Productive Adult Syndrome

A common refrain I hear from parents of my teenage and young adult clients is a fear that their child won’t grow up to become “a productive adult.” Parents with this fear rely on all kinds of rules (bedtime, early weekend wakeups, diets) and tactics (nagging about homework, rigidity, helicoptering) to try to convince their child to be more “productive” or to “prepare them for the real world.” All of these things come from a place of love, but they also come from a place of fear that their child will never become that “productive adult.” 

If you’re a parent instituting these kinds of rules and tactics, you’re also probably struggling to have a good relationship with your child. Maybe your child has become more volatile at seemingly small or mundane issues. They are likely not willing or interested in sharing information about themselves or their lives. Often, a child will act in a way that will appear oppositional for the sake of being oppositional.

This relationship deterioration is the main side effect of what I like to call Productive Adult Syndrome. You and your child have become so wrapped up in the fear and uncertainty of making them a productive adult that the relationship has suffered, and perhaps feels irreparable.

The good news is, your relationship with your child is not beyond repair, but it does depend on you as a parent making a conscious decision to not be concerned about your child becoming a productive adult. Instead, focus on your child’s growth, and encourage them to enjoy being a child, teen, or adolescent. This doesn’t mean throwing all of the rules out the window, but it does mean trusting that your child will learn those Productive Adult lessons in their own time, without your interference.

Productive Adult Syndrome tends to crop up in some common places:


Parents often express anxiety that their son or daughter slept until 1 pm on Saturday afternoon, as though sleeping late at 16 means they will never learn to wake up on time for work. But if you’ve been 16 you know that’s not true. You probably spent much of your teens sleeping in, and here you are waking up every morning for work without issue. You figured it out and it all worked out okay. It will for your child too (even if they have to miss work once or twice to learn that lesson for themselves).


We get caught up in not wanting our children to repeat our mistakes; we want them to not waste time on things that we wish we hadn’t wasted time on as teenagers or young adults. But allowing your teenager to repeat your mistakes, is allowing your teenager to be a teenager. Your child needs to learn the lesson on their own — it’s the only way they will be able to really understand or integrate it. We can’t force adulthood onto them, even when we want to help them avoid learning lessons the hard way.

Tasks That “Should Be Easy”

People with ADHD struggle with simple, mundane tasks. This means things like laundry and dishes (and homework!) that “should be easy” are very hard for us. ADHD teens and young adults get cues from family, friends, teachers, and the media that these difficult tasks should be easy, and then they feel like something is wrong with them. Talk about this with your son or daughter, normalize it. Your child may not be able to explain why he or she can’t bring themselves to do laundry, but they sure know how to beat themselves up because they struggle with it.  Bring awareness to what’s hard for your son or daughter, help them gain understanding, and support as they try different ways to bring that understanding into action.

Avoid Productive Adult Syndrome and the strife that comes with it by talking with your son or daughter about the things that matter to them. Be, and stay, curious. Cultivate awareness of their choices, and support whatever changes they might want to make as their awareness and acceptance grows. Your relationship with your child will thrive when they feel supported in their choices, their struggles, and their mistakes. 

Griffin Rouse | ADHD Coach | Center For Living Well with ADHD, LLC

Griffin Rouse

ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach

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