Parent-Teen Conflicts Increase With Teen ADHD and ODD

The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology recently published a research study in which they explored the quality of relationships between parents and teens. The study looked specifically at teens with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).


To better understand the results of the study, the following describes each of these psychological illnesses:


ADHD – Symptoms of ADHD include difficulty with paying attention, difficulty with organization, excessive talking, fidgeting, along with hyperactivity and impulsivity. These symptoms can impair a child’s functioning in school, and for this reason, those children with ADHD are often easily recognized because of the behavioral and academic issues that surface as a result of their symptoms. However, a child with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is not as easily recognized as having a problem. For this reason, ADD is more typically diagnosed later in childhood, such as in adolescence. The symptoms of ADD are similar to ADHD minus the hyperactivity and impulsivity.


ODD – This disorder is characterized by a pattern of angry or irritable behavior, vindictiveness, and argumentativeness exhibited by a teen for more than 6 months. To be diagnosed, an adolescent must display four symptoms from one of the following categories: angry or irritable mood, argumentative or defiant behavior, and vindictiveness. This disorder is similar to Conduct Disorder only that those with this disorder do not act aggressively towards others, do not destroy property, and do not show a pattern of theft.


The study surveyed 87 male teens from ages 12 to 18 with ADHD/ODD and their parents. They were compared to a community control group on certain factors of the parent-teen relationship. The study revealed that the parents and teens with ADHD/ODD had significantly more issues in their relationship. There was more anger during conflicts, more negative communication in general, and used more aggressive tactics with each other compared to those in the community control group.


In another study, mothers of those with teen ADHD were shown to have greater parenting stress, marital dissatisfaction, and a psychological disorder themselves such as depression or anxiety.


Despite the study, it might be clear that parental stress and psychological strain on the family would manifest. It is known in the mental health field that a teen or young adult who exhibits the traits of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and who goes untreated, will later possess the traits of Antisocial Personality Disorder. These childhood and adolescent illnesses can be the precursor for Antisocial Personality Disorder. Approximately, 3% of the population, or about 8,100,000 individuals in the United States have Antisocial Personality Disorder. Even more people (especially those with addiction) have antisocial personality traits and exhibit antisocial behavior.


Therefore, moving through the process of adolescence while managing the difficult symptoms of ODD and/or ADHD can be difficult. Because of the social and academic impairments that come with those with teen ADHD and ODD, teens and their families might have had distressing childhoods. They are more at risk to fail academically, occupationally, and socially. They likely had a poor or little attachment to a primary caregiver, tend to be vulnerable to harm against self and others, drug use, early sexual activity, suicide attempts, and mental illness.


One way to facilitate improving family relationships is to treat the psychological illnesses present in the family. For instance, According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, when treated early with a comprehensive treatment plan, ODD can be managed and a teen can eventually return to normal functioning. However, if not treated through therapeutic means, such as psychotropic medication and therapy, ODD can become more and more complex, leading to antisocial behavior and Antisocial Personality Disorder. Teens with untreated ODD will have a very difficult time adapting to the demands of adulthood and will often have trouble holding a job, staying in relationships, and avoiding the law.


For those with teen ADHD, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy will explore the relationships between thinking, feeling, and behaving. In this way, a teen can become more aware of his or her patterns of thought and how they influence their behavior, and more importantly, make better choices. Both medication and therapy combined can significantly support a teen in their success at school, home and work.




Edwards, G., Barkley, R. A., Laneri, M., Fletcher, K., & Metevia, L. (2001). Parent–adolescent conflict in teenagers with ADHD and ODD. Journal Of Abnormal Child Psychology: An Official Publication Of The International Society For Research In Child And Adolescent Psychopathology, 29(6), 557-572. doi:10.1023/A:1012285326937