Teens diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) experience the same core symptoms as younger children with the disorder, including: inattention, impulsivity, and, in some cases, hyperactivity. Teens also face increased expectations socially and academically during this time, which can work to intensify some symptoms of ADHD.

Developmentally, high school is a period of development characterized by higher academic and social expectations. Teens have more autonomy and less structure both at school and at home, and less teacher oversight when it comes to completing assignments and keeping up with coursework. For teens with ADHD, this newfound independence can backfire.

Social functioning

Many children with ADHD exhibit difficulties in peer relationships due to impulsivity, hyperactivity, and aggression. Frequent interruptions, difficulty coping with frustration, and poor social skills can negatively impact early friendships, and that pattern can continue into adolescence.

Research shows that children who have ADHD have fewer friends, are less likely to be accepted by their peers, and are more likely to experience social rejection during their teenage years.1

The importance of peer relationships increases during adolescence, as teens spend more of their time engaged with peers. Lack of practice with social skills in the early years can make it difficult to establish new friendships during the teen years.

Try this: Provide your teen with plenty of opportunities to engage in structured social activities, such as team sports, clubs, or youth groups to increase positive peer interactions.

Article continues below

Concerned about ADHD?

One of our 3-minute Self-Assessments may help identify if you or your child could benefit from further diagnosis and treatment.

Adult ADHD Quiz Child ADHD Quiz

Academic functioning

Academic problems are a key feature of ADHD, often triggering the teacher and/or parent to evaluate the student. ADHD is associated with poor grades, poor reading and math standardized tests scores, increased rates of grade retention, detention, and expulsion, and lower high school graduation rates.2

The demands of middle and high school can place additional stress on students diagnosed with ADHD. The difficulty of the workload increases as students approach high school, and nightly assignments are often replaced with long-term assignments that require planning and organizational skills.

Particular areas of difficulty might include:

  • planning/organization skills
  • study skills
  • note taking skills
  • test taking skills
  • poor executive function

Try this: Research shows that academic interventions, when combined with medication, behavioral therapy, and classroom behavioral interventions, are beneficial for students diagnosed with ADHD.3

Classroom accommodations and support after school can help teens with ADHD succeed. Schedule a meeting with the school-based treatment team to discuss the following academic accommodations:

  • extended time on tests
  • preferential seating
  • test taking in an alternate environment
  • peer helper with note taking
  • written and oral instructions for assignments
  • frequent breaks
  • academic tutoring
  • organizational tutoring
  • daily/weekly progress reports
  • a set of books to keep at home

Emotional functioning

Many teens with ADHD experience other difficulties. Research shows high levels of comorbidity between ADHD and mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and conduct disorder.4 One study found that adolescent females with ADHD have a 2.5 times higher risk of major depression than female adolescents without ADHD.5

Teens with ADHD need extra emotional support from their parents and teachers. The behaviors that parents and teachers view as frustrating or annoying are the very behaviors that trigger anxiety and low self-esteem in teens with ADHD. Left unchecked, these behaviors can intensify and result in symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders.

Due to impulsivity, emotional regulation is a struggle for teens with ADHD. Combine increased pressure, high academic demands, low social interaction skills with low emotional regulation skills and it all adds up to teens with ADHD struggling with numerous social-emotional struggles each day.

Try this:

Teens with ADHD need supportive relationships at home to help them thrive out in the world.

  • Use a strengths-based approach—instead of focusing on “fixing” what’s wrong, focus on what’s right. Help your teen discover his strengths and passions and focus on those.
  • Boost confidence by supporting your teen’s interests.
  • Individual psychotherapy can help your teen cope with feelings of low self-esteem and anxiety.
  • Use clear communication to discuss boundaries and expectations.
  • Avoid settling disagreements when angry – wait until you and your teen are calm to work through heated issues.
  • Engage in meaningful activities that provide opportunities for success.

While there are certainly risks for teens with ADHD is they move through adolescence and into young adulthood, many teens do go on to become productive and successful adults. Continued awareness of your teen’s specific symptoms and struggles combined with treatment and intervention will help your teen work through the pitfalls to a successful future.

Article Sources
Last Updated: Apr 30, 2019