Young people with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) usually begin to experience symptoms in their childhood years. But these symptoms can become more noticeable as children enter their teenage years, when puberty is presenting its own challenges. The overlap between these experiences can be difficult for both teens and their parents.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- What is ADHD?
- What is puberty like for teens with ADHD?
- How can puberty affect ADHD treatment?
- ADHD and other mental health conditions
- How to support your teen with ADHD and puberty
What is ADHD?
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition, which means it’s caused by differences in people’s brain activity and chemistry. That makes it different from conditions like anxiety and depression, which can be caused by life factors such as grief, change and poor self-esteem. People with ADHD experience difficulties with focus and attention, self-organisation, and/or feelings of impulsiveness. However, they can also be more adept at creative thinking tasks and may be better able to feel ‘in the moment’.
To learn more about ADHD and how it can affect your teen, read our factsheet here.
What is puberty like for teens with ADHD?
Sometimes, the way a child’s ADHD presents can change in their teenage years. The symptoms might become more noticeable and more challenging, so it’s common for ADHD to be diagnosed while a young person is going through puberty.
The physical and emotional changes that come with puberty can be challenging for any teen. But it can be even more so for a teen with ADHD, who may have trouble with emotional regulation. Puberty can add to their mood and behavioural difficulties. Fluctuating hormones can also exacerbate ADHD symptoms. During puberty, children with ADHD may be more likely to:
- become irritated and frustrated
- experience really strong emotional reactions, even stronger than you’d expect from a teenager
- feel sad or depressed
- have mood swings
- show early signs of substance-related problems
- experience mood disorders such as anxiety, and even feelings of panic.
The changing hormone levels that mark puberty are also associated with increased risk-taking behaviour. As children with ADHD may have experienced trouble with school and friends, they may feel a greater sense of wanting to ‘fit in’. This can mean that they are much more susceptible to peer pressure when they reach puberty and may make impulsive decisions.
To learn more about puberty and how it can affect teenagers going through it, read our factsheet here.
How can puberty affect ADHD treatment?
Teenagers often find the changes that accompany puberty confusing and distressing. All they want is to fit in with their peers. Many kids with ADHD who took their medication without complaint when they were younger may begin to protest and rebel – they don’t want to be singled out or be seen as different from everyone else.
Some teens with ADHD also find that they might experience different side-effects during puberty, or that their medication seems less effective. Your teen’s paediatrician or ADHD specialist can help to address these concerns and suggest options that might suit your teen. The good news is that many teens with ADHD improve significantly after puberty and many no longer need medication.
ADHD and other mental health conditions
As your teen is going through so many physical, emotional and hormonal changes at this time, it can be tricky to figure out what’s a typical part of puberty and what’s not.
People with ADHD have an increased risk for experiencing another mental health condition. During puberty, your teen may be experiencing mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression for the first time. These conditions can have overlapping symptoms with ADHD. This can mean that one can be confused for the other. But it can also mean that if your teen is experiencing both ADHD and one of these conditions, they may be finding life particularly challenging.
Learn more about how you can support your teen with depression and other mental health conditions.
How to support your teen with ADHD and puberty
Here are some ways you can help your teen manage their ADHD symptoms during puberty:
- Be patient with your teen’s challenges. If ADHD symptoms have your teen engaging in bad habits or behaviour, it may take a long time for them to change. If you’re engaging with them in loving, supportive ways, they’ll be more likely to feel encouraged and motivated to work on those habits. Learn more about how you can help your teen manage their ADHD symptoms.
- Ask without judging. For example, if your teen isn’t taking their medication, ask them why, instead of accusing them of doing it on purpose. Listen to them, discuss their concerns and work on a solution that suits you both. If you’re unsure whether your teen’s behaviour is a typical part of puberty or if it’s exacerbated by ADHD, you could also check in with their specialist.
- Validate your teen’s perspective, even if you don’t agree with it. What might seem like a small thing to you as an adult, might feel all-consuming to your teen. Your child needs to feel like you’re on their side. Listen to their frustrations without offering solutions, unless they ask for your suggestions or advice.
- Help your teen get into good routines around their diet, sleep and exercise. Encourage your teen to improve their overall wellbeing by eating healthily, getting sufficient sleep and exercising regularly, so that they can better deal with life’s challenges and stresses.
- Celebrate the positive sides of your teen’s ADHD. Having ADHD or experiencing ADHD symptoms isn’t always a bad thing. Help your teen to identify their strengths. Come up with ways as a family to celebrate your teen and to embrace every part of their personality.
For a full list of ways to help your teen manage their ADHD symptoms, check out our article here.