ADHD symptoms vary from one person to another and some kids with the disorder can actually be happy and great students. Since most of their lives are managed for them and they hardly have things to handle themselves, children with ADHD can be fun, joyful, exuberant and playful. Well, as life gradually begins to turn a bit complicated with the increasing demands of home and school, ADHD in teens may affect their ability to succeed.
Although medication is an important way to increase the focus of your child and decrease impulsivity, they can’t cure the disorder. The goal of getting medication is to help manage the symptoms of ADHD in teens so that those with the disorder can identify when their symptoms flare up and also learn tactics and strategies for managing themselves.
How does ADHD Affect a Teenager?
When children start maturing into adults, they experience puberty (this involves physical changes) as well as adolescence (social and psychological changes). Some teens “behave” like adolescents even before they attain puberty while others may be slow to accept the role of adolescents even long after puberty. Whatever happens, always bear in mind that you’re in for a bumpy ride during this stage of their life. Although boys with ADHD seem not to experience more difficulty coping with puberty than other teens, their problems and stresses may be a bit different.
Teen boys with ADHD tend to fall behind those without it as well as young women with ADHD in standardized test scores as well as rates of admission into college. They face several obstacles at school – always restless and their verbal skills lag behind those of girls. Unfortunately, boys with ADHD have a greater need – than girls – for help with their studies from teachers and parents, but as a result of their independent streak, they are less likely to accept it.
Here are signs of ADHD in teens:
- ADHD in teens affects their social functioning as they exhibit difficulties in peer relationships as a result of aggression, impulsivity and hyperactivity. Others such as poor social skills, difficulty coping with frustration and frequent interruptions can impact early friendships negatively and this will continue even into adolescence.
- Available data from research has shown that teens with ADHD are less likely to be accepted by peers and they have fewer friends. In addition, they are more likely to experience social rejection in their teenage years.
- ADHD symptoms in teens also lead to academic problems which frequently causes parents or teachers to evaluate the student. ADHD in teens has been linked to increased rates of grade retention, poor reading, detention, lower high school graduation rates, poor grades and expulsion.
- Another aspect of teen life that has also been affected by the symptoms of the disorder is their emotional functioning. Research has revealed high levels of comorbidity between ADHD and anxiety disorders, mood disorders and conduct disorder.
Treatment for Teens with ADHD
When it comes to treating ADHD in teens, there are many opinions and some experts are of the view that the use of only behaviour therapy may be effective for teenagers. However, the National Institute of Mental Health revealed that 80 percent of individuals who required drugs for ADHD as kids still require medication even as teenagers. The best treatment for teens with ADHD is a combination of behaviour therapy and medications such as stimulants.
Stimulant medications ensure that teens stay alert and excel in school and some of the common stimulants available include methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, Quillivant XR), dexmethylphenidate (Focalin XR and Focalin) and several others. Also, non-stimulant medications are used to treat ADHD symptoms in teens. Other methods of treatment include the use of supplements, memory training, parent training and neurofeedback. Parents can also assist their teen with ADHD in the following ways:
- Setting a daily schedule and reducing distractions as much as possible.
- Giving a boost to your teen’s self-esteem by affirming positive behaviour.
- Providing consistent and clear expectations, limits and directions.
- Since teens with ADHD require additional emotional support from teachers and parents, parents and teachers should use a strength-based approach. This means that instead of trying to fix what they feel is wrong, parents should focus more on what’s right.
- Teens can cope with their feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem with individual psychotherapy.
- As a parent, avoid trying to resolve disagreements when angry; instead, wait for a while so that you and your teen can calm down before working on heated issues.
- Try to engage in activities that offer your teen the chance for success.
How to Discipline a Teenager with ADHD
As mentioned earlier, the desire for independence as well as adolescent mood swings often leads to tensions as well as battles in most ADHD homes even as teens crave autonomy. Generally, it’s usually challenging to parent a teenager, but these challenges would be multiplied by several factors such as changing hormones and symptoms. So, how do you discipline your teen with ADHD?
- Avoid punishing symptoms: You should first realize that an emotional teen with ADHD is not being “difficult” Instead, something like forgetfulness or disorganization isn’t a voluntary choice, so it’s crucial to teach your teen symptom-control strategies and don’t be quick to project consequences.
