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ADD/ADHD Information

Teenagers & ADD/ADHD 2

Teenagers with ADHD experience the same problems as teenagers without ADHD, such as:

being part of a group and fitting in with peers, eg clothes, music, friends
worries about exams and careers
physical development
conflict with parents about decision-making and authority.

However, teens with ADHD may react to some of the problems more acutely, and because they have lower tolerance levels they're more likely to go off at the deep end.

They also have more problems with self-esteem. Research by Russell Barkley and Gwenyth Edwards showed that teens with ADHD have more conflicts with their parents than teens without ADHD, and particularly with their mothers.

Below are some of the more common issues with tips to help tackle them.


Don't make this a power struggle. If your teen isn't taking their medication, ask them why and make sure that you properly listen to their views as they are valid - however once you have listened to them ask them to listen to your reasons why you feel they need to take medication and then try to explain how this can help them to focus and concentrate and be less impulsive. Try to remind them how things have been since they have been on medication if they have been on it and try to explain how it helped them to get on better and easier at school and with friends.

If they keep forgetting, get them to think of a way of reminding themselves to take it.

If they are embarrassed to take medication at school because they don't want their friends to know, talk to your GP or specialist about a sustained-release form so your teen won't have to take it at school.


Behaviour management techniques work on children but aren't as good for teenagers. This is because:

they're used to techniques such as star charts and reward chip systems and are bored by them

teenagers tend to rebel against what they think is parental manipulation.

If you give your teenager a huge list of house rules, they are likely to rebel.

If you talk things through with them and get them to negotiate the rules with you as a team, they are more likely to stick to the rules.

It's a double-win situation because this will also teach them a skill for dealing with problems and how to compromise.

Tips for tackling problem behaviour

Don't focus just on the negatives - look at what they can do well and praise the good behaviour.

Try to keep a sense of humour.

Teach them the consequences of their behaviour so they learn why they should or shouldn't do something.

Pick your battles carefully - ignore the little things and concentrate on the big things, or you'll be nagging constantly and this will make them hostile towards you.

Give them specific choices - this makes them feel more like an adult and means they are more likely to do what you ask.

Look at your expectations - are they reasonable or are you demanding perfection?

Be careful with assumptions - anticipating bad behaviour sets up negative expectations. Don't assume they are doing something deliberately to upset you or that one thing is going to lead to the worst possible scenario, eg not doing a piece of homework.

Talk through the problems together, and when you're calm. Come up with a list of solutions and find a compromise that works for all of you - including what happens if they don't do what you have agreed. It's best if this is a logical consequence ie temporarily removing their games console if it interferes with studying.

Keep communicating with your teen - listen as well as talk, maintain eye contact and try to express anger without hurtful words.

Ask your GP for help if either you or your teen are having problems managing anger.

Peers and friendship

Teens with ADHD may feel 'different' from their peers and feel socially isolated, particularly if they're impulsive and speak before they think about others' reactions.

Friends' parents may not want them mixing with a teen who has ADHD and 'gets into trouble all the time'.

Teens with ADHD can be perfectionists and focus completely on something they're interested in - which is wearing for friends.

Sometimes they don't notice what's going on around them, so their peers may call them names or think them stupid. Your teen may react by becoming the class clown to make himself popular.

Ways to Help:

encourage friendships and let your teen invite people home as often as possible.

teach your teen social skills such as how to read people's body language. It will help them see when they're at odds with friends and why. Check out our Social Skills Information Sheet for some ideas.

teach your teen to take a deep breath before they say or do something, and think about how they would feel if someone said or did that to them.

praise your teen often, and specifically, to boost their self-esteem and avoid the 'class clown' syndrome.

Drugs and alcohol

Some research shows that young people with ADHD are more likely to experiment with substances and start at an earlier age.

There are two things that make your child more likely to use substances:

having friends who use drugs and alcohol
being aggressive.

How to avoid this:

get to know your teen's friends, and subtly encourage friendships with those who don't use alcohol or drugs
keep your teen's aggression under control - if necessary, ask your GP to help
read up on the signs of substance misuse eg money going missing or 'holes' in spending, lying or secretive behaviour, sudden mood changes, loss of appetite or interest in school, work or friends.
teach your teen about substance misuse - be accurate and don't use scare tactics.

If your teen does start using drugs or abusing alcohol:

don't nag
let him know that you're worried about them and you love them - it's the behaviour you don't like
help them get professional help to quit.

Sex and relationships:

If your teen feels unpopular at school, they may become promiscuous to make themselves more popular.

Sex also releases natural stimulants, so it may be a form of self-medication (as stimulant medication is used to treat ADHD).

Research by Mariellen Fischer shows that teens with ADHD may be more likely to start having sex at an early age and less likely to use birth control.

To try avoid this:

boost your teen's self-esteem so they feel valued and don't have to be promiscuous to feel good about themselves
talk frankly with your teen about sex and relationships so they value themselves more highly
teach your teen about why safe sex and contraception are important. 2004

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