Skip main site navigation

What to expect as your child with ADHD becomes a teenager

October 23, 2019

ADHD main image

ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a common neurobehavioral disorder that affects children and adolescents. Those who suffer from ADHD have difficulty with executive function which means they have trouble focusing, paying attention and managing time. ADHD affects all areas of a person’s life including academic, family and social aspects.

Most children do not outgrow ADHD as they become adolescents. Some of the main symptoms of ADHD remain but some may become more subtle - like those related to hyperactivity, while other symptoms may intensify as educational and social demands change. There is no ‘typical teen with ADHD’ and symptoms may vary from person to person depending on environment, or personal strengths and weaknesses. But generally, a teen with ADHD will have the following symptoms;

ADHD symptoms graphic

It’s important to get a proper diagnosis from a professional and establish if your youth has predominately inattentive and/or hyperactive symptoms or both as the treatment will vary accordingly.

In addition to hormone changes, higher educational expectations, and social pressures, ADHD symptoms may worsen as a child moves into adolescence. Developmentally, teens are expected to be able to handle more independence and less structure. At the same time, teens with ADHD may be inattentive in class, fidgety, lose textbooks, etc., all things that make it difficult to keep good grades.

Socially, teens may struggle with peer pressure, impaired emotional function, and risky behavior which may lead to bullying and less success with friendships. Teens may also feel embarrassed or self-conscious about having ADHD and refuse or avoid treatment in an effort to fit in with their peers.

While many teenagers enjoy the freedom and excitement that comes with getting a driver’s license, teens with ADHD may find driving to be a challenge. Inattention and impulsive or slow reactions can make driving particularly dangerous for teens with ADHD.  Research shows teen drivers with ADHD have a higher risk of accidents and traffic tickets. In addition, other risky behaviors like smoking, substance abuse, or unprotected sexual activity are also more likely for teens with ADHD.

So how can parents of an ADHD child help them navigate the transition into adolescence? Here are a few steps to consider:

• Make sure your teen has access to programs, tutors, and support they need at school.
• Provide your teen with opportunities to have structured social activities where they can have positive social interactions in a somewhat controlled environment.
• Support your teen in activities he or she is good at to help build confidence.
• Provide clear, consistent direction including expectations and limits for them at home.
• Create a routine for them at home.
• Make sure they get enough exercise and sleep.
• Look into treatment for your teen’s ADHD symptoms. Your teen may need ADHD medications, behavioral therapy, or a combination of both. Seek professional advice to find out what treatment would work best for your teen.
• Stick to the treatment plan. Once your teen’s treatment has been established, make sure to stick to it.
• Communicate with your teen. Make sure he/she knows having ADHD is not their fault. Be patient, open, supportive, and compassionate. Stay connected with your teen and explore solutions together.

Adolescence can be a challenging time for any teen. But youth with ADHD face many additional obstacles. With loving support, a treatment plan, and consistent structure, your teen can have the opportunity to not only learn how to manage their ADHD symptoms, but to thrive and succeed on their own.

Resources; Amended December 15, 2020