. No study buddies like you mention though and I don't think I'd want to put a mature student through that! And same challenge of class websites by many teachers that aren't really up to date (it's not officially required for them to do) so instead we have to go by the grading webpage which is really an after-the-fact kind of thing but doesn't help to plan and prioritize current work.

Her dyslexia challenges are primarily writing composition and spelling-based rather than reading-based after she had a few years of expensive private reading tutoring in mid-late elementary school. Thank goodness we found the money to do that back then! Even so, her "foundation" as a student has a lot of holes in it which makes it hard to build on. Over the years we've used a variety of tutors with a little success, but not much. I tried and tried to find a behavioral therapist who would come to our home a few times a week to check in with her on her homework assignments, prioritize her time, estimate her time, etc. but none were either available or they wouldn't come to your home. And none took insurance. By her teenage years she had become pretty opposed to another tutor or counselor to "fix her" as she said. Not a surprising reaction considering all she's been through and how teenagers just want independence from their parents. She does have a good almost weekly psychologist she's seen for almost 3 years now but it took one full year for her to even start opening up to her! I have considered a 1:1 school for individual learning at her own pace but she absolutely won't leave her longtime friends at her current school so we've respected her wishes and realize that those friendships help to keep her afloat and going down this difficult path she has to travel.

As is often the case, people with dyslexia (not sure about ADD/ADHD) have above average IQs but they just can't produce all the written work required. They're unbalanced. Pile onto that inattentive ADD and it's the perfect storm. Our daughter is smart at science, math, history and art so she insisted on taking the advanced classes (honors, AP) in world history and chemistry. Both required a much more mature student to stay organized, produce all the written work and labs, and oh yeah, remember to TURN IT IN. Each time she ended up failing the first semester, then withdrawing the second semester. It's heartbreaking and self-esteem crushing for her when it's a subject she's good at. She also tried taking a 2nd year of foreign language, TWICE, and had to drop each time. So sad because that language is of her genetic heritage and is really important to her. She was determined to take classes that interested her regardless of the grade she received. It's a good attitude except that in high school the teacher can possibly block you from continuing the second semester, especially in a subject like chemistry where the knowledge keeps building rather than stand-alone sections and there's no way you can keep up in the 2nd half) - and also her GPA is around a 2.0 so she'll never get into a traditional 4-yr university.

While she tests quite well on her SATs (except the essay portion), yay!, and has a number of college offers by auto-mail (they haven't seen her GPA or absentee rate yet), she would never make it moving away for college even if she was somehow accepted. Her pathway to a career will look different and her career itself will look different. She'll find her way eventually. We just have to keep giving her unconditional love, encouragement and support...and ignore all the thriving accomplishments of our friends/relatives with the same age kids. It's not a competition and that's no guarantee of happiness later in life anyway. Remember this in the next year or so when all the pre-college touring and research start up begins. It's hard but keep your eye on the big picture of what's best for your student!

Overall, she is almost always doing homework and if she's taking a break she feels guilty. She misses out on family outings (bike rides, etc) or we chose not to do them because she can't come with us. We don't take any vacation-trips during the school breaks (winter break, spring break) because she has to do homework and the travel would use up time plus she'd just be stuck doing homework while the rest of us ski or are at the beach. I only work part time to be available to her so that's lost income. Besides her own laundry and room, she has only a few chores around the house and they're on the weekend (her younger sibling has taken over other chores for her). She won't swallow pills so her ADD med options are quite limited and seem ineffective so far anyway. Thankfully she has no interest in driving (we live in a city so she just walks, uses Metro bus, Uber/Lyft or I drive her). Her self-esteem is "way negative zero" but surprisingly she's not suicidal although mild self-harm is a concern. It's heart breaking and affects the whole family. It's like watching a slow motion train wreck and there's nothing that seems to stop it...except for time for the pre-frontal cortex and its executive functions to mature. Be patient!

