ADHD and Your Teen’s Behavior
The teen years are a long, natural rite of passage. Childhood intersects with adulthood as kids seek and gain more independence and responsibility. It’s a very trying time for any teen — but especially one who has ADHD.
“All of a sudden, they’re being asked to handle situations they’re probably not ready for,” says Diane Dempster, a certified professional coach based in Atlanta. She’s also the mother of a 16-year-old son with ADHD.
There’s no single test to diagnose ADHD. Instead, doctors rely on several things, including:
Interviews with the parents, relatives, teachers, or other adults
Personally watching the child or adult
Questionnaires or rating scales that measure symptoms of ADHD
The doctor needs to see how much a person’s symptoms are affecting his daily moods, behavior, productivity, and lifestyle habits. And he needs to rule out other conditions.
With children, the doctor will…
She notes that kids with the disorder often are three years behind their peers when it comes to executive function. “Their decision-making skills are lagging. Impulse control is lagging. Emotional control is lagging,” Dempster explains. “They may be physically ready and intellectually ready. But developmentally, they’re not quite there yet.”
In the teen years, the structure and supervision of elementary school are gone. They’re replaced by social demands and expectations. High school students change classes every hour or so. They sit in lecture halls, write in a planner, and use a locker. They’re just basically trying to organize life.
“ADHD’s symptoms become more apparent and more impairing during the teen years,” says Mary Rooney, a clinical psychologist at the University of California-San Francisco. “The child hasn’t changed dramatically, but his environment has.”
At the same time, there are new, riskier situations that the teen hasn’t had to deal with before. Take driving. Teens with ADHD tend to get more traffic tickets and be involved in more accidents.
Also, in general, they start experimenting earlier than other kids. “They are at a much higher risk for problems with substance abuse,” Rooney says. “So it’s very important to prevent kids with ADHD from using alcohol and drugs.”
The keys to avoiding worst-case scenarios with your teen? Keep the lines of communication open and be proactive. That isn’t always as easy as it sounds.
For years, Elaine Taylor-Klaus tried what she calls “the shotgun approach” with her three kids, all of whom have ADHD.
“Therapists, tutors — you name it, I tried it,” says Taylor-Klaus, who co-founded an ADHD coaching service, ImpactADHD, with Dempster. “It wasn’t holistic or comprehensive. It was about me trying to, quote, ‘fix them.’ “