Unlocking ADHD writer, Shreyashree Shreya, explores what ADHD looks like in teenagers and provides tips to parents on how to manage these issues.
Most young children who were diagnosed with ADHD continue to exhibit the symptoms as teenagers. Add on hormonal changes, a more hectic school life and complicated social relationships, these are stressful times for both teens and parents.
What does ADHD look like in Teens?
- Lower Academic Performance – Due to poor concentration and easily getting distracted, teens with ADHD may experience lower academic performance, e.g., falling grades, forgetting tasks and deadlines, losing textbooks or generally becoming disinterested in schoolwork. For the hyperactive, sitting for long hours in a classroom is a struggle. The recent move to online classes also makes it harder for them to engage with lessons as learning is more passive, and there are more distractions around them.
- Thrill-Seeking Behaviour – Due to impulsivity and stimulation-seeking wiring, ADHD teens are prone to thrill-seeking behaviour. This could be through gaming (the dopamine rush from instant feedback), drinking alcohol or smoking. For those who are able to drive, US data indicates that teens with ADHD are up to four times more likely to get involved in a car accident. Using the mobile phone and driving is another risk. Teens with ADHD are also twice as likely as other teens to have abused alcohol. Taking ADHD medication consistently as prescribed may help reduce some of these issues.
- Social Relationships – Some teens with ADHD have trouble communicating with others and building relationships. A common comorbid condition with ADHD is generalized anxiety or social anxiety. Dealing with rejection sensitive dysphoria may also be an issue. Kids with ADHD can also be targets for bullies at school.
Management of ADHD in Teens
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 80% of teens who needed medications as children still need medication in their teenage years. Stimulant and non-stimulant medications are commonly prescribed to treat teens with ADHD. Behavior therapy is also recommended to improve behavioural problems that are part of ADHD. Other approaches include elimination diets, use of supplements and memory training. These can be done alongside the prescribed medications above.
How Parents can Support ADHD Teens
One of the most important things that parents can do for ADHD teens is to form a close relationship with them to see them through the rollercoaster teen years. Here are some ways to do this:
- Speak openly with each other
- Be supportive and accepting
- Communicate clear and consistent expectations
- Set a daily routine to minimise distractions
- Work with teachers to ensure tasks are fulfilled
- Discuss “what if” scenarios to rehearse responses with situations, e.g., bullying, negative peer pressure, etc.
- Recognise important healthy peer relationships and do not be overly critical of certain friendships
- Set social goals and come up with a reward system to encourage social interactions, especially if your teen is generally shy