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How My Daughter Found Drive in the Check-Out Line

A freshman in high school, my teen was lethargic, losing focus, and prioritizing the wrong things. In other words, she was letting her ADHD steer. Then she doubled down and got a job. We all held our breath — and watched as she nimbly and purposefully proved herself.

Remind me to set up that direct deposit thing — will you, Mom? Thanks.” I nod and smile as we roll through the woods into town, cracking open my window and chirping along to Ed Sheeran on the radio as we go. “No offense, Mom, but can you, like, step on it? I don’t want to be late.”

In a world where thought leaders prescribe tiers for improvement (i.e. Nine Steps to Finding Joy, Seven Ways to Stop Ruminating) our ADHD family has stumbled upon one single move that somehow refreshed us all: We have let our 15 year old get a part-time job.

I realize that work responsibility sounds counterintuitive (even dangerous) for inattentive or distractible progeny. Yes, it takes planning around homework and extracurricular schedules (she works only on weekends). And, yes, if your teen doesn’t have a license, and can’t walk or take public transportation, then you are stuck driving her.

[Free Download: What Are Your Teen’s Weakest Executive Functions?]

These are small hurdles, though, for a skill-build that is entirely kid-driven. If your teen is ambivalent about priorities, or molasses-like in general, then this could be for your family, too.

“They’ve asked me to come in early.” She hangs up the phone and grabs a clementine. “I feel so needed!” she confides, reaching for her smock. Her polyester, vomit-colored, may-I-help-you smock. This is worn voluntarily in exchange for the dopamine hit of a weekly paycheck. It is the only item of clothing she has ever in her life laundered and hung up in anticipation of future use.

For years, we’ve torn out our hair over the usual ADHD family issues: focus, feuds, and what keeps getting forgotten. Then, over Christmas break, our teen interviewed and was hired at a local supermarket. January brought her busiest sport season, mid-year exams, and this new Saturday commitment to something called employment. Very few high schoolers seek jobs beyond summer ones in our advanced-placement neck of the woods, and ours is only a freshman. We all kind of held our breath.

But so far, so good. She’s hustling, and it’s on her own terms. She studies both her handwritten index card of produce codes for the cash register AND the periodic table of the elements for chemistry. She is having a little “price check” fun with coworkers, and even the public. Thankfully, her peers on the job aren’t competitive; they’re cooperative. And as my husband and I learned at early ages, executive function growth happens when you try on customer service for size. Confidence and competence, here we come!

Who knows how long this experiment will last. By summer, she may bust through those automatic doors and leave brown paper bags behind for good. But we’ll be able to say that instead of relying upon solutions dreamed up by adults, our teen found her own way to risk and reward this year. To us, that’s worth way more than minimum wage.

[How Can I Transfer Responsibility to My Teen?]

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