Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in teens causes similar symptoms to other age groups. However, as teens move through school and into adulthood, ADHD can pose unique challenges.
Teens with ADHD may be outgoing, spontaneous, and sociable — but they may also experience difficulty focusing at school, handling peer pressure, and acting impulsively.
The way ADHD traits manifest themselves can vary from person to person and may change over time. By being aware of the potential strengths and challenges, people with ADHD and their families can take proactive steps to help manage them.
Read on to learn more about ADHD in teens, including the potential signs, differences in males and females, treatment, and coping skills.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
The diagnostic criteria for ADHD are the
Below are some specific examples of how ADHD may affect teens.
Many teenagers move from one school to another when they reach a certain age. This can mean a new environment, new peers, and more intense studying.
These transitions can be challenging for anyone, but people with ADHD can have additional difficulties. They may:
- find it hard to focus on topics they do not find interesting
- have difficulty staying focused for long periods of time
- have trouble assessing how long tasks will take, meaning they run late
- forget to do homework
- procrastinate, such as by leaving studying for a test until the last minute
- find it difficult to juggle multiple responsibilities, such as schoolwork and chores
If teachers are not aware of a person’s diagnosis, these behaviors may get a teen with ADHD into trouble.
As children become teenagers, relationships outside of the family can become increasingly important. They may be concerned about fitting in, want to make new friends, or start to develop romantic relationships.
Some ADHD traits, such as being talkative, energetic, or adventurous, may make it easier to make friends. But there are also some potential obstacles that a person may experience. For example:
- Rejection sensitivity: Some people with ADHD report that they experience rejection sensitive dysphoria, which is when a person experiences intense emotions in response to perceived criticism or rejection. This may cause arguments or make it difficult to maintain relationships.
- Conflict: People with ADHD may behave impulsively in their relationships, which could result in disagreements.
- Bullying: A
2020 reviewstates that female teens with ADHD are vulnerable to bullying or cyberbullying from their peers.
Teens who are learning to drive are more likely to have accidents or make mistakes than more experienced drivers. This risk tends to improve over time. However previous research suggests that people with ADHD continue to have a higher rate of traffic violations and collisions than their peers into adulthood.
Experts believe that much of this risk is due to inattention or difficulty staying focused. Teens with ADHD may find it harder to sustain their concentration for long periods and may not take in all the potential risks around them when driving.
Even small lapses in concentration can be dangerous when driving, but there is evidence that taking ADHD medications before driving can improve safety.
Transitioning to adulthood
- have more difficulty planning out, writing, or submitting college applications
- find working independently challenging
- have difficulty managing the demands of multiple college courses at the same time
- find it harder to apply for or get jobs
However, people with ADHD also report positive symptoms that can help them in the world of college or work. These include:
- critical and creative thinking skills
- a willingness to take intellectual risks
- the ability to intensely hyperfocus on subjects that interest them
Having ADHD does not mean a person will not have a fulfilling education, career, or personal life. With the right support, they can thrive.
In all people, risk-taking behavior peaks during adolescence, possibly due to how the brain changes at this stage of development. However, it is especially prevalent among teenagers with ADHD.
Compared to their peers, they may be more likely to engage in behaviors that may have harmful effects, such as sex without a condom or other barrier method, or drinking alcohol.
Teens with ADHD do not necessarily engage in risky behavior because they are acting out — although this can happen. It requires more effort for teens with ADHD to control momentary impulses that others might easily ignore.
Scientists believe this is because ADHD alters the reward system in the brain, making activities with immediate rewards much more appealing than those with delayed rewards.
Some research suggests that ADHD can present differently in females versus males. A
The predominantly inattentive subtype of ADHD, which only causes difficulty with focus and not hyperactivity, is also more common in females.
Gender norms and developmental expectations may also influence the presentation of symptoms. For example, teenage males may experience more peer pressure to behave in a stereotypically masculine way by taking risks, such as driving recklessly.
These factors may be why ADHD diagnoses are more common in males than females. These differences are not absolute, though. Children of all sexes and genders can experience all ADHD symptoms.
Doctors diagnose ADHD based on symptoms,
ADHD treatment for teens is the same as for other age groups. Medication is the mainstay of treatment, usually with a stimulant drug.
Lifestyle changes may help teens with ADHD manage their symptoms. For example, some people find exercise helpful.
Psychotherapy may be beneficial if a teen experiences anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem. Behavioral therapy with the teen or their family may also help.
The coping strategies that help teens with ADHD will depend on what they need, what challenges they are experiencing, and what strengths they have. It may help to:
- Create a tidy, distraction-free place to study at home.
- Work in short bursts with regular breaks, using a timer if it helps.
- Group similar things together so it is easier to find them, such as books or paperwork.
- Make a list of healthy but rewarding activities that help a person “recharge.”
- Set aside time to create automatic reminders for important dates on a phone or app.
- Learn ways of managing strong emotions, such as breathing exercises.
- Connect with other teens who have ADHD to swap tips and make friends.
Parents, caregivers, and others who wish to help a teen with ADHD should:
- Learn about ADHD, including from people who have a diagnosis, to better understand it.
- Let go of blame — ADHD is nobody’s fault.
- Support the person in getting a diagnosis if they do not already have one.
- Work with them to find strategies that help them, even if they are different from conventional advice.
- Let the teen organize their room in a way that makes sense to them.
- Write instructions or house rules down so that they are easy to remember.
- Enforce boundaries consistently and calmly, with logical consequences.
- Focus on the teen’s strengths while acknowledging their difficulties.
- Learn what legal rights the person is entitled to.
- Advocate for them at school, if necessary.
A child with ADHD may be eligible for special education or accommodations if their symptoms affect their ability to follow the school curriculum.
ADHD in teens causes the same symptoms as in other age groups. However, due to the new experiences and pressures of this life stage, they can manifest in different ways.
Teens with ADHD may experience more challenges at school, in forming relationships, and in learning to drive. They may also be more vulnerable to bullying or make impulsive decisions.
Medications, therapy, and family support can help teens manage their symptoms and reach their goals.