Teens with ADHD and the Challenges Families Face

Discover the unique ways in which living with an ADHD teen can affect the entire family, and get effective tips for coping with it.

Medically reviewed in November 2021

The teen years can be a roller-coaster ride for most children and families, thanks to hormone changes and boundary pushing. With attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the ride can be even more extreme. As a child with ADHD enters the teen years, symptoms such as excess energy, emotional outbursts and inattention don't necessarily vanish. In fact, new and more complex challenges unique to teens with ADHD can sometimes arise, which, when coupled with existing behaviors, can have a profound impact on the family dynamic. It's common for parents and siblings to feel frustrated and stressed out or somewhat resentful. At times you may feel inadequate as a mom or dad. If left unchecked, such emotions can strain relationships to the point where daily family life and communication start to break down.

It's not surprising that findings suggest marriage troubles are much more prevalent in families with an ADHD child or teen, and divorce rates are almost double, according to one study. Parents of ADHD children are also more likely to become depressed or abuse alcohol or drugs.

These stats highlight the importance of establishing systems—both within and outside your family—that foster awareness, communication and coping skills for the whole family as the ADHD child enters the teen years. Below are strategies to help you successfully navigate this stage of development:

Keep everyone informed
Family members may already feel well versed in coping with an ADHD child, but new behavioral problems particular to the teen years are likely to appear. Discuss the possible behavior changes with the entire family so they can anticipate problems and know how to respond appropriately.

For example, research suggests that substance abuse and smoking are more prevalent among teens with ADHD than teens without the condition. Make yourself and everyone in the household aware of the red flags of substance abuse and how to recognize them in your teen. (Here are some pointers on talking with your kids about alcohol and drugs.) Also, because being easily distracted and having trouble staying focused put ADHD teens at a four-times-higher risk of auto accidents, make it known that your ADHD teen should never drive after his or her medication has worn off.

Have consistent rules, routines and rewards
Maintaining an organized household environment, posting to-do lists with household chores, establishing routines and clear rules and using rewards for good behavior are techniques that your whole family will benefit from, especially your ADHD teen. The more structure and predictability you can build into your routines, the less distractions and frustrations for your teen. Also, be sure to closely monitor where your kids are, what they're doing and who their friends are. This is likely common practice for most parents, but with an ADHD teen, you'll need to be particularly vigilant.

Like all teenagers, those with ADHD are starting to yearn for greater independence and self-reliance. To foster that journey, you may want to slowly allow your teen to assume more responsibilities and to participate more actively in the decisions about household routines, schedules, rules, guidelines and rewards.

Hold regular family powwows. Setting aside a specific time and place to discuss how the family dynamic is working for the ADHD teen is key to identifying and addressing family conflicts as they arise. Be sure to schedule regular meetings for the entire family, as well as daily one-on-one sessions with your ADHD teen. As a parent, use individual meetings to reinforce or renegotiate rules, to talk through problems or conflicts and to brainstorm solutions. When talking with your teen, use a calm, nonjudgmental tone, listen without interrupting and maintain eye contact. Encourage your teen to talk openly about any conflicts or emotions he or she is having at home and to suggest possible solutions.

Practice stress management for the whole family. Talk with your family therapist about stress-relief techniques for you, your ADHD teen and other members of the family. Explore stress-reducing tools such as deep-breathing exercises, muscle-relaxation exercises, meditation, walking or other physical activities. Tai chi, yoga and massage therapy may also provide stress-relief benefits.

Take advantage of support groups and therapy. Joining a support group of other parents with ADHD teens can help soothe stress and provide practical solutions to challenges you're facing. Also, getting therapy for the entire family—including your ADHD teen—may help everyone better cope with the emotional stress and conflict inherent in a home with an ADHD teen. If you and your spouse are having issues or a breakdown in communication, you may also consider seeing a family and marriage counselor experienced with ADHD. Another tool to consider: a behavioral parent training (BPT) program specifically designed to teach more effective parenting skills for all phases of your child's life.

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