Sorry I know this paints a bleak picture of the high school years so far. It's important to understand that a person's self-esteem is greatly affected when an essential part of their being, something they can't change, is devalued or attacked. In contrast to being able to shake something off when it's a short-term undesirable thing. If you're teased for a bad test grade which is only temporary and specific to that one test, you would feel temporarily bad but not have your foundation crumble. When you're teased for being stupid it's not temporary - it's an attack on your entire existence so your self esteem drops. Multiply that by many years or all your years and it's devastating. It's an important distinction.

Now for the bright side of things: as long as she survives her high school years, she can then spend her time doing the things she's good at and slowly rebuild her self esteem! No essays required. She'll likely go to a local community college for 1-2 years to mature then to a specialty school (still expensive!) to earn a BA/BS degree for a career in a science-tech or artistic-tech industry and she'll be awesome there! She'll find her nerd-geeky tribe and be happy. She'll thrive in the right place!

I think our culture has developed a narrow idea of what success and education look like and consequently that causes all the people who don't fit that mold or can keep up with the schedule timing of development to be labeled as inferior. It's almost like brainwashing because that's ridiculous to think everybody has to have a 4+ year college degree (and into massive debt) when it's just not true. There are many paths to the end goal of a productive, healthy and happy life!! Don't judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, right?!

Sorry it's antidotal rather than specific rules to follow but the answers look different for different people. I hope this has been helpful to you and others.

Thanks - all perspectives and stories are helpful. I've been told to hang on through HS. It's just not a good fit for some kids. Next year my daughter is doing half online (co-enrollment college courses - bonus!). We're hoping that helps. Thanks for the reply.

K0205 in reply to bdhb96

This is similar to my 16 yr old son as far as the procrastination and everything associated with school. We are trying to plan for his future and it is something I’ve wondered about. I am concerned about him going straight to a 4 yr university because of his unieganization and procrastination. I don’t want he or I to try to make ends meeet with the financial areas of school if he isn’t going to be able to do his part. He’s thought about the military but I’ve read they won’t accept you with ADD. I think a trade as a journey man right away may be good for him since he wants to start working. I’m trying to find him a part time job & am concerned about that as well! They need to figure it out for themselves I guess & suffer the consequences but it is emotionally exhausting for us. We are too in the state of Washington & this state is one of the worst states for special needs & special education training with in the schools. It is such a need here. We had one teacher in 5th grade who had special education training & handled him very well. No drama & did not treat him like something was wrong with him.

It sounds like you are doing all you can to give her resources. It’s hard to find. My son simply says he doesn’t want to go to a therapist anymore because he doesn’t want to feel different from his friends that way.


School is mainly the issue in my household as well, I'm so grateful for the summer break. Normally, parents are over joy when school reopens, for me, I'm glad it's shutting down for the summer. My middle school son who is going to the 8th grade, (it was a long school year.), Your dilemma sounds like mind, my son doesn't take the lead with his education, it's like he's clueless that if you don't get your work done, you will fail. I also had him check with each teacher every day after each class to make sure he had his assignment, test etc; whatever info he needed to stay on track. He did this for two and half quarters, but the last quarter, it was like a long crawl to the finish line. I believe he did well in the beginning because it was his first year in middle school and a new school. The school he attends is relatively small, it goes from 7th grade- to 12th. One of my concerns, is the more comfortable he gets at this school, the less work he will do. Because of my stubbornness, I want let him slack behind and stay on him constantly and I have to admit, it's wearing me down. At the end of this year, he was placed on new medication, Vyanase, and it appeared to give him some jolt. My strategy for next school year?. First, to see where he is at with the medication, second, I usually don't do the reward thing but I may give it a try. I'm also going back to having him assign a case manager, the more he knows someone is checking up on him at school, the better he respond. Maybe some kind of accountability will work for your daughter. I believe the best atmosphere for children with ADHD, is home school, or a specialize school. One I can't do and the other I'm not aware of in my town. My other son who has ADHD/HFA is in elementary school and gets his work done , but have emotional behavioral issues. I guess another thing for us is to analyze our kids see what makes them tick then use it to our advantage. I know my son loves watching TV, (this is monitor what he watch and computers). Also every year, I meet each teacher, explain that he should sit up front, that's on his 504 plan as well, go over expectations and I get emails. If needed, I have excess to the 504 coordinator, which I may use more often now that he's moving up. I wish I had more insight, but most of the time I'm winging it.

