How Involved Should Parents Be Involved in Therapy for Teenagers with ADHD?

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

In previous posts, I’ve talked about things parents can to do get reluctant teens to attend therapy sessions and what to look for when searching for a therapist. An additional consideration for parents of teens with ADHD is how involved they should be in their child’s treatment once their child is attending sessions with a qualified clinician.

 When a younger child is receiving therapy for ADHD, there’s no question that parents should be highly involved in their treatment. In fact, all evidence-based treatments for ADHD require parents to learn skills and strategies to support their child at home. But when it comes to teenagers, being involved in treatment can feel like more of a gray area for parents. After all, your teenager isn’t a child anymore, and parents want to grant their teen a certain level of independence. Some parents also feel like it would be intrusive to be involved in their teenager’s therapy sessions. They want their teen to have a relationship with their therapist that represents a “safe space” where they don’t have to worry about what their parents think. 

While parent involvement in therapy for teens with ADHD isn’t as black and white as it is for children with ADHD, in almost all cases, parents should still be moderately involved in their treatment – that is, not quite as involved as they would be if their teenager were still a child, but not as hands-off as they would be if their teen were already an adult. Why? 

  1. Treatment for teens with ADHD often includes strategies for creating additional structure and organization in their lives. This involves creating and sticking to routines that work at key times of the day, using tools for organizing and prioritizing their homework, strategies for organizing their possessions, and time management skills. Teens with ADHD are not typically capable of using these skills on their own – at least, not right away. They need help from their parents in order to practice these skills until they eventually become habits. 
  1. Therapists only see the teen once a week for about an hour. In order to make progress, teens need to practice their skills between sessions, and the therapist needs help from parents to hold the teen accountable. 
  1. Many parents of teens with ADHD are highly involved in their day-to-day lives, in an effort to help them compensate for their ADHD symptoms. Ideally, parents will be able to scale back their involvement over time as the teen improves their own skills and becomes more independent. Knowing when and how to pull back as a parent is hard. Part of a teen’s therapy involves coaching their parents on how to best support the teen as they grow and change.

 While parents should be involved in their teen’s therapy, they don’t usually need to attend every session. It’s often important for the teen to have individual sessions with the therapist when they can discuss all the complicated and messy emotions and social situations that come up during adolescence. In general, it’s common for parents to either regularly join for a few minutes toward the end of a session, or to attend occasional scheduled parent-teen sessions that occur in place of the regularly scheduled teen-only sessions.

 When it comes to concerns that the teen won’t fully open up to the therapist if they know that the therapist is also talking to their parents, more often than not, this isn’t much of a problem. Teens can have a great open and supportive relationship with their therapist even if their parents are involved in some of the sessions. Therapists who work with teens are adept at laying clear boundaries, letting the teen know that they won’t share anything with their parents without the teen’s permission (with a handful of exceptions, of course – like if they express intent to harm themselves or someone else), and as long as the therapist demonstrates that they will stick to these boundaries, then teens come to trust the therapist in return.   

When it comes to finding a therapist who is a good fit for your teen, make sure to look for someone who connects with both you and your teenager. The results you see from therapy will so much greater when you are both involved.


 

ABOUT DR. MARY ROONEY

Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.

ABOUT HUNTINGTON

Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit www.huntingtonfranchise.com.

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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