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Teens and ADHD

What is ADHD? Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects over 11% of school-age kids in the United States. Teenagers with ADHD can struggle with attention, focus, hyperactivity, and controlling impulses. The American Academy of Pediatrics describes ADHD as a brain condition that makes controlling impulses and behavior difficult. Symptoms of ADHD are linked to many specific areas of the brain. Teenagers don’t outgrow ADHD, but it is something that can be managed through long-term treatment plans.

Causes of ADHD

There is no single cause of developing ADHD and leading scientists continue to research causes and factors associated with ADHD. However, risk factors for ADHD can incl e: family history, genetics, changes in brain chemistry, traumatic brain injuries and nutrition/diet.

According to CHADD, factors such as low birth weight, prenatal complications, and prenatal maternal smoking can contribute to some cases of ADHD. It’s also important to note that while parenting styles do not cause ADHD, parenting relationships and interactions can either help reduce ADHD symptoms or can make the symptoms worse.

Signs & Symptoms of ADHD in Teens

Some common symptoms of ADHD include:

  • Making careless mistakes
  • Feeling the urge to move
  • Getting distracted easily
  • Forgetfulness
  • Interrupting others when speaking
  • Unable to talk to others calmly
  • Difficulty making or keeping friends
  • Making poor choices that can lead to serious consequences

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, in addition to the symptoms above, teens with ADHD typically show the following behavior symptoms: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. If you think you might have ADHD, try the Heads Up Checkup symptom checker and get immediate results sent to your email.

ADHD Diagnosis

How are teens diagnosed with ADHD? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends performing an ADHD evaluation in teens who present academic and/or behavioral problems plus symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity or impulsivity. In some cases, rating scales are used as evaluation tools. These various scales assess the symptoms in long and short form evaluations. Often, information will be gathered from your teachers at school, parents, and mental health clinicians during the evaluation process.

Effects of ADHD in Teens and Adolescents

Common struggles in living with ADHD are not only about paying attention in school, but also with making friends, having a messy room, losing things, or feeling isolated.

It’s easy to see the impact of ADHD symptoms at school – poor grades, inattention in class, difficulty sitting still, and missed assignments – but it’s not so easy for others to see some of the other issues you may be dealing with. Many teens report struggling to make friends, remembering important events like a friend’s birthday, and staying organized. Teenagers often have a more difficult time with ADHD symptoms because of an increase in responsibility and expectations. You are expected to be more independent, make good choices for yourself, contribute to household chores, or have an afterschool job – all while getting good grades and making lifelong friends. It’s a lot of pressure.  Many teens struggle with self-esteem, but over 50% of teens with ADHD state that they have low self-esteem and think that they are a burden on their friends and family. They feel broken and unable to do what’s expected of them.

There are other mental health concerns that can go along with ADHD. According to CHADD, up to 60% of children and teens with ADHD have been found to have at least one additional disorder. Some struggle with depression, anxiety, communicating their feelings with friends or family and getting a good night's sleep. If someone with ADHD feels nagged, harassed, or bullied, they may resort to defiant behaviors known as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) or Conduct Disorder (CD). With appropriate treatment, these negative and painful issues can be lessened or controlled completely.

How can we make ADHD work for us?

ADHD does not mean you are broken.  It might mean you have a superpower if you can manage it properly.  Many successful celebrities and athletes like Justin Timberlake, Jim Carey, and Michael Phelps talk openly about their struggles with ADHD as a child and how they were able to channel their energy and focus on their successes.  Behavioral support can help you take your “symptoms” and turn them into valuable skills like:




Being great in a crisis


An ability to multitask

ADHD Treatment

Although there is no known “cure” for ADHD, good treatment can lessen the negative impacts.  The two most commonly used interventions are:

In behavioral therapy, an individual management plan is made that can include talk therapy, education for parents, and behavioral support to help you turn ADHD into a superpower. You can learn more about different therapy methods here. Medications are often prescribed by physicians to help regulate ADHD symptoms. Some physicians recommend making changes to your diet. Cutting back on caffeine and sugar and replacing those with protein and vegetables are often recommended in addition to behavioral support and medication.

Additional Tips On How Teens Can Cope With ADHD

In addition to maintaining and refining your treatment plan, below are some additional tips for teens with ADHD.

  • Establish a healthy diet. Foods with artificial colors may increase ADHD symptoms. Eliminating junk, fatty, and sugary foods and replacing them with healthier options will give you the natural energy to help you power through the day. It can also help you think more clearly.
  • When you feel stressed out, find ways to incorporate relaxation. From exercising to seeing a movie with friends or reading a good book—do something that will put you in a good mood.
  • When you’re with your friends, whether you’re hanging out or are at school, make an effort to listen, show engagement and not interrupt. This can help strengthen your relationships as well as help you focus on your friends.
  • When driving, eliminate distractions, such as loud music, phones, or even passengers. If possible, try to plan your trips ahead of time and have a general idea of where you’re traveling to.
  • Find a good listener. It’s important that you express yourself in a healthy way to someone who wants to support and help you. From your own family to school counselors and therapists, there are many outlets to choose from.   
  • Get the accommodations you need in school. Tutors can help you stay on track with homework and test preparation as well as give you the extra help you need with a specific subject.
  • Lastly, as mentioned above, find activities/hobbies that you are passionate about and channel your energy into them. Make goals and work towards achieving them.

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