Teens with ADHD are more prone to take risks and act impulsively than other kids. They can struggle to resist temptations and consider consequences. And they often have a hard time getting themselves out of tricky or dangerous situations.
That doesn’t mean kids with ADHD can’t develop tools and strategies for making better, safer choices. Here are eight things you can do to help your child reduce risky behaviors.
1. Understand your child’s challenges.
People rely on executive functioning skills to make good decisions and then act on them. But kids and teens with ADHD have weaknesses in those skills. They often struggle with working memory, self-control and flexible thinking. Understanding those weak spots allows you to help your child develop those skills. It can also keep you from making incorrect judgments about your child.
To learn more, watch as an expert talks about the connection between executive function and risky behavior.
2. Discuss realities.
Kids with ADHD are often overly optimistic. They may take risks believing nothing bad will happen. Your teen needs to know the reality of certain situations.
For instance, car accidents can happen close to home, so it’s important to follow all safety rules every time you drive. Your teen may argue or insist it will all be fine, so it can also help to provide evidence, like research or statistics.
3. Set rules—and consequences for breaking them.
Teens with ADHD benefit from rules and structure. It can help put parameters around their behavior. But many teens with ADHD are also more likely to break rules than their peers. Make sure you’ve set clear rules and consequences for breaking them. Enforce those consequences in a calm, matter-of-fact way.
Read what experts say about when to let teens with self-control issues face the consequences of their actions.
4. Talk openly about drug and alcohol use.
It’s not uncommon for teens to experiment with drinking or drugs. But teens with ADHD can be at risk for substance abuse. (Research shows the risk is actually lower for kids who take ADHD medication.)
It’s important not to downplay or dismiss any use of alcohol and drugs. Sometimes teens with ADHD use these substances as a way to self-medicate. So talk about the potential risks of drug use, but also about stress, anxiety and depression—all of which are common with ADHD.
5. Brainstorm strategies and approaches.
Trouble with flexible thinking can make it hard to quickly come up with new strategies and game plans. So teens with ADHD may not know how to get out of tricky situations they find themselves in.
Walk through common situations your child might encounter—like getting into a car with a friend who’s been drinking. Then brainstorm safe and smart ways to handle them. Give your child an escape hatch for situations that don’t feel safe. Have a rule established that you’ll pick up your child at any time, from any location, with no questions asked at the time.
6. Help your child be more cautious.
Some teens with ADHD may be less impulsive than they were as kids. But impulse control may continue to be a problem for many, and that can make your teen be less cautious in the moment.
Talk about ways to be safe before a risky situation arises. That might include everything from wearing seatbelts to avoiding parties where your child knows there will be drugs or alcohol. It also means discussing the need to use protection if your child is sexually active. Make sure to talk openly about the very real consequences of not taking precautions.
7. Discuss medication misuse and abuse.
Teens with ADHD may face peer pressure to sell or give out their ADHD stimulant medications. Make your child aware of the risks of either misusing medication himself, or of giving it to other kids.
Some kids with (and without) ADHD are sensory-seeking. But using too many stimulants can have dangerous side effects. And in some states a person may be held legally responsible if someone they gave their medication to gets sick.
Read more about ADHD medication misuse and abuse.
8. Expect and accept mistakes.
Chances are your teen will take some risks no matter what you do. (That’s true of teens who don’t have ADHD, too.) Try to remember there are reasons your child is more prone to take risks, and that it may take more reminders or even some negative consequences to change that behavior.
Do your best to not get angry or be overly critical. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open. Your child will continue to need your guidance and support, no matter what happens.
There are other ways to reduce risky behavior. Help your teen find a first job that’s a good fit. Discover ways to improve self-esteem in teens. You may also want to consider ADHD treatment options that could help your child gain self-control.
If your child starts engaging in harmful behavior and you’re unsure what to do, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Explore this list of resources and support for you and your teen.