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How Do Teens Experience ADHD? Identify Symptoms and See My 8 Tips to Help Your Teen -Managing Your Mind

By Dr. Geri Markel, May 9, 2019

Jim taps his pencil on the desk during his one and a half hour chemistry class. He daydreams and doodles. He just can’t pay attention, listen, or take notes. He gets bored and begins to fool around. He forgets his assignments. He was an A/B student in middle school, but now his grades are lower because he fails to hand in homework and misses directions on tests. He’s too embarrassed to ask for additional directions. He’s miserable and no one seems to understand.


What Are Teen ADHD Symptoms?

ADHD Teens experience more pronounced symptoms of hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and impulsivity due to hormonal changes and rapid growth spurts. Also, school life becomes more complex. There is higher competition, less structure, and greater expectation for independent behavior. ADHD teens have difficulty when:

  • Planning
  • Taking the initiative
  • Completing and handing in homework
  • Working with several different teachers or assignments
  • Creating new relationships


ADHD teens may not recognize social signals of teachers or peers and feel left out of activities. They may have low self-esteem, difficulty with peers, and lack self-discipline. They may be bullied.


At the same time, ADHD teens experience the typical characteristics of adolescence including:

  • Issues of personal identity: “Who am I and what will I be?”
  • Peer relationships: “How do I make or keep friends? Why don’t they like me?”
  • Testing boundaries: “If I’m old enough to drive, why can’t I stay out as late as other kids?” “You can’t tell me what to do!”
  • Gaining independence: “Leave me alone, I can do it myself.”


What is ADHD?

ADHD is a complex medical condition. Like adults, ADHD adolescents differ significantly in the number, combination, and severity of their ADHD problems. Although they share the same label, every student with ADHD has different strengths, weaknesses, and interests.


Is ADHD common in Adults?

“About 60 percent of children with ADHD in the United States become adults with ADHD; that’s about 4 percent of the adult population, or 8 million adults.*
Less than 20 percent of adults with ADHD have been diagnosed or treated, and only about one-quarter of those adults seek help” (


“Adult ADHD symptoms may not be as clear as ADHD symptoms in children. In adults, hyperactivity may decrease, but struggles with impulsiveness, restlessness and difficulty paying attention may continue” (


Undiagnosed Teens with ADHD

For the undiagnosed, the situation becomes more difficult. Once in high school, the pace and cognitive load increases and students (and their parents) are baffled. Students with ADHD have trouble maintaining their attention and listening. They may miss or misunderstand directions and refuse to request teacher help. Additionally, they may feel ashamed and act defensively when they misplace assignments, miss appointments, and lose keys, glasses, phones, and jackets.


When school becomes increasingly more difficult, undiagnosed ADHD teens can become sad, angry, anxious, frustrated, and confused. The world doesn’t make sense. They say:

  • “I feel as smart as others, but I can’t seem to do the work.”
  • “Why is it so hard to finish the work, remember it, or not lose it?
  • “What’s the big deal about homework if I do OK on the tests?”
  • “Why can’t I finish or do well on the SAT or ACT?”


Evaluation is necessary to see the degree to which problems exist. School personnel, psychologists, or neuropsychologists conduct tests to provide diagnoses and recommendations.

Strategies to enhance academic performance are available for school and home. (


For information about academic coaching for ADHD teens (high school or college), contact: or go to,

Parenting ADHD Teens

Parents play a major role in the growth and self-reliance of ADHD teens.


