Teens with ADHD

It’s been referred to as the “second toddlerhood” due to concerns with egocentrism, irritability, and strange sleep habits. No doubt about it. Adolescence can be a very challenging time for parents. It can be even harder if your teen has been diagnosed with ADHD.

As children with ADHD become older, they are often less hyperactive. However, every teen varies in terms of symptoms based on learning styles, family dynamics, emotional symptoms, medication responses, and school support.

Unfortunately, as teens begin high school, the expectations for them, both academically and socially, are greatly increased. They are expected to keep themselves organized, budget their time well, and prepare for college. All of these things are difficult for the person with ADHD. Teens tend to be more prone to mood concerns, hormonal changes, and social challenges (like dating, peer relationships, and jobs). To make it more difficult, teens also receive less structure in home and school.

What are the symptoms of ADHD in adolescence?

ADHD is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. The symptoms of ADHD can range from mild to severe, but in many cases the disorder significantly impacts a teen’s ability to function each day.

ADHD teen
Some ADHD teens have excess energy. Many do not.

Symptoms of inattention may include:

  • Easily distracted
  • Forgetful
  • Difficulty staying focused on completing a given task
  • Trouble learning something new
  • Easily bored
  • Losing things
  • Not listening when spoken to
  • Slower and less accurate at processing information than other teens
  • Daydreaming and confusion
  • Struggling to follow directions

Symptoms of impulsivity may include:

  • Impatient or easily frustrated
  • Acting without thinking through consequences
  • Interrupting other people
  • Difficulty waiting their turn or delaying gratification
  • Making inappropriate comments
  • Being unable to hold back emotions
  • Arguments with peers
ADHD girl
Many ADHD teens struggle with a variety of issues.

Symptoms of hyperactivity may include:

  • Constantly moving or talking
  • Touching everything in sight
  • Struggling to sit still
  • Inability to work quietly
  • Difficulty sleeping

ADHD often occurs alongside other disorders. For this reason, teens with ADHD may also more worries, sadness, alcohol or drug abuse, and learning disabilities.

What can parents of ADHD teens do to help?

Focus on the positive

When you are raising a teen with ADHD, it can be difficult for parents to be positive. However, because they face for challenges than other students their age, adolescents with ADHD need unconditional positive regard from their parents. Research tells us that successful adults with ADHD say that the single most important thing during their adolescence was having one adult who believed in them. Adolescents with ADHD need their parents to believe in them, to applaud their every positive achievement, and to spend quality time with them.

Women looking over city
It is important to be there for your teen.

Be prepared to supervise longer than you think you should

Teens with ADHD need to be more closely monitored throughout their teen years and possibly young adulthood. Most parents of ADHD teens will continue to provide extra structure until the adolescent graduates high school, and in some cases, beyond that. Some studies have estimated that ADHD teens are approximately 30% less mature than their same-aged peers. At some point, they will catch up to their adult-aged peers, but may require additional assistance from parents throughout their lives.

In high school, parents should always know the answer to four basic questions: (1) Who is your teen with? (2) Where are they? (3) What are they doing? (4) When will they be home? Research tells us that teens of parents who cannot consistently answer these four questions at risk substance abuse and delinquency.

Plan ahead for problem situationsbefore they occur

Face it. Many conflicts between parents and adolescents are highly predictable. If you can find a solution ahead of time, when no one is upset, it will benefit everyone. (And the solution will work better than one which is crafted when everyone is upset). For example, if homework wars occur daily, develop a system with rewards for its completion. If arguments over curfew violations are common between you and your child, plan in advance for how to respond at 2:00 a.m. BEFORE it happens. Without such planning, people react based upon emotion, and do a lot of damage to their relationships in the heat of the moment.

Driving is a particularly important issue for the ADHD teen.
Driving is a particularly important issue for the ADHD teen.

The Driving Issue

Research shows that teens with ADHD are more than twice as likely to have a car accident as teens without ADHD. In addition, when they do have accidents, they are often serious than average. Often, these accidents are due to inattention (i.e., missing a stop sign, not paying attention to other drivers, etc.) or impulsivity (i.e., driving too fast). Research also finds that ADHD teens have more traffic tickets.

Parents need use careful hands-on instruction and practice with teen drivers who struggle with executive functioning. In some cases it may be wise to consider limiting where your child can drive (maybe not the school parking lot), how she can drive (not with friends) and when she can drive (only when medication is active in her system). You should teach your child the risks of driving with ADHD, and make sure she takes the responsibility seriously.


Executive functioning concerns directly impact your child’s performance in school and on standardized tests. Make sure your teenager has access to accommodations in school and in testing if he needs them through a 504 plan, which may include extended time and freedom from distraction. A tutor who understands ADHD can help with academic material and homework. Organization is critical, and often requires the support of the student, parents, tutor, and school. As we discussed above, teens with attention concerns need parents to understand what homework, assignments, papers, or tests they need to do and when they’re doing it. This understanding will also require a school-parent partnership.

Finally, be there for your teen

Communicate well, and support her. Find her strengths, and guide her self-esteem. Parenting a teen is never easy, and parenting a teen with ADHD is definitely not easy. But, people with ADHD often have many strengths that other people do not, as well as endless potential. Remember that as much as your teen may push you away, she also needs you beyond measure. In the end, you will both persevere, and have a stronger relationship for it.


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