At a glance
Impulsivity can lead teens with ADHD to make poor decisions.
Teens with ADHD can have a hard time knowing how to get out of difficult dating situations.
Dating can be a positive experience for kids with ADHD.
When your teen with ADHD starts dating, it can be an exciting time. But it can be worrisome, too. Trouble with executive function, including impulsivity, can lead teens with ADHD (also known as ADD) into difficult situations that they don’t know how to get out of. Trouble with social skills may create awkward or unsafe encounters.
That doesn’t mean dating can’t be a positive experience for your teen, however. Your child just might need a little more guidance from you. Here are eight ways to help your son or daughter with ADHD avoid problem spots and make smart choices when it comes to dating.
1. Understand what dating means to your child.
What you think of when you hear the word dating may not be what your teen thinks of. Dating might mean something casual to you, while to your teen, it might mean seeing someone exclusively. Instead of dating the way you know it, teens may say they’re hanging out with someone.
If you’re not sure, ask what your teen means by certain phrases or terms related to dating, so you’re both talking about the same thing. And if your teen uses the term hooking up, find out if that refers to having sex.
2. Talk openly about dating.
You can’t help kids navigate the dating world if they’re not willing to talk or listen to you. Try to make your teen feel comfortable by speaking openly about dating. It’s important to do that even if the topic makes you uncomfortable.
For some parents, talking with their child about sex is difficult. But research shows that teens with ADHD are more likely to be sexually active than their peers. Avoiding the topic can keep your teen from having the information and guidance needed to make good choices.
3. Be clear about your values and expectations.
Talking about certain aspects of dating, including sex, doesn’t mean you approve of them. Your teen needs to know exactly how you feel and what you expect.
Be direct, so trouble with focus doesn’t keep your teen from taking in what you’re saying. Also, try not to sound judgmental when sharing your views. That way your teen won’t misread the situation and think you’re mad or disappointed when you’re not.
4. Have your child start with group dates.
Having friends nearby can reduce the pressure kids may feel on a solo date. It can also help kids keep their own behavior in check. Some experts recommend limiting kids to group dating until their mid-teens.
Group dating is good practice for exercising good judgment. It can also help kids stay safe and make better decisions. For instance, kids who don’t want to be alone with their date can ask a friend to stay close by or help come up with an excuse to leave.
5. Set dating rules and stick with them.
Kids with ADHD often do best when they have structure and boundaries. Without them, they’re likely to push the limits. That’s why it’s important to set rules about dating—and stick with them.
One rule might be introducing you to the person your teens plans to hang out with before being allowed to go. Your teen can bring that person to your home alone, or with a group of other kids. Another rule might be that your teen has to let you know where they are going to be hanging out, and to tell you if they change location.
6. Come up with a curfew, but leave some wiggle room.
It’s important to set a curfew. But with a teen with ADHD, it’s also important to allow a little slippage. Your teen is likely to become distracted and lose track of time, or may have trouble gauging how long it will take to get places.
If your child has a smartphone, make sure to set a digital reminder before going out. But if your child ends up forgetting about it once in a while, don’t get too mad. Tell teens if they're running a little late, they should call or text that they're on her way.
That doesn’t mean curfew should be negotiable, however. And if being late becomes a habit, there need to be consequences.
7. Talk about avoiding risks.
Teens with ADHD are more likely than their peers to find themselves in risky situations. They’re also more likely to have trouble coming up with a way out.
Talk with your child about ways that teens end up putting themselves at risk, and what the consequences might be. For instance, when kids go out with someone and use drugs or alcohol, it might compromise their judgment. Their date may make poor choices, too.
Help your teen identify when a situation feels uncomfortable, and suggest ways to get out of it. Teens can tell whoever they're with that they have an early curfew that night, or that they're not feeling well and need to go home. Assure teens they can call you anytime they feel uneasy or unsafe, and you’ll come and get them, no questions asked.
Also, make sure your child leaves the house with enough money to get home using a car service or public transportation.
8. Be aware of your child’s online presence.
Social media and texting are your teen’s way of communicating. But issues with social skills may lead teens to misread what people are saying or suggesting. That’s why it’s important to know who your child is socializing with online. It’s just like knowing who is in your child’s circle of friends.
Become part of your teen’s social media network (you can make that a condition of being allowed to date). Talk to your teen about online relationships the same way you would with in-person relationships. And before going out with anyone they met online or through texting, tell your teen you need to meet that person.
Be aware of who your child is socializing with online.
Talk openly with your child about dating, and be clear about your expectations.
Help identify situations that make your teen feel uncomfortable.
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About the author
About the author
The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.
Ellen Braaten, PhD is the director of LEAP at Massachusetts General Hospital.