Is your teen just reacting to the normal, everyday growing pains that young people experience as they journey through their teenage years, or is it something more serious? Could it be Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD for short? If it is, it’s something that needs to be addressed. We will discuss the signs and symptoms in a moment, but first, for those of you who are not aware of what ADHD is – a quick explanation.
What is ADHD?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder used to be known as ADD. It is a recognized mental health disorder (according to the American Psychiatric Association) that causes elevated levels of hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.
Teenagers with ADHD usually display fewer hyperactivity symptoms than those associated with younger children. To make it even more difficult for parents to spot, the symptoms vary by gender and also what type of ADHD a teen has.
In the past, people believed that ADHD affected only young children. Everyone assumed that they would grow out of it. Today, however, we know differently. Research shows that the majority of kids don’t outgrow it before reaching adolescence. In fact, many teens don’t outgrow it either before attaining young adulthood.
The crunch time for teens with ADHD often coincides with when they start high school. It’s due to the increase in stress in both their academic and social lives. It can also cause teen depression. The fact of the matter is that teens with ADHD are five times more likely to suffer significant teen depression than teens without ADHD.
ADHD in the teen years
The basic symptoms of ADHD tend to be the same in adolescence as they are in younger children. They include inattention, impulsive behavior, and hyperactivity. However, the way the symptoms show themselves and the difficulties they cause, change. As an example, the hyperactivity element often becomes more subtle.
On the other side of the coin, however, something like a drop in a teen’s performance at school can increase. This is as a result of greater demands and expectations.
The most obvious symptoms of ADHD in teenagers are in relation to the brain’s executive function. This is the way that the brain manages and prioritizes actions and thoughts. It can also cause your teen to show increased frustration, to overreact emotionally, and to appear to be less mature than other teens of a similar age.
What to say to a teen with ADHD
If your teen has been diagnosed with ADHD, he or she may experience some embarrassment or stigma relating to the diagnosis. Teens often wish to deny they have ADHD. It is not unusual for them to believe that their symptoms had subsided with age. It’s a form of self-denial which you, as a parent, must address.
When talking to your teen about ADHD, it’s important to be totally honest. You need to explain that having ADHD is not down to anything that he or she has done, nor is it a punishment. Try and put it in the same context as other medical conditions like asthma or diabetes. It’s crucial that your teen does not feel that it is his or her fault. You must also explain that the condition is treatable.
Another typical result of teen ADHD is that they often have low self-esteem. They feel under stress, particularly at school, where they might feel tired, quarrel with their friends, and generally feel different to their other classmates. This is also often accompanied by a feeling that their parents do not understand them.
Getting your teen involved in activities which he or she enjoys and is successful in, can be a very successful way of addressing and reversing feelings of inadequacy. If your teen feels successful and more confident about him or herself in certain aspects of his or her life, these feelings can migrate beneficially to other areas – basically a sort of knock-on effect. As a parent, your encouragement is essential.
Guide your teen with care
As children enter their teenage years, they will naturally seek additional freedoms. It’s essential, therefore, that you must be clear as to what your expectations are in terms of responsible behavior. Be sure to reward appropriate behavior by bestowing additional privileges. By the same token, you must also enforce the consequences of any inappropriate behavior. Failure to do so will impede your teen learning from his or her mistakes.
Emphasize the positives
It’s important to try and boost your teen’s confidence. Always be sure to emphasize your love and that you are there to support them. It’s important too to show that you believe he or she can succeed. Helping your ten to identify with his or her strengths is an integral part of this process.
It is quite common for teens to feel that their school environment doesn’t suit their personalities or allow them to express their natural talents. If, for example, your teen is good at sports or shows an aptitude for art or music, it’s a good idea to try and find other outlets where he or she can practice and demonstrate these skills.
What the future holds
Teens with ADHD are prone to experience serious problems as they grow into adulthood. As many as 66% of teens with ADHD will continue to suffer difficulties as they transition. Lower educational achievements can create challenges with employment and generate social problems. It’s quite common for teens with ADHD to have a higher likelihood of being affected by STDs. There is also the danger of your teen becoming a parent at an earlier stage in life.
However, this is not a prediction, and the chances of these things happening can be significantly reduced by ensuring you give your teen a positive sex education.
Tips for communicating with the teen with ADHD
The best way of getting through to your teen and keeping your relationship to the forefront is by using a three-step communication process. First of all, it’s vital to acknowledge your teen. All teenagers have a desire to be seen and heard. Talk about normalizing his or her experiences. You can, for example, say, “It’s quite normal for you to be experiencing this. I know it’s hard, and I completely understand.”
Secondly, empathizing with your teen is essential. Demonstrate that you understand his or her experiences and the challenges he or she is coming up against. Being compassionate will help your teen to identify with you and will indicate that you’re not just someone telling them what to do.
Third and last, it’s important to attempt to explore solutions together. After all, you want your teen to start making his or her own decisions and solve their own problems where possible. Two minds are better than one and they improve the chances of finding practical solutions.
By working together in this way, you won’t be making your teen feel defensive. You are helping and allowing him or her to learn how to figure it out by themselves.
It’s not all doom and disaster
There is no doubt that teen ADHD can result in your teen entering the “at-risk” category. But there are ways of dealing with at-risk teens that can have positive results too. It’s not all doom and disaster. Many teens who have ADHD do become successful, productive adults, and this is where careful, considered parenting through the teen years can really make a difference.
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com, ghostwriter at WriteItGreat.com, and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.