ADD teen struggles and how you can help

Written by Kris Bales of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

I used to joke (except it wasn’t entirely a joke) that my job in our early years of homeschooling was to hover near my oldest and say, “Do your work” every few seconds.

Having a child (or two) who struggles with attention and focus can be challenging, particularly as they move into the middle and high school years. The teen years are when most of us hope to start seeing our students transition to independent learners, but that can be difficult for kids who have trouble staying on task.

Many areas can be affected by difficulty focusing. I won’t say that the following are the main areas because that can vary significantly from child to child, but these are areas of struggle that I’ve seen in my kids. They are also areas that I’ve had other parents of ADD or just hard-to-focus kids ask me about.

Managing Time

Time management is often a huge area of struggle for teens (and adults!) who have trouble staying focused on tasks. Try these tips to help.

Limit distractions.

Have teens leave their cell phone in a specific spot away from where they’re working or turn it on do not disturb. If they’re working on a laptop, turn off notifications and try a browser add-on to block social media sites during school hours.

Don’t let teens have TV or videos playing while they work. Don’t limit music, though. Many teens work better with music. I like the Coffitivity site for ambient background noise. You might also try a white noise machine.

Give them a planner.

Make sure teens have their own planners (or a checklist) so that they can see what needs to be done each day and mark off assignments as they go.

Help them break down long-term assignments into manageable chunks and add due dates for each step in their planner.

You might also try a shared Google calendar for extra accountability.

Whichever option you choose, plan a daily or weekly meeting time to be sure that your student is completing tasks before they get so far behind that they’re overwhelmed.

Try visual planning aids.

My oldest used our version of workboxes all the way through high school. We used a plastic crate and hanging file folders to help her track her work.

Each folder held one subject. My teen could arrange the folders in the order she wanted to complete the assignments each day, giving her an easy-to-track visual reminder of what she had finished and what she had left to do.

Getting Thoughts on Paper

Getting their thoughts on paper can be laborious for teens with ADD. These kids are often highly creative, but their creativity often gets lost in the writing process.

Try these ideas.

Use voice-to-text software.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking is a fairly intuitive, easy-to-use voice-to-text software option. Writing time can also be the ideal time to make an exception to the smartphone ban. Most smartphones feature voice-to-text software that users can access inside other apps, such as a notes or word processing app (Google Docs or Word, for example).

Even if they don’t use the voice-to-text feature, my teens text amazingly fast (and without looking at the screen – how do they do that?!). Who says that a paper has to be handwritten or typed on a computer keyboard? If your teens text like mine, let them put that somewhat questionable skill to good use.

Be their scribe.

It’s okay to let your teen dictate his writing assignments to you. Type or write her words or ideas. Then, let her edit and write the final copy.

Taking Tests

Many kids with ADD or focus issues don’t test well. Tests often don’t provide an accurate, fair assessment of a student’s understanding or ability. Try alternatives to traditional pen-and-paper tests.

Try narration.

Let your student orally answer questions or tell you what he’s learned in his own words. Ask him to tell you what he knows about a person or to describe an event.

Put together a presentation.

Let your student put together an end-of-unit or topical presentation demonstrating what she’s learned. She can give the presentation to you and her siblings, grandparents, and/or the non-teaching parent.

Alternately, you can get the students in your homeschool group together for a whole evening of presentations. (This is a great way to work on public-speaking skills, too.)

Make the most of audio-visual tools.

My kids are much more comfortable on camera than I am. They love making videos. If your kids do, too, let them put together a video presentation of what they’ve learned.

Or write a blog post about it. Or use publishing software to create a slideshow, photo software to create a photo journal, or craft and scrapbooking supplies to put together a notebook.

What ways have you found to help your teens focus?

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About Kris

Kris Bales is the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest voice behind Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She and her husband of over 25 years are parents to two amazing teens and a homeschool grad. Kris has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. She also seems intent on becoming the crazy cat lady long before she's old and alone.


  1. I can so relate! I have middle schoolers that I STILL have to say “get to work” all day long! But when he’s interested…it’s a different story!

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