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Does Having ADD Lower Responsibility?

answered 09:09 PM EST, Tue November 20, 2012
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anonymous anonymous
For a teen with ADD how do you deal with rule breaking? My son is 15 and he has ADD that was recently diagnosed and I know that this limits his ability to make good choices and he is prone to make stupid impulsive decisions. Last night he snuck out of the house and he and his friend drove the family car around, neither had a license, just for fun and just because his friend called him up late and asked him to do it. He knows now that it was a stupid and dangerous thing to do but at the moment he just does it without thinking it through. Do I punish him as severely as I would punish any of his siblings for the same offense or do I take it a little easier on him because of his diminished capacities? He is my youngest of 5 and I thought I knew how to parent adolescents but he is challenging.

David Johnson Says...

I congratulate you on asking such a great question! Raising adolescents is not easy and as you have found, having experience doesn't necessarily make parenting easier or more successful.

While it maybe true that your son's ADD limits his ability to focus and therefore make decisions, it is counter productive to treat him as if he has diminished capacity. Your son has to learn how to deal with this world without special favors from anyone. He may have to work harder, he may have to endure more mistakes and pain. That school of hard knocks will teach him all he needs to know to survive. So no, don't treat him differently.

Teach him skills to compensate for his ADD. There are many online sources of exercises to increase his working memory. Concentration and focus is what is impaired in ADD. Working memory is a temporary storage system while we solve the immediate problem. Strong working memory helps to compensate for distractions.

Contrary to our cultural beliefs, punishment is not an effective method for disciplining children. While it may control a child's behavior while you are supervising them, it motivates children to disobey again when you are not around and they think they can't be caught. Worse, children can become resentful, damaging the parent-child relationship. The best method is positive reinforcement or rewarding good behavior.

But of course a parent needs a method to deal with misbehavior. Withholding reward or negative reinforcement is the best option. There are two basic kinds of negative reinforcers, natural consequences and logical consequences. Natural consequences are preferred but they are difficult to arrange. Natural consequences occur whether we are around or not. For example, driving without a license and training may lead to an accident, a ticket, perhaps even losing the privilege of qualifying for a drivers license at age 16 in some states. Sometimes, natural consequences are all that is necessary for a child to learn.

But parents are pretty good at protecting their children from undesirable natural consequences, and sometimes children are lucky enough to avoid them. Then it's up to parents to impose logical consequences. Logical consequences resemble natural consequences in that they logically follow from the misbehavior. They are imposed by the parents and so a bit of finesse is helpful to avoid building resentment like punishment does. Thus it is important to explain the logical connection of the consequence to the misbehavior.

Withholding privileges is commonly used. Grounding can be interpreted as logical because the child has demonstrated he makes poor choices when he is on his own in the community. Loss of the use of a bike or access to parent's rides might limit access to his friends. Loss of the use of a phone will also limit access to his friends. On a more creative vane, asking your son to research the legal consequences of driving without a license and perhaps even finding the public record of a teen who faced legal consequences may bring home an important lesson. Drivers training often includes rather graphic videos of car accidents to teach respect for care behind the wheel.

Of course, you can withhold privileges that are not necessarily logical. But be aware that the purpose of the consequence is to send a message. You want to build closeness with your son while you impose the consequence. Do not use your attention or time as a consequence. Love is not conditional on a child being obedient. You want to avoid giving the message that might means right by using physical punishment. Similarly, avoid consequences that leave the impression that your power as a parent is to withhold important things that hurt, even though it makes no sense or is disproportionate to the misbehavior and so appears arbitrary.

I wish you the best in raising another adolescent.
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Page last updated Nov 20, 2012

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