My 14 yr old struggles with homework and study. She might have ADHD.

Parent Question
My daughter is 14 and in second year in secondary school. She is really struggling with study and homework. She could not get it together to study for the Christmas tests and did not do as well as she wanted. This is despite the fact that she is a bright girl and in primary school she would always score in the top range in standardised tests.

I am not a pushy parent and only want her to be happy, but she gets so stressed about study. She avoids it and then panics doing some last-minute cramming before an exam. And then there is often tears and upset. I have tried to sit down with her and help her study, but this usually does not go well. She avoids it at all costs and gets angry if I remind her to study or if I sit with her to explain something.

Her schoolteachers see she is struggling with attention and focus in the class and they have recommended we seek an ADHD assessment. I would not be surprised if she has ADHD, as she is a bit of a day dreamer and has always scatty and disorganised. She is on a waiting list, which will take some time. How can I help her?

Whether they have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or not, lots of teenagers struggle with organisation and study skills. These struggles often become apparent in the first years of secondary school, when there are many new demands – such as multiple teachers and complex curriculums – compared with primary school, when they are more protected. The essential skills for study – such as prioritising, planning and carrying out tasks – are collectively known as executive function (EF) skills, and young teenagers are still developing these. The young teenage brain is a work in progress, and EF skills are often the last to arrive, with some young people still learning these in their early twenties and beyond.

Many ADHD children have a delay in their EF skills compared with their peers. This can be challenging for high-ability students such as your daughter, who might be self-aware of the mismatch between their ability and their performance. As a result they can feel frustrated and upset, and it can damage their self-esteem.

The good news is that, like their peers, they can continue to develop EF skills as they grow older and there are lots of strategies that can help and can be learned. In addition, ADHD children can be prescribed medication, which can help some sustain their attention especially for tasks such as study, which they might not find immediately appealing. Below are some other things you can do to help her.

Talk positively about what is happening
The important thing is help your daughter understand herself positively and to not feel bad about herself. You can say something like: “Lots of teens find study difficult. You might be very bright but it can be hard to organise yourself to study. The good news is that there are skills you can learn that can help.”

Observe how she tries to study
There may be positives as well as challenges in how she currently tries to study. For example, she might have a good working memory and can retain information, but she might procrastinate and put off starting learning something until the last minute. If she is open to it, you could get her to do some questionnaires to review her EF skills. There is a great book, Smart but Scattered Teens, that provides such questionnaires and also lots of practical strategies to help.

Problem-solve with her about strategies that might help
Your daughter’s upset and frustration is a sign of her motivation to do better in study. Channel that motivation and discuss with her what strategies might help her. Remember different things work for different people. For example, some children need silence, others need background music to help concentration. Some need distractions physically removed such as a phone in a locked box that only opens in an hour.

Also, it might help to break down studying a subject into small parts and then start with easiest first. Or your daughter might employ the Pomodoro Technique, where she works for 15 minutes (with a timer) and then takes a five-minute break doing something nice (or physically moving if she needs this). Your daughter might prefer some creative learning strategies such as watching movies or documentaries to absorb information and doing quizzes to recall knowledge and so on.

Get some help
You are not alone in discovering that your that many teenagers find it hard to be taught by their parents. However, it could help to get someone else to help her. Finding a good grinds teacher who understands the needs of disorganised teens might help. For some teenagers, studying with peers can help, whether this is having a “study buddy” for certain subjects or staying after school for a study period. Seeking professional help from educational psychologists or attending specific study skills courses might also help.

Work with teachers
Even without a formal diagnosis you can explain to each teacher that your daughter has difficulties with attention and organisation and ask for their help to support her in the classroom. Lots of good teachers can provide extra support such as carefully positioning your daughter in the class, checking homework is understood, providing extra coaching and so on.

Check out with the year head how the school can help your daughter.

John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the School of Psychology, University College Dublin. This parenting Q&A was originally published in the Irish Times in February 2024. John writes in the Irish Times Newspaper on Tuesdays. His website is