A child’s diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be life altering for parents. Diagnosis is a mixed blessing, Relief in learning what their child is dealing with and methods of managing it, but sadness that the child may have to deal with ADHD for life. In fact, in one-third of children diagnosed, ADHD persists into adulthood.
The challenges that parents of kids with ADHD face can morph into new and unexpected challenges during the teen years. With the advent of hormonal changes, increased academic pressure, and typical teenage angst, teens with ADHD may begin to act out. Parents are often not prepared for the shift in behaviors, and suddenly find themselves with an ADHD teenager out of control.
With the usual dangers associated with the teen years, such as exposure to drugs and alcohol, sexual activity, truancy, or smoking, the risk factor can be elevated for adolescents with ADHD. This is due to the higher impulsivity and risk-taking behaviors that often accompany the disorder.
Understanding the specific behavioral and emotional developments that often accompany teen ADHD can help parents get a leg up on managing the evolving symptoms. However, when all efforts to support and manage the disorder seem to fail, parents may witness their ADHD teenager out of control behavior and feel helpless. When outpatient support has not been sufficient in helping their teen’s struggle with ADHD, a more intensive residential program may be appropriate.
About Teen ADHD
ADHD is a common chronic disorder among children, with a higher prevalence among males. Boys are diagnosed with ADHD at a rate 2 ½ times that of girls. ADHD is characterized as a neurobiologic disorder that features an unusual level of hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity. About 60%-80% of kids with ADHD will carry the disorder into the teens and adult years and continue to need medication to help manage the symptoms.
Science has yet to fully explain the sharp increase in ADHD prevalence since the 1980s when cases began to rise dramatically. While various theories abound, there is not a definitive cause for AHDH yet defined. Some of the risk factors or related causes that have been cited include:
- Neurochemical dysfunction of the brain
- Differences in certain brain regions have been identified when compare with individuals without ADHD
- Hereditary predisposition, or genetics
- Exposure to pesticides
- In utero exposure to alcohol and tobacco
- PFC exposure
ADHD in teens can have very different features depending on environmental factors, gender, the type of ADHD, and personality traits. In addition, symptoms of ADHD in childhood may be very different in a teen with the disorder. All this to say that parents, teachers, and coaches may find the ADHD teenager out of control, unable to follow rules, turn in assignments, exhibiting aggressive behavior, and more.
Parents may have had to provide a very rigid environment for their child with ADHD, which is actually helpful on many levels in the early years. Tight boundaries and firm adherence to routines and discipline are beneficial to children with ADHD. However, when these kids become teens, there is a tendency to through off these constraints in a desire to grow and become more autonomous. The frustration with limits or expectations can be displayed as acting out behaviorally, including high-risk behaviors.
For a teen living with ADHD, daily life can be exhausting and frustrating. As academic pressures mount in the high school years, it may be difficult for the adolescent struggling with ADHD to keep up with assignments, to complete projects, or to organize and prioritize academic and extracurricular activities.
ADHD Symptoms in Teens
There is a good chance that your teen has ADHD if they present with certain signs and symptoms. Teens with ADHD may exhibit a wide range of symptoms. These might include:
- Declining academic performance
- Social issues, relationship problems
- Boredom, apathy
- Unwilling to finish assignments, rushes through work, inferior work
- Disruptive in class, interrupting or challenging the teacher
- Substance abuse
- Difficulty getting organized, setting priorities
- Difficulty remember daily obligations, assignments, responsibilities
- Difficulty in test-taking, struggle to recall information studied even the night before
- Works below academic potential
- Easily sidetracked or distracted
- Doesn’t stick with things, quits
- Sexually active at early age
- More prone to car accidents, lack judgment, seek risky behavior
- Difficulty concentrating on task, lectures, reading material
Tips For Parents of Teens with ADHD
Parents of teens with ADHD may access the following helpful tips in managing the challenges:
- Encourage extracurricular activities that provide additional structure outside school hours and give the teen opportunities to experience success while discovering passions and honing skills.
- Set clear expectations and limits, and be consistent in enforcing them. The teen will not respond to or respect inconsistency.
- Have clearly articulated consequences for bad behavior. Especially when the teen is of driving age, it is essential they understand the responsibility that driving entails.
- Assist the teen in methods to help them stay organized and not miss appointments. Help by getting them organizer tools and apps on the phone that will help them stay on top of their responsibilities.
