Elevate Counseling: supporting your teen with executive functioning skills

Could Executive Functioning Weaknesses Explain Your Teen’s Behavior?

By: Lauren Adams


Sometimes, it can be hard to know if your teen’s more rebellious or careless behaviors are
normal, or if you should be concerned. You might get differing opinions from other parents in your life, making it hard to figure out the best way to support your teen. Fortunately, there is likely a reasonable explanation for your teen’s behavior. And there are many things you can do to help.


What exactly is Executive Functioning?

The term “executive functioning” may be unfamiliar, but we all know what it is. Executive functioning refers to a person’s ability to complete tasks such as making and attending appointments, remembering their keys before they leave the house, or waiting their turn to speak in conversations. It drives our ability to memorize, think logically, organize tasks, and control our impulses. If you notice that adults seem to have better executive functioning abilities than kids and teens, you’re right. Our executive functioning abilities continue to improve into our mid-20s.

Difficulties with executive functioning (executive dysfunction) can look different at different ages based on brain development.

Some signs your teen may be experiencing executive dysfunction are:

  • Difficulty concentrating in school, missing assignments, or heavy procrastination
  • Frequently forgetting or misplacing objects
  • Heightened irritability, anxiety, or difficulty managing emotions
  • Impulsive decision-making
  • Easily distracted during chores, conversations, or schoolwork

While this can be overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be confining. Here are some things parents can do to help their teens develop ways to understand and improve their executive functioning.

Establish trust:

It is likely your teen already feels a sense of frustration with themselves. It’s important to create a non-judgemental environment when approaching your teen with strategies and resources. If they feel affirmed and not criticized, they may be more likely to receive the help they need.

Be practical:

Addressing executive functioning includes some hands-on work. This means collaborating with your teen on to-do lists, chore wheels, and assignments, and making sure your expectations are realistic. If your child has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – ADHD – you can expect their executive functioning skills to be roughly 30% behind their age-related peers. In other words, a 10-year-old with ADHD may have executive functions similar to that of a 7-year-old. Understandably, working on these skills can feel boring and frustrating at times. Getting creative and finding ways to reward task completion keeps things light-hearted, and reassures you and your child of their progress towards goals.

Stay flexible:

While organization is important for executive functioning, there are times when plans change due to events outside of our control. Finding ways for yourself and your teen to cope with the natural chaos of life helps reduce the understandable stress, and prepare for future pitfalls.

Find the source:

While there are many things you can do on your own to help your teen improve their executive function, you may struggle to identify the source of their behaviors or feel like things aren’t changing. Luckily, additional resources such as mental health professionals can provide you with explanations and help equip your teen with many productive skills. Academic support can provide your teen with extra learning and test time, tutoring, and much more.

And Remember: It takes a village

Parents are humans. It can become difficult and stressful to support your teen through their struggles. Sometimes admitting this can be hard, due to feelings of guilt or inadequacy. While understandable, these feelings are unnecessary. The reason resources like counseling, coaching, and academic support exist is because it’s normal to need more help. Accessing these resources takes courage, and shows that you want the best for your teen.

Jamie Dana

Jamie Dana

Jamie Dana, MC, LPC, helps teens and adults overcome mental roadblocks and achieve their goals to live an elevated life. Specialties include research-based interventions to address stress and anxiety, trauma, self-esteem, eating issues and struggles of the gifted and high-achieving population. For more information about her techniques, services and additional resources to help you succeed, check her out at www.elevatecounselingaz.com or follow us on Facebook and Instagram. You can also Contact her to schedule an initial appointment today