It gets better!

boy skateboard“Buzz,” the hero of my ADHD memoir of 2008, has been away at college for nearly a month.

And I have to say, “away at college” is a phrase I long feared I’d never write.

Things were rocky enough during my son’s 13th year, chronicled in my book,  during which we explored a range of treatments for Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, now estimated to affect up to seven percent of school-aged children. And as I predicted at the end of the story, they got rockier still in his late teens. I’ll spare you (and him) the details, and simply say they involved several alarming episodes with cars, plus a few, alas, with “substances.” Risky behavior goes with the territory, as readers of this blog already know. So, double-alas, too often, do bitter conflicts with parents.

To keep up my spirits, I posted a chart in my office from a study I read, showing how anti-social behavior rises dramatically for most adolescents, peaking at age 16, and then rapidly declining thereafter.

Something else that has given me hope is the neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor’s entertaining recent TED talk on the teenage brain, where she encourages parents to think in terms of “Keep ‘em alive til 25!” And for those of you suffering those bitter conflicts I mentioned, don’t miss the wonderful, now six-year-old essay by author Jacquelyn Mitchard, aptly titled “Rehab for Jerks.”

Our kids’ brains are developing so quickly and dramatically at this age – and, finally (fingers crossed!) I’m seeing some evidence.  On his four trips home so far (yes, that’s once a week – his school is just an hour away), I’ve watched Buzz make more eye-contact, observe more niceties, and even – gasp – rinse a dish. On one of his visits, I nearly fainted when he said, “It’s good to see you, Mom!”

I know one thing that probably helps a lot is that our relationship has changed dramatically – and by necessity. I not only don’t want to keep as close track of his doings as I did during his senior year – I simply can’t. And his knowledge of this seems to be motivating him to step up and take more responsibility for his choices. I hope. I mean, I still haven’t seen his first grades.

Like so many other moms of kids with ADHD, however, I know there’s a smart, successful, and extraordinarily interesting person in there, just waiting to emerge. Adolescence and the strictures of most high schools, where kids are still expected to sit quietly and listen, hour after hour, are huge risk factors for people with ADHD. Conversely, increasing maturity and the freedom, in college, to start pursuing your dreams, can be transformative. They sure were for me.

So for all you moms still struggling with the high school detentions, lost homework, and misery, I’m here to say – with fingers tightly crossed – I’ve been there. And it gets better.

Katherine Ellison is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of five books, including “Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention,” and “Square Peg: My Story and What it Means for Raising Visionaries, Innovators, and Out of the Box Thinkers.” She was diagnosed with ADHD at 48.


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ADHD teenagers, college, General ADHD, parenting ADHD, parenting/FAMILY ·

About the author

Katherine Ellison is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of five books, including "Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention," and "Square Peg: My Story and What it Means for Raising Visionaries, Innovators, and Out of the Box Thinkers." She was diagnosed with ADHD at 48.


  1. Penny Williams says:

    So great to see you on {a mom’s view of ADHD}! While I’m not thrilled to hear it gets worse before it gets better, I am certainly relieved to hear that it does get better! Thanks for sharing your experiences so that the rest of us may grow in parenting our own kids with ADHD.

  2. morninglightmama says:

    I needed to hear this while we’re in the throes of 13-year-old angst in 8th grade… I was talking to my dad recently and the only way I could sum it up is that school just doesn’t work for our son. He’s smart, he’s interested in things, but the structure and expectations of school are just so taxing on him that I see his spirit flagging. Sigh… I hope he finds a way to be who he wants to be and explore what interests him at some point.

  3. My son is almost 8 and I have to say this is so encouraging to me. Like you say, I have always seen an amazing little person in him that often others do not see. They cannot see past the impulses and differences and challenges. I can see how when they are not 8 hours a day with heavy expectations, they are free to become who they are. What a great thing to hope for. I’ll have to remember that 16 year old thing, whew, and just concern myself with getting us through 2nd grade for now 🙂 Thank you thank you, thank you, this post means a lot to me.


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The "ADHD Mommas" are not medical or mental health professionals, nor an ADHD coach. Any opinions shared here are just that, opinions. I, and the other "ADHD Mommas," are sharing our experiences with our own ADHD children. Please do not re-post or publish any content or photos without a link back to {a mom's view of ADHD}. Have the courtesy to give credit where credit is due. Copyright protected. All rights reserved.

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