High School Challenges

High school is a time of increased independence for teens, both academically and socially. As a parent of someone with ADHD, you may think, “Finally, my son or daughter is nearly grown and can be responsible for day-to-day routines and homework assignments.” While it’s true that some adolescents “grow out” of certain ADHD symptoms, it’s likely your teen will need your help and guidance more than ever in high school.

Academic Challenges

Distraction

Classes in most high schools are large and active, allowing more opportunities for distraction or to get lost in the crowd. Teens with ADHD can become frustrated or bored when they have to navigate a large building or sit through long class periods without a break.

Organization and Expectations

Expectations for academic achievement and behavior often differ vastly between high school students and middle or grade school students. A teen with ADHD may struggle in meeting expectations, such as:

  • turning assignments in on time
  • being organized
  • following directions
  • properly managing their time
  • seeking assistance when necessary
  • understanding how grades are calculated

Study Habits

In high school, students are expected to develop their own study habits and be motivated to work independently, however a student with ADHD may feel helpless and not know where to begin. In addition, they may not be able to understand the direct relationship between good study habits and good grades.

What You Can Do to Help Your Teen Academically

More than ever, your teen will need your help in high school. Some ways to help them academically are:

  • Communicate with your teen’s teachers. If possible, schedule a meeting at the beginning of the school year to discuss concerns and make a plan to help your child succeed. If you have an IEP or Section 504 plan, make sure the teachers know about it. If it needs to be modified, call a meeting with your educational team.
  • If your teen takes medication, make sure they take it as prescribed.
  • Review your child’s schedule to determine which classes might be the most challenging in regards to course work, size, and location on campus.
  • Monitor your teen’s academic progress. If the school has an online system that tracks grades and assignments, make sure you and your teen can access it. Have your teen log in daily and discuss upcoming tests and assignments. If the school doesn’t have an automated system, create a calendar or use a planner to track assignments.
  • Teach your teen good study habits and remain involved with what’s going on in their classes.
  • The effect that assignments and tests have on a teen’s grades can be confusing because each teacher may have a different grading system. Go over assignment scores and show your teen how grades are calculated and how to track them.
  • If you notice your teen is struggling academically, make an appointment to speak with their teachers. Tutoring may be helpful.

Social Challenges for Teens with ADHD

High school can also present social challenges for teens with ADHD. Although symptoms of hyperactivity may decrease, teens with ADHD are likely to be inattentive and impulsive. This can affect other areas of their social lives, such as dating and driving.

Dating

Taking risks is a hallmark of teenage years. A teen with ADHD is often impulsive and may not be able to comprehend the consequences of risk-taking behavior. Talk to your teen about safe sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and other facets of dating.

Driving

Driving can be a particular challenge for teenagers with ADHD. According to a 2007 study, teens with ADHD are two to four times more likely to have an accident than teens without ADHD.

Experts recommend delaying licensing until you’re sure your teen is ready. Your teen should take a driver’s education class or seek help from a trained professional. Teens with ADHD need more time than other kids to practice and master driving requirements, so don’t rush the licensing process.

Alcohol and Substance Abuse

Teenagers with ADHD have a higher risk of abusing substances later in life. Exposure to illicit substances may begin in high school, so be sure to have a serious discussion about the temptations and dangers of substance abuse. Watch out for warning signs of drug abuse, and know what your teen is doing during social outings.

Conclusion

Although your teenager may not show ADHD symptoms as they did as a child, they may still have difficulty handling and adjusting to high school more so than others. The rite of passage of driving may pose more challenges, and socially, they have a higher risk of substance abuse. Things that may come easily to others may present difficulties for your teen and you should be prepared and ready to help them through this time of change and challenge.

You asked, we answered

  • How common is ADHD in teenagers?
  • Some of our best estimates for the prevalence of ADHD is 5 percent in children and 2.5 percent in adults. It is not unreasonable to conclude that the percentage of teens with ADHD falls somewhere in the middle.

    - Timothy J. Legg PhD, PMHNP-BC