What Do Teenagers With ADHD Experience?

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects behaviour. ADHD has long been misunderstood, but as research uncovers more about human behaviour and neuroscience, disorders like ADHD are no longer such a mystery. ADHD is often diagnosed during childhood or adolescence as common symptoms such as hyperactivity and distractibility generally become more evident in a school setting.

The experience of teens with ADHD can be challenging, marked by great difficulty fitting into the social expectations and often strict parameters of school life. They may struggle to focus on school work and typically face more peer rejection than neurotypical teenagers, leading to isolation and poor self-esteem. Despite this, many young adults with ADHD excel at school, building coping strategies and meeting academic expectations when well supported and properly understood.

What Is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

ADHD is a mental disorder described in the diagnostic and statistical manual 5 (DSM-5) as “a persistent pattern of inattention and hyperactivity or impulsivity that interferes with development and functioning.”

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder affects around 4% of teenagers in the UK, making it one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in those under the age of eighteen.

ADHD is most often diagnosed in childhood, at around age seven and around two-thirds of children diagnosed with ADHD continue to show symptoms in their teens. The symptoms of ADHD in both younger children and adolescents include:

  • Disorganisation
  • Poor concentration
  • Distractibility
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity

During puberty, as adolescence brings hormonal changes, increased social pressure and more intense demands from school and extracurricular activities, ADHD symptoms can worsen and cause more disruption to teenagers’ lives. Often girls will display ADHD differently compared to boys, more information about this can be found via our blog ADHD in Teenage Girls and Young Women.

How Does ADHD Affect the Lives of Teens With ADHD?

Adolescence is a time of change and learning, as well as identity formation. Teens with ADHD can be impulsive and rebellious and appear thrill-seeking and risk-taking. This is thought to be fed by a range of challenges they face. It is common for teens with ADHD to seem lazy, disorganised and unmotivated – this is largely a result of ADHD symptoms making school work incredibly challenging and not a result of work ethic or attitude. However, the response from teachers and parents can alienate teenagers, making them feel misunderstood and isolated, further fuelling these behaviours and even leading them to believe that they are, in fact, lazy and unmotivated, which affects self-esteem and creates a so-called self-fulfilling prophecy.

Social Skills

It can be difficult for teens with hyperactive-impulsive type and inattentive type ADHD to navigate social situations and maintain peer relationships, with each type causing unique challenges. Teenage years can be fraught with friendship problems anyway, but individuals with mental disorders, including ADHD, can experience additional challenges with social skills. Teens with ADHD often appear as if they are not listening, even when someone speaks directly to them. They may also leave mid-conversation, talk too much, interrupt others and butt into other people’s conversations. These may all frustrate and annoy their peers, putting strain on friendships and causing alienation or low self-esteem.


School Work

School can be a significant challenge for teens with ADHD. The increased academic challenges of middle and high school coupled with the deficits in executive functioning that ADHD can cause can make it difficult for some students with ADHD to meet academic expectations. They may struggle to remember or meet deadlines, make seemingly careless mistakes, show weak executive skills.

Impulsivity

Due to brain development, specifically in the brain’s frontal lobes, teenagers are generally more impulsive than adults. Adolescence is often a time of experimentation, enacting new-found freedoms. Teens with ADHD can experience particular difficulty resisting temptation and controlling impulses which could lead to risky behaviours or potentially dangerous decisions. Research suggests that teens with ADHD tend to have higher rates of behavioural issues at school and even criminal behaviour. ADHD impulsivity can be exacerbated by peer pressure during the teen years, so it is especially important for parents to speak to teens with ADHD aboutrisky behaviours, substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases.

Emotional Functioning

Every teen’s life will be fraught with mood swings at some point and can even feel like an emotional rollercoaster at times. Teen years are confusing and overwhelming; menstruation, acne, weight gain or loss, and voice changes, all under the watchful eye of social media, are enough to distress anyone. Many teens struggle with mental health issues such as anxiety during this time. However, the higher rates of anxiety and depression alongside ADHD make this a particularly pressing challenge that teens with ADHD face.

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Treating ADHD

Although there are many approaches to treatment, a combination of medication and behavior therapy generally seems to be the most effective intreating teens with ADHD. This combination helps to alleviate symptoms of ADHD, often helping a teen cope with schoolwork by improving focus, creating coping mechanisms for everyday challenges, and addressing unhelpful patterns of behaviour.

Medication

Taking stimulant medications in adolescence is seen as a contravention to some, and many parents are fearful of the long-term effects that this may have, but various studies show that stimulant medications such as Adderall XR help alleviate core symptoms of ADHD, allowing teens to focus on school work and demonstrate better social functioning and emotional maturity. That said, medication is not for everyone; side effects such as lack of appetite, sleep problems, and social stigma can put many teens off.

Therapy

ADHD affects all areas of life, so finding ways of dealing with it, such as behavioral therapy, is important. Research shows high levels of comorbidity between ADHD and anxiety, mood disorders, depression and conduct disorder. In fact, female adolescents with ADHD may be 2.5 times more likely to struggle with major depression than female adolescents without it. Therapy can address both the difficulties relating to ADHD and the co-occurring disorders.

How Can Parents Help?

Although teachers, therapists and peers are influential, parents and caregivers play a significant role in alleviating or addressing some of the difficulties faced by adolescents with ADHD.

Parent Training

Many parents of ADHD children report that learning effective behaviour management or discipline strategies is an excellent way to help their teens deal with some of the challenges associated with ADHD. Teens with ADHD exhibit difficulties following instructions and focusing. This can be frustrating for parents, and addressing issues such as your child not completing tasks in a way that is understanding of their ADHD symptoms is auspicious.

Education

Helping your child understand their condition and how it affects them can make a massive difference to their self-esteem and development. Teens can begin to internalise challenges they face, even forming the belief that they are a failure or inferior in some way when in reality, the ADHD brain can excel in many areas but struggles to complete some tasks expected of individuals in society. Accepting and loving your child for who they are, ADHD symptoms included, can improve self-esteem and confidence as your child matures. For some, distraction, disorganisation, and inattentiveness can continue into adulthood. Recognising, accepting and loving themselves for who they are, despite the frustration that people may have with them, will decrease a person with ADHD’s chance of developing mental health disorders such as depression.

Further information on similar topics can be found via our blog What Is ADHD Inattentive Type?.

Structure

Having a structured routine for your child’s life can help them greatly. Regular wake-up times and bedtimes can help with sleep problems and improve mood. Most teens struggle with a lack of sleep at some point, but encouraging a healthy, structured routine can minimise stress, disorganisation and exhaustion. Encouraging your teenager to engage in structured social activities such as youth groups and sports clubs can help solidify their routine and provide opportunities for positive social interactions.

Contact Us

If you are worried about the well-being of a teenager with ADHD, help is available. At The Wave Clinic, we understand that ADHD can be isolating and leave you feeling misunderstood, disregarded and undervalued. Social interaction can leave you feeling confused and rejected, and the school environment may cause you a great deal of stress and anxiety.

We understand the importance of tailoring treatment to the specific needs of each individual teenager that we meet. We believe in their qualities, strengths and skills and are determined to help them gain confidence to share them with the world.

Get in touch today to learn more about our holistic and medical treatments to help teens manage ADHD symptoms and gain control of their lives.

Fiona - The Wave Clinic

Fiona Yassin is the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic. She is a U.K. and International registered Psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor (U.K. and UNCG).

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