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Parenting and Adolescents With AD/HD: An M.D.'s Advice

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By Shashank V. Joshi, M.D.,FAAP

Are there behavior differences between adolescent boys and girls with AD/HD?

Girls are more often diagnosed with the "Inattentive" subtype of AD/HD than other types. Even though boys are diagnosed with all types of AD/HD more often than girls, having the inattentive type often allows girls to get through their elementary school years relatively "normally," though they may have been struggling all along. Perhaps due in part to societal expectations, a girl with AD/HD may not be the "squeaky wheel" that gets the teacher's attention and is regularly sent to the Vice Principal due to disruptive behaviors. Contrast this to the inattentive, noisy, impulsive, fidgety boy, who is the prototypical child with AD/HD. A girl with AD/HD may begin to show the most difficulty as the school work gets harder, and when sustained attention, organization, and concentration become crucial to success (as in middle school).

Facts to consider before talking with your teen about AD/HD

Before discussing AD/HD with your teenager, you'll want to understand the cause and effects of the condition. Keep the following facts in mind:

  • AD/HD has a biological basis. Brain chemicals called neurotransmitters carry signals for self-control, attention, and concentration throughout the brain. And although everyone has neurotransmitters, they need to be better regulated and rebalanced in people with AD/HD.
  • AD/HD involves difficulties with paying attention, acting before thinking, and feeling/acting restless or fidgety. For example, if you have AD/HD, an idea to do or say something will pop into your head and you may have a really hard time stopping and thinking about whether it's good or bad, or about the consequences. It's like having too little brake fluid in your car; when you press the brake pedal it's a lot harder to stop than if you had a full amount of fluid.4
  • Environment has a lot to do with how well a person adjusts to having AD/HD. You, other family members, school staff, and your child's friends can all help your teenager succeed. For example, if keeping schoolwork organized is a struggle for your teen, you might help him choose - and learn how to use - a personal organizer.

What to tell your teen with AD/HD

Many authors have written thoughtfully on this topic.2, 4, 5 Here are some suggestions for what to tell your teenager:

  • AD/HD is nobody's fault - not yours, mine, or your teachers'!
  • You're not "crazy" if you have AD/HD. Almost all people have some attention or focus problems at some point in their lives. Teens and adults with AD/HD just have much more trouble managing these symptoms than most people.2,4
  • AD/HD usually lasts a lifetime, but your symptoms and manifestations may change as you get older. For example, as you grow up, you may become less hyperactive (e.g., "bouncing off the walls"), but you may experience more mental restlessness.4
  • AD/HD can affect many areas of your life besides school. It can influence how you get along with others, how you do in sports and hobbies, how you feel about yourself, how organized you are, and how well you perform on the job.2,4
  • AD/HD is usually inherited, so someone else in the family may have it too, even if they haven't been given a diagnosis. Your kids may have it someday as well.4,5
  • Think of AD/HD as a challenge, not an excuse. You are still responsible for your actions, even though you have a condition that makes it harder for you to control your behavior and attention span.4
  • Your physical health influences how much control you have over the symptoms of AD/HD. The better you take care of your body, the better you'll adjust to the challenges of living with AD/HD. So try to eat right, get enough sleep and exercise, and avoid putting harmful chemicals (like nicotine, marijuana, and alcoholic beverages) into your body.4
  • At this point there is no cure for AD/HD. The good news is that there are many ways people can successfully cope with it. We're going to work with your teachers and doctor as a team, to help you to be the best you can be.4