Oh yeah, the advice from the therapist to allow your daughter to just fail until she gets motivated is terrible, what if she never gets motivated and ends up failing out , living at home . Just the thought of that is my motivation to stay on my sons' case.

Aniusia in reply to Hidden

Alex, how I understand ... I could not describe our situation better. I am mentally exhausted, it feels like I go to school again ( just 1000% harder) , I can’t wait for the vacation and I will burn all the notes, notebooks, folders and agendas on my back yard. And I will drink wine and enjoy the 2 months of “holiday “. Good luck to you and your son. So bad all the parents here can’t get together and talk and share experiences live . Hang in there.

Hidden in reply to Aniusia

I did the same thing, all the old stuff in his book bag, I got rid of quickly, not sure why, I guess it was a reminder of the school year struggles. I did him and me a favor, he's spending his summer with my mother, three states over, and I'm re- cooping!!! and I'm loving every moment of it.

doughertyfamily in reply to Hidden

Thanks for the info - what is Vayanese? We're starting on a Vayarin, a fish oil supplement that helps behavior management. We'll see if that helps.

Hidden in reply to doughertyfamily

It's another form of Adderrall which he was on but lost it's potential, It's a stimulant. My son took Adderrall in the am, and Focalin during school in the pm, the pm meds was suppose to get him through homework after school. I would have been better off giving him coffee or mt.dew.

bdhb96 in reply to Hidden

Yes, totally agree that the therapist's "old school" advice to just let her fail until she can motivate herself is terrible. You should absolutely find a new therapist immediately. Seriously. Do not waste any more time with them! They can end up doing more harm than good. I know that seems shocking but I learned my lesson with an older man therapist during the middle school years. He didn't want to give up her but it was the wrong approach and I kicked myself later. I should have known when he started things out by firmly establishing himself as the alpha dog to get her to be submissive...maybe a better approach with a hyperactive young teen boy (not sure thou) and NOT an introverted highly anxious inattentive ADD girl with dyslexia. And he advertised himself as an ADHD and LD (learning differences) specialist! I regret wasting the two years of time trying it his way.

While there is some truth to the fact that the change must come from the person with the challenges, that does not at all mean that their support system (parents, family, therapist, school, etc) should throw up their hands and say we give up. Doing that is to re-enforce the low self-esteem issues they've built up over the years and they will think they're not worth the effort from others as well. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy to a lifetime of painful underachievement for them...and a lifetime of regret for you. This is how teens become suicide risks or turn to addictive behaviors (drugs, gaming, sex, shopping, whatever) to escape reality. Behaviors that can easily carry on into adulthood as a way of handling anything difficult. Seriously. DO NOT do that to your child!

You have to believe in them until they can believe in themselves. You have to be their scaffolding until they no longer need it. Never mind that YOU have your own moments of wanting to give up simply because you're exhausted and you hate the nagging person you've been forced to become - don't let them see that! You have to find your own source of solid encouragement to help YOU be the rock for your child. My sister fills this role for me. She always has faith that my daughter will find her way and thrive in the end. Find your own rock (or online community) to help you through these hard times but don't let your child know you ever had any doubts. They'll understand years later, know the selflessness that parenting requires (especially when they have their own child with ADD/ADHD), and thank you for it. Hang in there!

Sorry, but what is the HFA? (in HFA/ADHD)

high functioning autism

Thanks for the acronym's definition. Yes, I've heard that one too.


I wanted to chime in with something related to motivation. I’m not a therapist; I am a mom to a son with ADHD (he’s an adult now) and I am now a parenting coach for parents of teens with ADHD as well as a licensed school counselor and I actually think there is a lot of truth to what that therapist said: until someone is internally motivated, they simply won’t do what needs to be done. BUT, (and this is a very important 'BUT' that maybe that other therapist didn't emphasize enough) when you are dealing with teens with ADHD, you must handle this motivation-building process in a strategic (and collaborative) way.

