ADHD Teens and Remote Learning: 5 tips for learning success

Teen with ADHD doing remote learning with help from a parent on the couch

Has your ADHD teen hit a wall with remote learning? Many teens with ADHD in middle and high school are struggling with organization, initiation, time management and a limited capacity for self-evaluation. It’s tough as a parent of a teen to know how much involvement is appropriate and when it’s too much.

Independent school work–whether it’s attending remote classes or doing homework–require most, if not all, of kids’ developing executive functioning skills. These skills need to be taught directly, and your teen can’t learn them on their own, despite whatever pushback they show you. Today I’m going to discuss how to strengthen a few of the key executive functioning skills needed for school success.

Collaborate with your ADHD teen about remote learning practices, and make a plan together.

First and foremost, you’ll need to co-create a plan with effective interventions to build these skills with less arguing. The key to creating any programs and having them last is to collaborate with your teen.

  1. Set a time for a weekly family meeting.
  2. At the meeting, pick ONE skill to address that you both agree on.
  3. Then, brainstorm solutions and include at least one of their ideas in your new plan.
  4. Prepare to tweak this plan at your weekly chat. As you live with some of these changes, they will likely need to be adjusted.

Finally, remember to validate and acknowledge ANY cooperation and progress towards the goal. When you notice their efforting, kids feel encouraged and will keep trying.

5 tips to help ADHD teens with remote learning challenges:

1. Prepare ADHD teens for the remote learning process

While you’re probably not trained as a teacher, and you may not understand the algebra that your teen is learning, you can still set up the home as a meaningful learning environment. Take some time to understand the online school platform. Make sure your teen does, too. They are agile with the internet, but not perhaps with the intricacies of this site.

Tip: Establish appropriate expectations.

Most teachers are very good at letting their students know what they anticipate from them. You must do the same thing.

If your teen has trouble with completing and submitting their work, set up a routine with the expectation that, at the end of doing homework, you see their finished work and confirm that it’s been uploaded correctly. Provide regular check-ins: ask if they are stuck on something and, if you can’t help them, brainstorm who can.

2. Organization:

Everything needs a place and that includes online materials. When a student attends school in-person, they have materials such as pencils or pens, notebooks, workbooks and textbooks. They store papers and worksheets for classes in folders or files. These materials may be messy or neat, but there’s usually some type of system.

Tip: Manage digital information in a systematic way.

Parent sitting at the computer, thinking and holding a pencil in her mouth, helping her teen with ADHD organize school work by creating an online color blocked calendar.

Teens with ADHD need a similar storage system for remote learning: files and folders that are clearly marked and accessible for class materials, separate browsers for school and fun stuff and calendars for what’s due when.

These calendars can be digital or paper or both. A weekly online calendar with color blocks of what’s happening when, a whiteboard that changes weekly or a paper calendar with Post-Its of tasks will provide a map for your teen of what to do. Give extra time for organizing materials and work with what systems make sense to your teen (by color, subject, numerical, etc.)

3.  Initiation:

Many teens with ADHD struggle with initiation and are excellent procrastinators. They simply can’t start with unpleasant or intimidating tasks, either because of the quantity of the task or its content. If something seems too overwhelming and unpleasant, they can’t get started due to three different types of procrastination:

    • Perfectionism (“It’s got to be just so”)
    • Avoidance (“I hate this”)
    • Productive (“I’ll do something I like that I have to do instead of the important thing”).

Tip: Help ADHD teens with remote learning assignments by breaking them down and using incentives.

The greatest barrier to initiation is someone’s perception of the task. Most teens with ADHD can see the value of completing tasks, but they may well lack the interest, skill or focus to do it. Make tasks small enough that beginning them is within your teen’s reach. Instead of doing five math problems, start with one.

Teen's sneakers on the pavement with chalk drawings of different arrows, each a different color, going in various directions, showing the ADHD teens uncertainty of how to proceed

If your teen doesn’t understand the remote learning material, arrange regular help sessions with the teacher.

To promote follow through, set up timed work periods based on how long your teen can focus before distraction impacts their productivity. For example, maybe they work for 15 minutes, take a planned 5 minute break and work for another study period with another short break, and a final push before a bigger incentive/reward for their efforts. 

3.  Time management:

It’s very common for people with ADHD to experience time-blindness. They wrestle with how to feel and understand time. This challenge makes it harder for kids to estimate how long something will take and what they can do in a certain amount of time. This misunderstanding of time affects their capacity for organization and motivation. Luckily, time responds very well to direct instruction. 

Tip: Make time physical, and use external alerts.

A close-up on a watch that has a clock face as well as words that say "too late" "on time" and "too early" to give context to the time.

Use analogue clocks or timers to show kids how time moves. Instead of guessing about time, collect information by putting on your scientist’s cap. Post a simple chart of a few dreaded tasks, a guess about how long they will take and then a measurement of the amount of time it actually took. For three days, ask your teen (or work with them) to keep track of these, Then review your findings and adjust your weekly/daily calendar accordingly.

4. Self-evaluation:

Self-evaluation, also known as metacognitive awareness, is the last executive functioning skill to coalesce. Often, this happens in the mid-to-late twenties for people with ADHD. The term self-evaluation refers to the abilities for self-understanding, judgment and decision-making. It’s critical to develop this capacity for self-reflection as children mature.

Teens who are naturally more self-focused are primed for this process. Better self-awareness fosters the academic and social competence they’ll need for adulthood. When kids understand what kinds of learners they are, they are more likely to feel more confident in their abilities and solve problems more effectively. This is important for adapting to new situations, such as teens with ADHD adjusting to remote learning.

Tip: Ask open-ended questions to guide self-reflection.

Instead of telling your teen what they’re not aware of, or how they could do something differently, ask them questions such as:

      • “What’s helped you before that you could apply to this situation?”
      • “What are some other choices you could make in the future in a similar experience?”
      • “When facing something that you dislike, what’s one strategy that works to get you started?”

Share some of your observations if they are stuck.

ADHD teen girl smiling with her hand on her chin looking up to the side looking like she's thinking in front of a pink backgorund

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