ADHD Symptoms in Teens to Look Out For

If your teen had ADHD as a child, you are probably familiar with the symptoms and how the condition affects your teen in particular. Some adolescents will tend to start growing out of ADHD, while many others will still need treatment, including medication and cognitive behavior therapy, possibly for a lifetime. If your teen hasn’t been diagnosed with ADHD to this point, however, you might think that it’s a non-issue. In some cases, ADHD symptoms begin or increase during the teen years, and that might be when your child is diagnosed. Take a look at some of the ADHD symptoms in teenagers and make an appointment with your teen’s doctor if you have concerns.

Similar Symptoms to Those Found in Kids With ADHD

Teenagers often have ADHD symptoms that are similar to those found in younger kids. These include distractibility, poor concentration, irritability, impulsive behavior and hyperactivity. Some of these symptoms can be par for the course for a neurotypical teenager, of course. Many teens are easily irritated, have trouble concentrating and do things impulsively.

If your teen occasionally exhibits these symptoms, it might be worth keeping an eye on them to see if there’s a pattern. If these are common behaviors for your teen and they seem to be affecting his or her life, a checkup is in order. Your child’s doctor can do an evaluation, run through a list of characteristics of ADHD, and make a referral if necessary.

Ways that ADHD Symptoms Can Affect Your Teen’s Life

A teen with ADHD will experience different ramifications than a child does. The main reason for this is that a teenager has more responsibilities than a younger child. They are taking care of many of their own needs and are expected to be able to handle many different parts of life, such as school, a job, extracurricular activities, family obligations, and going out with friends. Also, hormones can play a role; puberty can make the symptoms of ADHD more significant.


One of the main effects for teenagers is that their grades may fall. A child who managed to do well despite having ADHD may find it much more difficult now that the work is harder and they have to take on more personal responsibility. Your teen might blurt out answers, rather than waiting his or her turn, which might have been tolerated in the elementary school years but is looked down upon in high school. Also, schools are not always equipped to teach kids with ADHD effectively. He or she might have a hard time balancing homework with sports obligations or outings with friends.


Your teen might also have a hard time keeping a job. These responsibilities on top of the rigors of school, chores, extracurricular activities and a social life can be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back when it comes to undiagnosed ADHD.

Peer Problems

In addition to having academic and job-related issues, many teens with ADHD tend to have problems relating to their peers. They might fight with friends, bully other teens, or be bullied themselves. They sometimes have trouble picking up on social cues. This can lead to poor self-esteem, aggressiveness, and social anxiety.

Extracurricular activities can help teens who are struggling to make friends, because they’re somewhat or highly structured and usually provide ample opportunity for socialization. If your teen isn’t sure what to talk about, they can always discuss what’s going on at the activity. Unfortunately, juggling the demands of extracurricular activities with school and a job can be difficult for teens with ADHD. Working with your teen to develop a good time-management process can help.

When ADHD Lends to Risky Behaviors

The impulse control that tends to be a part of ADHD in teens can lead to risk-taking behavior. For example, your teen might drink too much, overdose on drugs, have unprotected sex or engage in risky driving behaviors, like racing or weaving in and out of traffic. This tends to be more common in boys, but girls with ADHD can also get involved with risk-taking. Sometimes inattentiveness can also lead to risky behaviors; your teen might have a hard time focusing on tasks like driving, for example, and this can cause an accident.

Sometimes ADHD symptoms will cause a teen to seek out ways to self-medicate. This can lead to substance use and abuse; in some cases, it can even lead to an addiction. Teens might use alcohol, recreational drugs, or drugs prescribed to other people. Talk to your teen about the dangers of self-medication and be aware of the symptoms of substance use in adolescents.

Sex Might Matter

When it comes to ADHD and teens, symptoms can present differently in girls than in boys. Boys are more likely to be diagnosed than girls, but it’s not because more boys have ADHD; it’s more likely that girls tend to have symptoms that aren’t the typical hyperactivity or other behavioral problems that are common in boys with ADHD.

Girls, both younger girls and teenagers, often internalize their symptoms. This means that instead of acting out with aggression or impulsive harmful or annoying behaviors, they might have a low self-esteem and withdraw into themselves. They might be more likely to develop anxiety, depression or an eating disorder, because they haven’t been diagnosed properly and aren’t sure why they can’t focus or aren’t doing well in school. If your daughter is dealing with mental health issues or seems to have low self-esteem, an evaluation for ADHD might be helpful.

If you notice your teen displaying any of these ADHD symptoms, make an appointment with his or her primary care physician as soon as possible to discuss the process for evaluating, diagnosing, and treating the condition. Because ADHD can eventually lead to depression, anxiety and substance abuse problems in adults, it’s important to catch it promptly so treatment (medication, behavioral therapy, or a combination of the two) can start. Don’t be afraid to talk to your teen about how he or she is coping with school, a job, friends, and other obligations; sometimes teens can hide the symptoms well. Having good communication with your child will help you to know when there’s a problem and can allow you to seek out care sooner rather than later.

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