What I mean by that is that you don’t give up and just ‘let them fail’, but instead, you involve them in setting goals and owning their choices (the collaborative part), and then you let them experience the results (consequences) of their choices in a controlled way (the strategic part).

The results are that they become motivated to change (and get the help they need) because they learn that their choices/actions have results and if they don’t like the results they are getting, they need to make different choices. And, when they become motivated to get different results, they become much more willing to listen to your input, to take advantage of the support and help available and to use the tools and techniques available to them.

The alternative to helping them develop motivation in this way is what many of you (and me too, back in the day!) are experiencing: you end up caring way more than they do about things, you’re going crazy trying to check up on things, follow through on things and take care of things that should be your teen’s responsibility, and you spend most of your time trying to control the uncontrollable, (not to mention all the yelling, nagging and frustration which makes you miserable and negatively affects your relationship with your teen).

I know that some of you are worried that if your teen fails (and fails to become motivated), that it’s a slippery slope down to having him/her still living at home when they’re adults. I used to worry about that too but I have since come to believe the exact opposite: you run an even greater risk of your teen being unprepared to deal with life as an adult when you do too much for your teen and shield them from the opportunity to own their choices AND their results.

Again, I’m not suggesting that parents just give up or become completely hands off. Instead, I believe the key during the teen years (especially with ADHD) is to stay involved strategically and collaboratively, (rather than in a helicopter-y or enabling way).

It’s a fact that kids with ADHD need more help and guidance and tools than other kids. And, it’s also true that they can be years behind developmentally that their peers. But no matter what challenges they are facing, the most important first step—especially if they are resistant or even defiant about getting help and using the tools and strategies they need in order to succeed now and as adult despite their ADHD—is to help them get to a point where they see that they do in fact need help in certain areas in order to get desired results and avoid unpleasant ones, and that they become willing to change what they're doing AND willing to accept help and support.

If you want to read more about my thoughts and experiences related to motivation and using natural and logical consequences in a strategic, collaborative way, free to this article: and this article:

Hope this helps!

Joyce Mabe

Hidden in reply to Hidden

Thank you for the article, it was definitely an ah ha moment. I truly agree that fussing hasn't result in any changes. One of my question though is, if our children lack the ability of hindsight and foresight how do they transition to motivation and accountability? For instance, my son (14) missed his school bus to go get on the computer at the band room, in this instance hindsight will come into play, ( I'm not where I'm suppose to be, the bus will not wait on me, and nobody is going to give me a warning that the bus is here). Natural he calls me at work to get him. Certainly, the consequence was that he missed the bus and he had to wait a significant time for me to come pick him up. He was scolded, informed what problems his choice lead to and was told next time he will walk home. Three weeks later, he repeated himself (no he did not walk home because a storm was coming)- ( but now foresight comes into play, didn't you do exactly the same thing). But one will think after the first ordeal he will make better choices. My sons definitely lack hindsight and foresight their are repetitive person of poor decision making, that's my main ordeal with my sons, any suggestions?.

Hidden in reply to Hidden

I understand your concern but in my experience, kids with ADHD (who often have the hindsight/foresight issues you describe) benefit very well from the strategic, collaborative approach to helping them with motivation because what the process does is help them develop the motivation within themselves to find and use tools, techniques and strategies that will work for them to bridge those gaps-- now and into adulthood.

So, in the case of your son, the goal you are shooting for is that he starts to see these

things like missing the bus as a problem HE WANTS to solve (which usually won't happen until he feels the full brunt of the negative results he gets when he does things the way he's always done them.)

That's where natural and logical consequences come in. When he is allowed to feel the sting of consequences*, he will be much more likely to become motivated

to find ways to keep those consequences from happening again--like for example, deciding he better set an alarm on his phone to remind him of the time the bus is going to be leaving).

*NOTE: in terms of consequences, I prefer natural and logical consequences because that's what happens in the real world, which is what you're wanting to prepare him for. (Scolding and lectures and unrelated punishments just don't work; in fact, they usually backfire and create more resistance or defiance.)

