Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It’s been diagnosed in over 3.3 million people between the ages of 12 and 17, according to a 2016 survey.

You may have noticed a few symptoms in younger children, but the average age at diagnosis is 7. Symptoms can continue into adolescence and adulthood.

In this article, we’ll explore ADHD in teenagers and what the symptoms may look like.

No one has all the signs and symptoms of ADHD. And even if your teen has a few, it doesn’t mean they have it. Here are 16 ways that ADHD can show itself in a teenager:

Lack of focus

A teen with ADHD might have trouble staying on task. They may start on a project only to end up starting another before finishing. Being easily distracted can lead to careless mistakes at school, work, or home.


Everyone misplaces the house keys on occasion. But this can be a common occurrence in a teen with ADHD. They may spend a lot of time searching for their possessions. Time mismanagement can lead to missed appointments and deadlines.

Self-focused behavior

It can be difficult for a teen with ADHD to recognize what other people want or need. They can have a hard time waiting for others or taking turns.


Restlessness is a common sign of ADHD. Someone with ADHD might find it difficult to sit still without squirming or getting up.

Heightened emotionality

Research suggests that people with ADHD may not reach the emotional maturity of a typical 21-year-old until their late 20s or early 30s. Adolescence is an emotional rollercoaster. With ADHD in the mix, angry outbursts and overly dramatic scenes may play out in inappropriate circumstances.

Fear of rejection

Rejection sensitive dysphoria is common in people with neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD. High emotions can be triggered by rejection, teasing, or criticism.


A person with ADHD may find themselves lost in daydreams for long periods.


Teens in general tend to be more impulsive than adults. For a teen with ADHD, resisting temptation may be particularly difficult, potentially leading to dangerous decisions.

Difficulty following a conversation

ADHD can interfere with conversational skills in the following ways:

  • appearing not to listen, even when someone is speaking directly to them
  • interrupting
  • talking too much
  • leaving mid-conversation
  • butting into others’ conversations


Procrastination is a byproduct of lack of focus. It’s especially noticeable in things that take a long time. Your teen might put off homework or other duties so long that they completely miss deadlines.

Trouble working quietly

Quiet activities are generally not easy for a teen with ADHD. They may find it difficult to sit and read or work on a project by themselves.

Always “on the go”

Teens tend to have fewer hyperactive symptoms than younger children with ADHD. But some are a flurry of activity. They may be set on playing their favorite video game one minute and going to a friend’s house the next.

Trouble reading social cues

They may not realize it when they’ve interrupted or annoyed someone. It may be difficult to make or keep friends.

Trouble compromising with others

Lack of focus, difficulty following a conversation, and trouble with social cues can make it hard to compromise with others.

Personal hygiene issues

It’s not true of every teen with ADHD, but some have a problem keeping up with personal hygiene. It may have to do with disorganization and procrastination.

Difficulty following directions

Lack of focus, restlessness, and mind-wandering can make detailed instructions nearly impossible to follow.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more boys than girls are diagnosed with ADHD at 12.9 percent versus 5.6 percent.

Symptoms in boys and girls can differ. Girls may lean more toward less noticeable inattentive symptoms than to obvious hyperactive symptoms. Symptoms are sometimes overlooked in girls.

Puberty and emerging independence are a part of any teen’s life. Navigating these issues with ADHD may be more challenging. Research suggests that teens with ADHD may have higher rates of:

  • “risky” sexual behaviors
  • suicidal thoughts
  • incarcerations
  • car crashes
  • job problems
  • illegal drug use
  • smoking
  • obesity

Lower self-esteem and social functioning can lead to trouble with:

  • relationships with peers
  • getting along with family
  • academic performance

Co-morbidities like anxiety and depression are common.

ADHD is typically diagnosed earlier in childhood. It’s more difficult to diagnose in teens because hyperactive symptoms are less obvious. Because of overlapping symptoms, it’s important to distinguish ADHD from disorders like:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • sleep disorders
  • hearing and vision problems
  • learning disabilities
  • mood or personality disorders

There’s no single test for ADHD. The process includes a physical exam and hearing and vision tests. It usually involves filling out questionnaires and input from parents and teachers.

ADHD is not something you can diagnose on your own. It takes a trained health professional to evaluate specific symptoms as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Criteria for those 16 and younger include:

  • six or more symptoms of inattention
  • six or more symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity

For those 17 and older:

  • five or more symptoms of inattention
  • five or more symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity

In all cases, symptoms:

  • have been present at least 6 months
  • are not developmentally appropriate for age
  • occur in two or more settings
  • clearly interfere with functioning
  • are not due to another mental disorder
  • some symptoms were present before age 12

The three types of ADHD are:

  • predominantly inattentive
  • predominantly hyperactive-impulsive
  • combined presentation

About 15 percent of children with ADHD still have symptoms at age 25. And 65 percent still have symptoms that affect their daily lives. Treatment depends on the severity of symptoms. In many cases, medicine is combined with behavior therapy.

Any co-existing conditions, such as anxiety or depression, must also be part of the treatment plan.


About 70 percent of teens respond to a stimulant medication like:

  • dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)
  • dextroamphetamine-amphetamine (Adderall XR, Mydayis)
  • lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse)
  • methylphenidate (Ritalin, Focalin)

You’ll typically start with the lowest possible dose and adjust as needed. Your doctor will discuss the potential benefits and side effects.

Behavioral therapy

Behavioral therapy can help teens and their parents learn how cope with emotions and navigate the world with ADHD. This may include training for:

  • social skills
  • problem solving
  • organizational skills

Diet and lifestyle changes

Research suggests that children with ADHD may do better when making certain lifestyle choices, such as:

  • balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and lean protein
  • replacing sweetened drinks with water, avoiding caffeine
  • daily exercise
  • limited screen time, especially before bed
  • getting adequate sleep

Speak with your teen’s doctor about their daily habits and ask where improvements can be made.

Teens are naturally striving for independence, but they still need support and guidance. Here are some ways you can help your teen cope with ADHD:

  • Be patient with their struggles. Harsh reminders aren’t helpful.
  • Create a daily structure for sleep, including wind-down time, bedtime, and wake-up time.
  • Use a calendar to help them organize their schedule.
  • Organize the house so there’s a dedicated landing zone for frequently used items, such as keys.
  • Help them organize their space, including rooms, desk, and backpack.
  • Be specific when giving instructions, and provide directions one at a time.
  • Set up reminders, or help them set up their own reminders for important tasks.
  • Help them break down complicated tasks into manageable pieces.
  • Provide academic support through homework buddies or tutors.
  • Set up a chore chart to help them keep track of tasks.
  • Get to know their friends.
  • Encourage conversation about relationships, sexuality, and drug use.
  • Make room for them to vent frustration without repercussion.
  • Help them understand the dangers of distracted driving and drug use.
  • Make it clear that coming to you for help is the mature and responsible thing to do.
  • Don’t scold or punish them for things they can’t control.
  • They’re on their way to adulthood, so let them have a say in things that affect their health and well-being.
  • Praise all small progress.

Learn the potential side effects of ADHD medicines. It could shed light on some issues.

You’re not alone. Many families are meeting the challenges of life with ADHD. Look into ADHD resources and ask your teen’s doctor or school counselor for information about local resources.

Many people with ADHD have at least some symptoms that continue into adolescence and adulthood. That’s why it’s important to address ADHD and help your teen cope. Fortunately, ADHD is a manageable condition.