Being a Teen Dealing With ADHD

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Adolescence can be a difficult time for anyone. Having attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can add to the pressures and challenges that teens face. This article discusses what it is like to be a teen with ADHD. It explores how symptoms can affect different areas of a teen's life and also offers tips for how parents can help their teens cope with these challenges.

Challenges That Teens With ADHD Face

Teens are beginning a transition period in their lives, moving away from childhood and into adulthood. Pressures increase. Expectations are raised. Academics and social issues become even more complex. Feelings of self-consciousness and insecurities may be raised. Self-esteem is often more fragile.

Peers become an increasingly important presence in a teen’s life, often even more influential than parents. Peer pressure takes on a greater role. As they begin to experience more freedom and independence, adolescents may engage in risky behaviors. Decisions must be made about alcohol, smoking, drugs, and sexual activity. Behaviors are often impulsive.

Kids with ADHD may also experience changes in their symptoms as they transition into puberty. Juggling all these challenges can create stress and upheaval for many teens.

Recap

Teens face a wide variety of challenges as they transition from childhood toward adulthood. ADHD can often make many of these changes more difficult. Parents can help by understanding how ADHD can affect a teen's life and looking for ways to help their child cope.

How ADHD Symptoms Affect Teens

Though many people think of ADHD as a childhood condition, symptoms can continue into the adolescent and adult years. A teen learning to cope with all the other changes that come about with puberty and increased independence also has the added issue of living with ADHD.

A teen with ADHD may experience the world as a frustrating whirlwind. Planning ahead, finishing work, staying on track, organizing activities, and following conversations are everyday tasks that may require exhausting effort. Obstacles may seem insurmountable. Teens with ADHD may also experience feelings of restlessness.

These symptoms can have an impact on a number of different areas of a teen's life.

School

Teens with ADHD often experience symptoms related to attention, which can make it difficult to concentrate and make it easier to get distracted from academic work. These challenges can ultimately have an impact on school performance and grades.

It isn't uncommon for teens with ADHD to:

  • Get bored in class
  • Forget to do their homework
  • Misplace textbooks
  • Forget to turn in assignments
  • Struggle to focus on class readings and lectures
  • Hyperfocus on specific tasks while neglecting others

It can also lead to impulsive behaviors such as disrupting class or interrupting others who are talking.

Family Relationships

Symptoms of ADHD can also have an impact on family relationships. Children with the condition often require more attention in order to manage disruptive symptoms and keep them on task due to inattentive symptoms. This can sometimes lead to frustration and strained relationships both with parents and other family members. 

The greater demands and increased need for patience can also contribute to conflicts with siblings, who may experience feelings of resentment.

It's not uncommon for caregivers to struggle with not knowing how to respond to behavioral issues. Lack of structure or routines and problems implementing rewards systems can also lead to problems within the family.

Social Life

Teens with ADHD may also have problems with social relationships. Symptoms of impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattentiveness can make it more difficult to form and maintain friendships and may contribute to conflict with peers.

These symptoms can be particularly problematic during the teen years since it is a time when friendships and peer relationships often take on greater importance. 

Research suggests that children with ADHD experience more peer rejection and few friendships. They may also become targets for bullying. However, the reasons why ADHD makes peer relationships more challenging are not fully understood.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), kids with symptoms of inattention are sometimes perceived as being shy or withdrawn. Those with symptoms of impulsivity and hyperactivity are sometimes rejected because they may seem aggressive, intrusive, or disruptive to their peers.

Evidence also indicates that this social rejection can take a serious toll on mental well-being. Children with ADHD who struggle with peer relationships are more likely to experience depression as teens.

Emotional Functioning

It is common for teens with ADHD to also have other mental health conditions including anxiety and depression. Some estimates suggest that somewhere between 12% and 50% of all children with ADHD also have major depressive disorder.

The co-occurrence of these two conditions is also associated with an increased risk for psychosocial impairment and higher levels of substance use. 

Symptoms of problems with emotional functioning can include:

  • Anger or aggression 
  • Depression or low mood
  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor motivation
  • Social withdrawal

Recap

Symptoms of ADHD can cause teens to experience difficulties in school, family relationships, peer relationships, and emotional functioning.

Treatments That Can Help

Because ADHD symptoms have the potential to disrupt so many important areas of a teen's life, it is important to seek appropriate treatment for the condition.

Options that can help include:

  • Medications: There are several different types of ADHD medications, including stimulant and non-stimulant options. Every person responds differently, so it is important to work with your child's doctor to determine which option is the best choice for your teen.
  • Parent training: Many parents find that learning effective discipline strategies and behavior modification techniques can be a way to help their teens deal with some of the challenges associated with ADHD.
  • School accommodations: Adjustments in the classroom, such as sitting closer to the front of the class or in an area where fewer distractions are present, can also be helpful.
  • Peer programs: Research suggests that social skills training on its own is not necessarily effective for helping kids with ADHD develop the skills, knowledge, and experience they need to succeed in social relationships. Instead, the CDC suggests that peer programs where kids can practice interacting with other children are a more effective option.

Strategies to Help Teens With ADHD

With so many challenges, how can a parent help their teen manage their ADHD symptoms and maintain a positive direction and an even keel? While nothing will make it easy to breeze through the teenage years, some strategies can make a big difference. Here are just a few ideas to help manage the experience:

  • Create structure: A routine, daily planner, and checklists are helpful. Reduce clutter and organize the home and school items.
  • Get enough rest: Get plenty of sleep. Many teens are sleep-deprived. Whether or not they have ADHD, all teens need to get plenty of sleep.
  • Get enough exercise: Regular physical activity can help improve attention in school and other settings. It can also be a mood-booster that can combat feelings of anxiety and depression.
  • Provide positive feedback and praise: It's helpful for teens to receive frequent feedback that is clear and specific. Focusing on strengths and using praise is always more effective than only focusing on the negatives.
  • Discover strengths: Parents can help teens by allowing them to pursue activities that help them discover their interests and strengths. Hobbies, extracurricular activities, and other creative pursuits can help teens feel more confident about their talents.

If you are a parent of an adolescent with ADHD, be sure to keep in good communication with your child’s teachers. Nurture your relationship with your teen and provide them with plenty of support and love.

Recap

Getting appropriate treatment can help teens cope with many of the challenges that ADHD symptoms may cause. Coping strategies including effective parenting techniques and self-care can also help kids improve their focus and behavior.

A Word From Verywell

The teen years can be turbulent for any child, but having ADHD often contributes to additional challenges. Symptoms of ADHD can affect many different areas of a teen's life, including school, family, friendships, and emotions.

As a parent, you can help by talking to your healthcare provider about treatment options to ensure that your child's symptoms are well-managed. You can also help your child with day-to-day struggles by using positive reinforcement, having a structured routine, and making sure your child engages in healthy behaviors, including getting enough sleep and staying physically active.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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