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ADHD and Adolescents

The dreaded adolescent phase!  My twins have just turned 13!  My girl twin has ADHD my son, her twin does not.  But I now have two adolescents in my house *gasp.  I thought it would be wise to research and write this post to pre-empt what I am potentially going to experience if I am not already experiencing it.  

Firstly, I decided to read up on adolescents in general.  I mean all we ever hear about is how moody they are, how they sleep all day and stay awake all night, how ‘No’, is a complete sentence in their language and basically how hormones are the cause of everything.  So, I decided to google some info, but I also wanted to find out what it felt like from an adolescent’s perspective. Here are some great quotes, written by adolescents themselves:

“When you are too young for half the things you want to do and too old to do the other half.”

Adolescents and ADHD

“A stage where you feel like you are smarter than your parents but forced to live with them.”

“People who are treated like children but expected to act like adults.”

“Teenagers are trying to discover the world too, but with every single stress imaginable on their shoulders like friends, what they look like, crushes, parents, grades and their normal routine.”

“People always say if a teenager is unhappy or going through a tough time, it’s down to hormones. How irritating for someone to say this when you are going through genuine problems. A lot of us have major worries. School, jobs, family, relationships, friends, the way we look – there is a lot of expectations thrown upon us. Excuse us for not being jolly 24/7. We’re also very aware, the choices we make today will affect the rest of our lives.”


Put like that you can see why they are going through a tough time and why they might appear ‘moody’.  They are going through a massive change from child to adult.  They are in a huge transition, and it must be so tough.  Especially as we parents are so ‘uncool’ and just do not ‘get it’.

I honestly do not really remember what I was feeling like to be an adolescent, it was quite some time ago! I do think there was a lot less pressure than there is on our children today.  Looks are a huge issue now.  I mean, of course, we did not want to look dire.  But we certainly did not need to look perfect like the images thrust upon us by Instagram and other social media tools that are part and parcel of our life.  I had no idea what a ‘filter’ was on a photo until a year or so ago! Academically I do not remember being under such pressure either.  They seem to be selecting their GCSEs straight after finger painting classes these days.  Ok, maybe not that soon, but it’s definitely earlier. 

Something that I absolutely detest now, the need for designer gear or the shame of not having it.  I never had that at school.  No one ever commented on trainers.  I mean you might say they looked nice, but they could have been bought from anywhere!  You were not frowned upon for not having the latest stuff.  Imagine being in school and having your own phone!  Your friends would have thought you were the richest kid on the planet!  They would never have said, ‘Yeah but what series is it?  Is it an S or an XS or a plus?’ or whatever the latest initial is!  The world has gone crazy.  But if you do not keep up, will you get mocked for it.  Honestly, I would hate to be an adolescent now.

That aside, a rant on society another day, what about our adolescents?  Specifically, our adolescents with ADHD? What should they/we expect from this hormonal rollercoaster of time?  As I say, I am no expert on this because I am just embarking on this ‘ride’, but this is what I am learning.


Many adolescents, do not want to be different or to stand out.  They want to feel part of the crowd with their friends.  Having an ADHD diagnosis may be something that they now become ashamed of.  It may cause them stigma or embarrassment.  I know that I am lucky with my daughter with ADHD. She has always been able to be incredibly open with her friends about her ADHD diagnosis.  She went to the local village mainstream school initially and most of her friends have witnessed her fleeing class, lobbing fruit across the classroom, sitting under the desk, and generally having meltdowns because she could not cope there.  My daughter now goes to a specialist school nearby and has maintained a few good friends from her mainstream school days.  She is open and honest with people about what school she goes to and why.  Long may that last. 

I have always told her not to be ashamed of having ADHD.  I have always praised her for everything she CAN do and how smart she is in everyday life and for thinking outside of the box.  She truly is amazing.  Talk to your adolescent child so they are prepared for someone commenting on their ADHD or, like my daughter, that they go to a specialist school.  Think of something ‘cool’ to say back to that person, even though as parents we are seriously so ‘uncool’ now! Help them pre-empt any conversations that may be had.

Sometimes due to the stigma, they may feel they may want to come off the ADHD medication they are on.  If your adolescent is on medication that they need to take during school hours and they are too embarrassed to do this in front of their peers, maybe talk to their Dr and see if you can get time-release pills or medication.  

Not taking meds can become a real power struggle in some households simply as an act of rebellion by your child.  Ensure they are taking the medications correctly and not skipping them.  ADHD medication is safe when taken as directed. This really needs to be explained to your adolescent child.  I say it’s like wearing glasses to see.  It is more embarrassing to bump into things and trip over stuff than it is to simply wear those glasses, aka take those meds!


Most adolescents will have concerns about their looks and self-perception.  This is generally a given at this stage, it is very egocentric.  Imagine, therefore, what our adolescents with ADHD must be experiencing.  Many of them already suffer from low self-esteem issues (see ADHD and Low Self Esteem).  Depression and anxiety are very prevalent during this period.  Depression can make them sad, and irritable and affect their sleeping.  A bad night’s sleep makes the best of us feel low mood.

Adolescents and ADHD
Tennis time

So, how can you help?  Try to get them to engage in activities that they are good at.  Feeling happy and successful at something can really boost their confidence and self-esteem.  Many adolescents with ADHD do not enjoy school and its structure.  Find something they enjoy that suits their personality and involves their strengths.  This could be anything; music, art, sport, computers.  Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.  If school is not their thing, then help them find something that is, whatever it is!  My daughter loves tennis and piano, not obsessively but she really enjoys the lesson.  Oh, and on that note, make sure you find the right teacher/coach.  If a hobby, even one they are good at, becomes a chore or not fun it is less likely to keep them engaged I find.

