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How to Help Improve Your Teen’s Attention

How to address your teen's symptoms of ADD/ADHD

With the prevalence of ADD/ADHD diagnosis in today’s age, it is no wonder that medications like Adderall have become a household name, even for households were no one has been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. The prevalence of ADD/ADHD diagnosis have two popular theories, the first is that attention deficit symptoms mimic the symptoms of trauma and could be the result of small and consistent episodes of trauma experienced in the person’s life. The second popular theory is that the rise in the diagnosis is a result of living in an environment saturated with information which aggressively competes for your attention.

To expand on the second theory, marketing strategies developed by behaviorists have been developed to trigger our most base instincts towards spending money on certain, services, entertainment and products. This means that to maintain your attention as a child you would literally have to tune out a lot of information. As far as both theories are concerned, I would find significant truth in both, with the second theory being more consistent than the first.

So, if you have a teen who presents with attention difficulties, what do you do? A common route would be to have him or her diagnosed and placed on medication. The problem with this method is in determining how long the young person should be on the medication. Should it be for the rest of their life? Or until they have finished high school? What about college or university? In my practice, I have witnessed most of my teen clients whom I have treated for attention related issues, come to me already having been on medication for a few years. However, after having gone through the process of increasing their dosage and sometimes changing brands, the parents eventually relent to the advice of the psychiatrist to seek the help of a therapist.

So back to the question, how do you help your teen improve his or her attention? The answer is simple and straightforward but sometimes difficult in application. You help your teen improve their attention, in small increments. For example, I was recently introduced to the story of a mother, who guided her daughter in learning the violin and other string based musical instruments by having her practice one hour a day with a commitment to four musical instruments, were the daughter would spend fifteen minutes on each instrument. The daughter would tell me that on most days she would end up practicing for over two hours.

If you are a parent with a teen who struggles with focus and concentration, you can start with positive reinforcement strategies. During which the teen, is rewarded for every time he adheres to your assignment. Of course, there are other variables to consider, such as time constraints, (e.g. the semester is about to end) your level of patience as a parent, your teen’s level of patience with you and the level of resentment between both parents and teen regarding an ongoing issue that doesn’t seem to go away.

As the school year begins, most teens who traditionally struggle with issues of focus and concentration in academia and their daily activities, will begin on a strong note. However, by the end of the first school term, their level of motivation would have fizzled out and they would slowly resort to old ways of behaving. It is more common that parents who find their teens in this position would have a difficult time introducing an attention improving strategy talk less of implementing one. In cases like these it would benefit both parents and their teen to seek professional intervention.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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