So, in this specific example, where he misses the bus time and time again, natural/logical consequences could be something like each time it happens, he has to find his own way home (yes, even if it's about to storm) or he has to wait til you are off of work and then pay you for the ride (out of his allowance or by pawning something) the same amount an Uber or Lyft would cost to drive him home.

Trust me: If you use the strategic, collaborative approach I suggest and you calmly and matter of factly allow natural/logical consequences to happen enough times, he will pretty quickly become motivated to find some solutions (tools, techniques and support) to help himself get different results.

Hidden in reply to Hidden

it took me a moment to process your concept but now I understand. my sons and I have been doing the same thing over and over and it's time for me to make that transition where instead of me providing the sting , they learn for themselves. The word sting is a interesting word in itself because it reminded me of the bee sting incident. My son had started mowing the grass and there were several incidents where he did not pay attention and ran over several items each time he cut the grass. The first time he ran over the water hose he didn't tell me about it , the next time he cut the grass it was something else and so on. No matter how much I yelled at him he needed to pay attention and not run things over even discussing the danger, it fell on deaf ears. Then one day not paying attention, he was bitten by a yellow jacket, ( he's not allergic to bee stings) but every since then I see him outside being very cautious. Your theory is well taken and if I fall back into my old behavior pattern, I will think of the bee sting incident, it had better lasting effect then me carrying on. Thank you! .

Thank you! Wonderful advice.


You mentioned that your daughter taken honors classes were a mistake, Why?, is it because of the work load?. I have been advocating for my HFA/ADHD son to be place in honor classes, but was told the AP ( advance program) doesn't begin until middle school, he has one more year in elementary school and I wanted to find out rather if this is still something to proceed with. Since kindergarten he has been an A-B student, at least two school year he was all A's. I thought being more challenge will keep him busy?. The school did refer him to the Beta Club, I believe it's national known for students with exceptional grades, you have to be refer by the teachers. I was quite surprise to see the invitation with his last report card.

doughertyfamily in reply to Hidden

For my daughter, middle school GT program was challenging but not overwhelming, which is why her counselor (who is the HS's 8th grade transition contact) and we (parents) thought it would work. She didn't exhibit extreme anxiety and depression until her freshman year. We expected with her track record that she would be able to handle the 4 core honors classes + honors Spanish II and 2 bands - one was a tryout honor group. I think the major downfall was dropping study hall to participate in the upper level band. It was a double-edged sword - no time at school to reach teachers and get work done, but the opportunity to participate with a very talented group. Bottom line now that grades are in - she still got all As and Bs with many, MANY missing assignments. So that presents a challenge going into 10th grade. I'm gold the honors chem teacher absolutely doesn't accept late work. We'll see how that meshes with her 504 that specifies she can turn in work late and do partial assignments.

I have a 13 year old daughter going into high school next month (We are year round). She has ADD, anxiety, depression, and ODD. She went to public school the first 5 years...then homeschooled for 3 years due to her anxiety that resulted in an eating disorder. Then back to public for 8th grade because she craved the social piece. We tried to manage her ADD with supplements and a therapist, but like you mentioned big waste of money and time. She has struggled navigating socially as well as academics with me micromanaging her every move. Not good for our relationship or my sanity. We just got a 504 we can take to the high school and looking into a life coach to help with her executive functioning. That's where she struggles the most and it really effects her self-esteem. We also did start her on meds a month ago but are doing some adjusting so that is not helping at the moment. On top of all of this she has completely lost all interest in her activities. She doesn't want to do anything but snapchat and be caught up in friend drama. She has distanced herself from all of her old friends from her theater she was in for 3 years. She was getting rejected from them and other peer groups at school because of her inappropriate impulsive behavior, and negative self talk. It pushes the good kids away and attracts the kids that have low academic performance and bad behavior. This is where she identifies. Ugh. So frustrating. She is a beautiful girl with talents and potential but sees none of them. Its heartbreaking and seems hopeless at times :(

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