Accusation, Interrogation, Lack of Empathy – A Lesson in How Not To Talk To Your ADHD Teen

How It Began

It started off rather innocuously. These things they always do.

A, D’s Dad, was looking for his LED-book-reading lights which he had been gifted a while ago. Nothing important. No one had used it.

When he couldn’t locate it, reinforcements were called in. I was asked to join in the search. Both of us searched the shelf where it is usually kept and was last seen:
– around that shelf.
– books were lifted,
– bundles of papers turned over,
– the storage bins rummaged.
– the entire cupboard was searched.

As we searched, I could sense the rise in the level of his frustration. He repeatedly kept asking me where the light was. I was just as clueless as he was.

The tone in his voice was accusatory. What was on his mind?

  • Had I taken it? NO
  • Am I responsible for it being there? Well, yes – only as much as he is.
  • Was I involved in its disappearance? NO.

He was annoyed. There was anger in his voice. I was exasperated. What was he accusing me of, though?

The Possibility

After much searching and some annoyance, A suggested that D might be responsible for its disappearance.

Given that

  • we had thoroughly searched the place where it is kept,
  • looked through places where it may possibly be,
  • and that in the past, a few things not found in their usual place have been found with her,

it did seem very likely to me that she might have this too.

This thought seemed to further provoke his displeasure and anger.

D is impulsive. Kids typically are. However, those with ADHD are known to be more so than their peers. They often do things without really thinking about the consequence.

D is also a teenage girl. She is at that age when there is a need to appear ‘cool’ in front of her friends, have all these cool gadgets. There is a need to show off.

With these reasons playing in my mind, I was convinced that D was behind the disappearance of this reading light. I waited for her to call us from her boarding school.

Communication with D is essentially through phone calls. They are given a calling card which permits them 15 minutes of calls (to pre-assigned numbers) in a week. It is she who calls us, typically once a week. Parents cannot call their daughters. They may pass a message via the matrons asking their daughters to call them back. Finally, 15 minutes go by real fast. They are good to know the highlights of what is happening, but not enough to discuss anything in detail. I always feel rushed. Maybe it is the fact that there is a limit on the time, but yes, I do feel pressured for time.

The Damn Phone Call

Getting back to what happened. A couple of days after the light was found missing, D called. I had an extensive list of topics to talk to her about, this being one among them. A list of points that cannot be called as ‘happy’ things to talk about.

I wasted little time on basic niceties and got down to business almost immediately. As soon as I started talking about these not no “nice’ things, D started to become a little uneasy.

Then it was time, time to talk about the missing object.

I was direct and to-the-point. I let her know that we could not be found the reading light and asked her if she knew where it was? She said she didn’t.

I reiterated how angry her dad had been, how the anger had been directed at me and was holding me responsible to find it.  I urged to tell me in case she had it. She repeated she did not have it.

The conversation was becoming increasingly uncomfortable for both of us. I felt like I was interrogating her.

And, if I was not liking the tone of my voice, I know just how terrible she must have felt.

The only thing that I can say in my defense is that they have limited time per week for phone calls – which I did not wish to utilize discussing these difficult, unhappy topics. I was hoping to eke a confession out of her as quickly as possible, find the damn thing and move on to happier things.

Looking Back

Immediately I knew I had made mistakes.

After this horrible phone call, I still don’t know where the damn thing is, whether the truth was spoken or not. Had I handled things differently, maybe we would have had a desirable outcome.

The idea that she may not have done it never really occurred to me. I had led myself to believe that the light being with her was the only possibility. That is how I went into the phone call. That is how I spoke to her.

I did not give her a chance.

I demonstrated a complete lack of empathy that could have encouraged her to speak up and tell me.

I am feeling awful about how I spoke to her. I had pronounced her guilty without even talking to her.

It is rather obvious that she is not feeling happy about the phone call either. She said so to me. Here in lies my dilemma – Is it a parent’s role to always keep their children happy? Are there times when children can be unhappy?

What worries me is if she is saying the truth, then I am accusing her unnecessarily. However, if she isn’t and she has taken it, then I think it is okay for her to feel agitated and think over this.

The objective was to find that object. That was never achieved.

What can I do differently next time? How can I talk to her over phone calls of very limited times, in a way that demonstrates empathy and she feels confident and encouraged to confide in me?

That is for another post.


D called back a day later and admitted she had taken it. She told me where it is lying in her room. Her intention was to put it back, but she forgot all about it.

I did let her know that I admired her for speaking up.

Had I spoken with empathy and not put her on the back-foot during her conversation, would we have gotten this admission a day earlier and without all the heartburn on both sides?

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Want to improve communication with your teen? Here are mistakes parents make. I did too. Learn from my experience to build a better relationship with your teen. Read about #whatnottodo #improvecommunication #teenagers #parenting #parentingtips

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