- Develop a written contract: There is always a significant decrease in power struggles when rules are spelled out and signed by teens and parents. So, go ahead and create a few vital rules and don’t forget that having a few rules that you follow up with constant enforcement and reminders will be more effective than a long and overwhelming list.
- Anticipate future issues: You must plan how to react in advance when problems arise. For instance, how do you handle a situation where:
- Your teen with ADHD calls you names?
- She breaks curfew?
- Your teen skips school?
- He comes back home drunk?
Knowing what to do ahead of time will help you deal with such issues constructively and calmly.
- Establish zero-tolerance behaviours: The truth is that ADHD teens are at a higher risk for addiction, car accidents, and substance abuse. Life-threatening and illegal behaviours require meaningful and swift consequences.
- Allow your teen to vent: One of the challenges of the symptoms of ADHD is that it leads to strong emotions. So, you have to acknowledge your teen’s anger, resentment, frustration and disappointment without criticizing. Also, you need to understand the difference between angry feelings and angry acts.
- Be a bit Democratic: The family is definitely not a true democracy; however, it’s important to be kind of democratic with your ADHD teen. Discipline is always easier when your teen helps in shaping the rules. Consider holding weekly family meetings and encourage honest and open communication since it will create cooperation, acceptance and belonging.
- Ensure you can enforce your rules: Don’t fight battles you can’t win, so there is no need to set a rule you will find difficult to enforce. You can enforce a rule like be home by 10 o’clock, but it may be difficult to enforce a rule like, avoid spending time with your friend James who always gets you in trouble.
Techniques for Studying
Understand that the key to succeeding in school for your ADHD teen is to first identify your teen’s unique challenges and come up with specific solutions. Every individual with ADHD is different and this also applies to the things that work for them. Here are some tips to help your teen study better:
1.Create a Planner
Encourage your teen to have a planner which could either be a calendar on the computer, cell phone or a paper planner. This will serve as a “central system” where your teen can write down all the things he needs to do and when to do them. The next step is to schedule everything – the library, study sessions, classes, as well as breaks for relaxation or time with friends.
2.Try studying in increments
It’s ineffective and stressful to just cram the night before a test. This is because the human brain isn’t created to absorb and also retain information reviewed at the last minute. Instead last-minute stress may hinder your ability to properly understand and recall information.
3.Use of study tools that work best
What are the tools that help your teen study effectively? It could be copying notes, using flashcards or discussing a material with others. It could be a variety of techniques, so encourage your teen to use the study tools that work best. Another technique is to create a system of rewards for completing tasks. This will serve as motivation.
4.Have a homework station
Identify a perfect spot for your teen to do his homework daily. The ideal spot should be away from distractions such as the noise from the kitchen and distractions from siblings. The seat shouldn’t face a window, but a wall and you can drown out sounds with white noise from a fan or an MP3 player to increase concentration.
5.Create a studying schedule
One of the challenges that teens with ADHD have is time management and they easily get distracted. So, having a schedule can help deal with both problems. Encourage your child to break her homework into mini-assignments that can take a few minutes to complete. Then keep her on the task by using a timer. Also, plan to study around medication. Your teen may study better earlier in the afternoon while the drugs are still at work. However, reading may be difficult later in the evening when the drugs wear off.
6.Have a worry pad
Teens who are easily distracted by their thoughts need a worry pad. Rather than attempting to deal with all the distractions that keep popping up, you can encourage your teen to write down such thoughts on the pad. As soon as your teen is through with studies, then they can now deal with the thoughts that distracted them.
In addition to these tips, parents of teens with ADHD should arrange for a meeting with the school-based treatment team and talk about possible academic accommodations which include:
- Preferential seating
- The use of oral and written instructions for assignments
- Daily/weekly progress reports
- Some books to keep at home
- Academic tutoring
- Frequent breaks
- Taking a test in a different environment
- Extending the time on tests
Undoubtedly, there will be some risks for teens with ADHD while they pass through their adolescence stage into young adulthood. However, a good number of teens with the disorder become successful and productive adults. You can help your teen go through the challenges they experience during this phase by constantly being aware of your teen’s symptoms as well as struggles and providing the appropriate ADHD treatment and assessment.