Risky Behaviour and Peer Pressure

Let us face it, most adolescent kids are not good at judging and recognising the consequences of risky behaviour and making bad decisions.  Due to our children’s difficulties with executive functioning, adolescents with ADHD will require our support more than your average adolescent kid.  Have as many conversations as possible about risky situations they may be faced with before they encounter them. Give them strategies for how to divert/ get out of sticky situations. 

Adolescents and ADHD
Risky Behaviour

It is hard for our adolescent children with ADHD to walk away from someone that has say, angered them.  They may see that red mist and not be able to think clearly and rationally (as many people without ADHD do too due to their emotional dysregulation).  I draw a little discreet pink heart on my daughter’s wrist to remind her of me.  She would hate to let me down and sometimes, not always, she can look at that and think walk away or do not answer back or whatever it may be.  That is just something for her and me, but it is that reminder. 

It is important, with all adolescent children that you can have open and honest chats about sex, drugs, and alcohol too.  This again can be part of wanting to feel accepted by a group.  Let them know you are there for them to talk to.  Drugs and alcohol combined with ADHD medication can also be a disastrous mix.  Make sure your child is aware of the side effects of this and just how dangerous it can be.

Adolescents and ADHD

Telling social stories is good, making them applicable to their life.  Find some that are relevant to situations they may encounter.  Use examples of things that have happened and not old wives’ tales.  It is probably not best to use our childhood as examples.  If your children are anything like mine, they will say, ‘Oh in the olden days,’ or ‘when T-Rex was alive,’ and it won’t’ seem at all applicable to their life.  We are now ‘uncool’.

Remember they are entering a phase where they will be seeking additional freedom and trying to push boundaries further.  We have a list on my fridge of things that are not allowed in our house and will incur a consequence (normally taking away something electronic!).  They then know it is their responsibility not to do this.  If they do something that is clearly written on this list, then it has been their choice to do so.  Their choice to lose their phone, tv, controller whatever it might be.  The rules were clearly stated and drawn up together when they were calm.  They cannot now be disputed.  Proactive not reactive discipline is always better for adolescents with ADHD.  Always reward the good behaviour to try to get more of it!  Help them learn from their mistakes when they are calm.

The importance of peer friendships and acceptance into groups is vital to this age group.  If your child had difficulty with this growing up, they may feel even more concerned now about peer rejection.  Apparently, it is common for adolescents with ADHD to fall in with the ‘wrong crowd’.  They may be readily accepted here, and this can make them feel good.  But the ‘wrong crowd’ are the ones most likely to engage in risky behaviour.  Again, encouraging friendship groups from clubs etc that they have a passion for, where they are successful and thriving, is a great place for them to evolve. 


In these years, the pressure in school increases.  Demands are higher, supervision is less, and their workload increases.  Communicate with their school if you feel they are being swamped.  Schools should accommodate adolescents with ADHD.  ADHD is considered a disability and should be acknowledged.  Extra time on tests, maybe in a separate room with fewer distractions.  Talk to your child’s school and find out what strategies they have in place. If they do not, research ideas that could be put in place that would help your child. 

Adolescents and ADHD

I would also say to keep talking to your child. My daughter knows I expect her to try her hardest, but also knows that academic success is not the only success in life.  I do not want her to feel like a failure just because she did not get an A or whatever the alternative is now (showing my age!).


I remember getting my provisional driving license, I was sooooooo excited, I had wanted to drive for so long.   Many of my friends liked the idea of increased freedom and independence.  For me, it was just the driving! :D

Obviously, I have no experience of this yet, with my children only thirteen and ten, but apparently, adolescents with ADHD are more prone to driving recklessly. According to research, they are more likely to be inattentive, make impulsive errors, get more tickets, and be involved in more accidents. Oh, joy.  Another thing for us to worry about, as if we do not have enough! 

Adolescents and ADHD

Also, just because your child is of the legal age to drive, does it mean they should be allowed?  Are they mature or responsible enough?  To be fair this could be said of many adolescents, but due to the later development of the frontal lobe in our children with ADHD and therefore their executive functioning, should they be allowed to drive just because they have reached the right age?  Tough call.  Imagine having to tell your kid they are not allowed to drive when they can because you do not think they are mature enough.  Yet, our parental responsibility is to keep them safe.  

I will not be teaching my daughter to drive and will gladly pay someone else to do that.  It just would not work for us.  Nearer the time I will do my research and find the most patient teacher I can possibly find!

Once they have passed their test, I would imagine you at least know that they have been found competent and could remain calm and less impulsive as surely this would have been highlighted by the instructor and examiner?  I think the best way to try and keep track of their driving is to ask for lifts as often as possible and gauge how they are doing, without being a critical backseat driver.  The advice I have read is that if there is any speeding, texting, or talking on the phone whilst driving is to enforce a ban for a month.  Being hard on them is cruel to be kind. 

Apparently, ADHD stimulant medication can really have a positive effect on driving performance, helping with focus and impulsivity.  But again, I am no Doctor!  And not prescribing it, just passing on what I have read.

Adolescents and ADHD

I wish us all luck with our adolescents with ADHD.  Who knows, maybe because we have had so many challenges with our children already, this period will not be as bad as people make out?  I would love to hear from parents who have already experienced adolescents with ADHD.  Please do let us know the good, the bad and the ugly.  Any other survival tips on how you parented your adolescent with ADHD would be gratefully received.  Prepare for the worst and all that.  Stay positive and come join my parenting support group on Facebook if you are a parent, carer or even a professional. We’ll all muddle through this together. There is also a Facebook Page for anyone who is just interested too because parenting alone is hard enough.

Vicki xx

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