ADHD and Teens – How Motivation to Change and Succeed Can Backfire

Children, teens, and young adults that grow up with ADHD have the potential to, and often do, become incredible and successful adults. But the path to do so can be difficult, especially if a child struggles with executive function disorder. It can be one that is filled with a lot of disappointment and struggles with not meeting expectations – not only the expectations of their caregivers, but themselves as well.

“You Can Do It!”

Culturally, there is this belief that a person can achieve anything they want if they try hard enough and are motivated hard enough. It’s a belief that is taught in schools and in media. Children that struggle with something – such as focusing – experience something that motivates them to achieve it, and so they do.

That’s not exactly how these conditions work.

Young people with this type of disorder are struggling with a neurodevelopmental issue. Their minds did not develop some of functions that neurotypical people developed. It’s not something that they can simply overcome with the right motivation, or something that turns on or off when they try hard enough. Motivation is a critical tool in the process, but it is not a solution in itself.

That is not to say that they cannot be incredibly successful in life with ADHD/EFD. It also doesn’t meant that they are unable to learn how to function with EFD. They absolutely can. They can learn ways to manage time, to prioritize, to organize, and to regulate their emotions. Children with ADHD and/or executive function disorder frequently grow up to become adults that live great, interesting lives.

But it isn’t just a desire to manage time better that leads to better time management. It is not a lack of motivation that prevents a child from cognitive flexibility. You typically cannot sit down and tell a child to have a better memory and expect them to have a better memory.

So what happens when a young person is given ample lectures and motivation to manage their ADHD symptoms, but not necessarily tools to do so given their conditions? They end up with high expectations for themselves, and then may not be able to meet those expectations as the reality of living with executive function disorder and ADHD kicks in.

The Hard Fall

A child with a poor memory cannot suddenly have a better memory. A child that struggles with prioritization will not suddenly be able to prioritize just because they’re motivated to do so. Children with emotional regulation challenges do not *suddenly* regulate simply because they decided they want to.

They can be given tools and techniques to help them with these issues, and strategies that make it easier for them to function, but they do not typically suddenly develop a skill they did not have because of one talk or one goal.

Children that experience this failure to meet their own expectations may end up struggling with issues like poor self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and more. The high of feeling motivated to overcome these issues, only to find that they were unable to, can be draining and difficult both psychologically and emotionally. It can lead to giving up, or hopelessness.

We have to be aware of what our child is capable of in order to give them what they need to succeed. It’s not an issue of motivation. It’s an issue of tools and direction. Rather than set these expectations for your child that they are unable to reach, we need to teach them that there are ways that they can thrive, learn, and grow WITH executive function disorder, rather than believe that they’re just one motivation away from overcoming it altogether.

That is what will give these young people the best chance of success, and will reduce the amount of pressure they put upon themselves.

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