Here are 8 tips to help ADHD teens:

  1. Time Management: Provide a structured schedule for school wake-up, meals, and bedtime. This is difficult for teens that participate in athletics and other extra curricular activities. Post a calendar of weekly activities and color code activities of each family member. Post reminders or alarms to keep on track
  2. Physical Health: Organize sleep, nutrition, and exercise activities. A rested, well-nourished and physically strong body helps the mind function more effectively. Shoot for at least 8 hours of restful sleep since teens need their sleep for growth and development. Ensure that digital devices are turned off at least 1 hour before going to sleep and charged outside of the sleeping area. Be on the lookout for medication side effects that may have negative effects on sleep, appetite, or mood.
  3. Distraction: Reduce digital distractions by setting limits and monitoring use of digital devices. Unlimited or overuse of TV, phones, games, and TV is “shiny objects” that drain time and energy from homework.
  4. School: Work with school personnel to ensure that reasonable accommodations are available. Most commonly, accommodations include extended time for tests or separate, non-distracting test rooms.
  5. Academics: Arrange for tutors or homework helpers to increase skills, decrease stress, and encourage completion of homework and projects.
  6. Emotional Health: Consider family or individual therapy to help deal with frustration, manage anger, and not fly off the handle over minor conflicts.
  7. Organization: Provide structure of space and materials. Help clear the clutter in study area, shared spaces at home, and backpack. Be the assistant, rather than the nag. Provide folders or cabinets for school, health, and other papers or forms.
  8. Social Behavior: Be watchful about friends who get into trouble and provide firm rules. At the same time, provide for positive group experiences, including family or school outings.


ADHD Teens: Special Problems

Everything about adolescents is exacerbated with ADHD. Teens with ADHD may:

  • Engage in higher risk behavior
  • Be immature in judgments
  • Be inattentive or careless when driving
  • Fail to cope with social or emotional problems
  • Overuse or abuse gaming, alcohol, or drugs.


Students with ADHD are two to four times more likely to have a car accident than teens without ADHD. However, studies show that teen drivers with ADHD who take their medication are less likely to have accidents (


Can Girls Have ADHD?

Yes, girls can have ADHD, although it is commonly overlooked. There are many more males than females that are identified ( and fewer girls showing symptoms of hyperactivity. Studies have shown that girls with ADHD have a harder time than boys in some ways. They’re more likely to have anxiety and depression, as well as low self-esteem.


ADHD Teens and Co-Occurring Conditions

ADHD teens may have several disabilities or exceptionalities that occur along with their attention-related problems. These include learning disabilities: difficulty reading, listening, performing math calculations, writing, or remembering.  Other difficulties include nonverbal abilities such as hand-eye coordination and managing time and space. Students with learning disabilities have average or above average intellect, but for some reason cannot perform as expected when compared to their same-peers.


Can ADHD Teens be Gifted?

When ADHD teens possess extraordinary intellect or talent, they are labeled “twice exceptional.” Visible at an early age, their gifts allow them to compensate for ADHD symptoms. If a gifted student is trying but underachieving, then consider testing for subtle ADHD, learning disabilities, or an emotional difficulty such as anxiety.


Teen ADHD: Treatment

There are a variety of options when treating teen ADHD. One option involves therapy or counseling to provide awareness of the student’s ADHD and the way it impacts self-esteem, schoolwork, and interactions. Another option is cognitive behavior therapy to provide strategies and skills in self-regulation of emotions and behavior. Such research-based therapy helps ADHD teens adapt a more positive attitude and behavior using interventions such as positive self-talk, visualization and imagery, relaxation, mindfulness, and thought-stopping. Another option is medication. The most common treatment is a combination of behavior therapy and medication


Can You Get ADHD as a Teenager?

ADHD is a lifelong, chronic, and pervasive condition. A teen may appear to develop ADHD, but it is usually the case that the student managed or circumvented the ADHD symptoms in earlier grades—especially if he or she was not hyperactive.


ADHD teens may be diagnosed in elementary school, but many are not identified until high school, college, or even graduate school. Often gifted teens with ADHD compensate for their vulnerabilities until they are unable to handle the many responsibilities and high standards of higher levels of education. Frequently, girls are not identified as early as boys. (


Is your teenager experiencing inconsistencies in grades and school performance? Lost homework or poor test scores? Is ADHD a possibility? Why not contact Geri to learn more? Go to: or email Geri directly at for more information.





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