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.