- Affirm and reward positive behavior and successes. Positive behavior should be noticed as often as negative behavior. Set incentives that help encourage positive choices.
- Have the teen establish healthy lifestyle habbits, such as getting regular exercise, avoiding junk food, and getting adequate sleep.
CHALLENGES FOR TEENS WITH ADHD
Teenagers already have a rough time when it comes to navigating this particular stage of their development. Kids who struggle with ADHD will have varying degrees of impairment depending on the type of the disorder they have, their gender, and whether there is a coexisting mental health disorder. Some of the specific areas of distress for teens with ADHD include:
- School and academics. ADHD makes it harder for a teen to remain focused during lessons or lectures, or to retain information from reading educational materials. This can lead to poorer performance on standardized tests, or general academic performance. Parents can assist their teen by helping to instill better organizational habits and to help them prioritize assignments.
- Emotion regulation. Teens with ADHD may struggle with a higher degree of moodiness or mood swings. They may have underdeveloped coping skills and not know how to adequately manage frustration or other negative emotions. Coping skills that help the teen better regulate their emotions and impulses, such as cool down techniques, can help them function better emotionally.
- Interpersonal relationships. One of the most challenging realms for teenagers with ADHD is in the area of peer relationships. They tend to struggle with inadequate social skills, which can lead them to be ostracized or rejected by their peers. Not only may they be the subject of bullying, but teens with ADHD may be the bully themselves, usually in reaction to how they have been treated. Parents can help their teen by keeping an open dialogue with them about their experiences at school or with relationships in general, so they will feel they have an outlet and sounding board. Psychosocial therapy interventions are also helpful for teens with ADHD.
- High-risk behavior. Because of the heightened propensity for impulsivity, teens with ADHD gravitate toward risky behaviors at higher rates and at younger rates than their peer group. This includes substance abuse, smoking, early sexual activity, and unsafe driving. Parents can help teens avoid exposure to smoking and alcohol or drug use by encouraging them to participate in extracurricular activities that will keep them occupied and supervised. Extra care should be devoted to teaching them to be safe drivers, even delaying them getting a drivers license for a year or two.
TREATMENT FOR TEEN ADHD
Teens who were diagnosed with ADHD as kids have probably been receiving support from the family physician or a therapist. Treatment for teens can be a bit different, as symptoms change in the early teen years, so should be adjusted accordingly. The following treatment and support sources include a range of interventions that can aid both the teen and the parents:
- Medication. Treatment for ADHD relies heavily on stimulant drug therapy, usually Adderall, Concerta, Ritalin, or Focalin. These stimulants help teens with ADHD with focusing, being alert, and staying on task.
- Psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy or other behavior-based therapies are usually prescribed along with the medication. Therapy helps the teen learn to modify their behaviors, which can significantly improve the behavior problems associated with teen ADHD. For example, if the teen seeks drugs or alcohol as a method of numbing their feelings of frustration with school or relationships, CBT can help them identify the triggers and reshape their thought distortions that have led to substance abuse.
- Behavioral strategies. Creating an orderly, organized and predictable environment is helpful to the teen with ADHD. Various actions can help create such a structured environment including establishing a regular daily routine, using timers to regulate homework, using to-do lists or checklists, setting alarms as reminders for taking medication or other actions, and using a daily planner.
- Behavioral parent training. Parent training classes teach parents of teens with ADHD certain skills to help them manage their teen at home. Parents learn how to set firm boundaries with consequences, how to create a more structured home environments, and how to utilize behavioral modification strategies to motivate the teen. In addition, parents are taught effective disciplinary techniques that reduce negative behaviors.
- Social skills training. These skills help the teen to learn to read nonverbal cues, how to resist interrupting someone who is speaking, and how to respect personal boundaries.
- Lifestyle changes. Try motivating a teen to engage in exercise or fitness programs by having them pick an activity that they feel is fun instead of a chore. Encourage a healthy diet by cooking nutritious meals and avoid processed or fast foods. Help the teen get better sleep quality by encouraging a regular sleep schedule and remove electronics from room at a certain time each night.
- Support groups for parents. Parents with teens who have ADHD may find it helpful to meet as a group to share their experiences and offer each other encouragement and support.
- Complementary activities. Some holistic approaches can work in tandem with traditional treatment to further help the teen manage the ADHD. These might include acupuncture, neurofeedback, meditation therapies, yoga, and nutritional supplements.