Tears, Fears, and Rage: 5 Tips To Survive Remote Learning

Is your ADHD teen struggling this year? Science accidentally found the answer.

Posted Feb 24, 2021

You know the old saying, "Man plans and God laughs"?

Even perfectly planned research experiments are not exempt from this truth.

In 2015, a group of researchers from the University of Washington and Seattle Children's Research Institute began a long-term study of the effectiveness of a relatively new type of therapy known as "Motivational Interviewing." 

 Tingey Injury Law Firm/Unsplash
Ambivalence: wanting and not wanting the same thing so, so much!
Source: Tingey Injury Law Firm/Unsplash

The main point of William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick's unique approach is that it is our ambivalence that prevents us from changing our behaviors. Psychologists use the term ambivalence to mean something that we equally want and don't want, or like and don't like to the same extent. Imagine a perfectly-balanced Scale of Justice, where the pros and cons are so equivalent that they cancel each other out—that is what psychologists refer to as equivalence. 

Most of us want to give up our bad habits—but most of our bad habits also bring us pleasure. Sure, you would love to lose weight, but you also love the tasty goodness of chocolate. Quitting smoking is the right thing to do for your help, but between the physical addiction of nicotine and the relaxation that you feel as a result of slowing your breath as you inhale—it becomes tough to actually achieve what we set out to do.

It kinda makes sense.

We wouldn't have bad habits if they didn't make us feel so good!

Motivational Interviewing fares quite well in empirical research on an adult population, and so the University of Washington researchers wondered how this same technique would work when used with a population of teens and young adults (age 13-22) with ADHD.

Research is a funny thing. You can plan every variable down to the smallest detail and then, suddenly, life throws you a curveball, and all of your research gets turned on its head. 

Halfway through this long-term study, a global pandemic began. 

Sure, man had planned. And then a previously unknown retrovirus provides the opportunity to answer how parents could best support their ADHD teen during the pandemic. This information could then be expanded to apply to the best ways to support ADHD teens during any time of extreme stress or anxiety

How Can You Help Your Teen With ADHD Thrive in the Pandemic?

1. Safe socially-distanced interaction is important for all of us, but for teens with ADHD, one-to-one interactions may be more important than interacting in a group. Anxiety often goes hand-in-hand with ADHD, and the individual attention may seem easier to manage. 

2. It is significantly more difficult for those with ADHD to engage, focus, and organize themselves in an online learning environment. This should come as no surprise. There is a teacher you're supposed to be paying attention to. A teacher who has no doubt gone overboard trying to make their room bright and cheery on the outside in order to hide the anxiety they feel on the inside. There are students online, students in the classroom, a virtual chat feature that students love to use and teachers forget to shut off, and—it's exhausting!

Fortunately, most platforms allow you to change the view setting. It may be helpful to "pin" the teacher so that there is only one person your child needs to focus on. 

3. Buy a large dry erase board. Or several of them. Perhaps one board is to write the dates of upcoming tests and quizzes. Perhaps one board is a checklist of things to get done that day. The reminders may need to be larger this year, since the distractions are so much greater. 

4. It is important to be aware of any signs pointing to an increase in depression, such as a change in appetite, sleep habits, increased anger, or a decrease in the range of expressed emotions. 

5. Surprisingly, the teens with higher IQs were at greater risk for an increase in anxiety and depression, possibly because their intelligence made them more aware of the increased level of conflict during the pandemic. If your family is kind of a mess right now—and whose family isn't?—make a point of talking to your child honestly about the fact that many of us are experiencing an increase in stress which leads to an increase in conflict.

Be honest and remind them that we are all struggling to do the best we can and that even people who love each other will argue.