At a glance
ADHD can sometimes affect how teens experience love.
Trouble managing emotions can make feelings more intense.
There are ways you can help your teen handle the ups and downs of being in love.
Falling in love can be an emotional roller coaster for most teens. But for teenagers with ADHD, symptoms like impulsivity or trouble managing emotions can make falling in love or starting a relationship an even bumpier ride.
That said, not all kids with ADHD struggle in the same way, or to the same degree. But for some, ADHD can make things more difficult. There are things parents can do to help. Understanding how ADHD can impact love and relationships for your teen can make it easier to offer support.
The role of brain development
Kids with ADHD have delays in the development of executive function skills. The areas of the brain responsible for executive function take around one to three years longer to fully develop in kids with ADHD. This can impact kids’ social lives. For example, a 17-year-old with ADHD might be a little less emotionally mature than their peers, or be more likely to act impulsively.
This might leave kids feeling embarrassed, or like they’re not ready for a romantic relationship. And that’s OK. That doesn’t mean they won’t ever be ready to get involved with someone or start dating. It might just take longer, and that’s perfectly normal.
Intense emotions and hyperfocus
Kids with ADHD often feel emotions more deeply than other kids do, and love is no exception. When teens with ADHD fall in love, the good — and bad — feelings that come with it can be even more intense and more disruptive.
New relationships or crushes are exciting and (mostly) enjoyable. But for kids with ADHD, that excitement and enjoyment can sometimes go too far. Your child might hyperfocus on the relationship, while schoolwork, sports, family, and friends take a backseat.
Helping your teen set priorities and stick to their normal routine can help. For example, encourage them to keep plans with friends instead of canceling to hang out with their new partner. Or make a house rule that all homework has to be finished before they can text or call anyone.
ADHD often translates to big emotions. When a crush isn’t returned or a relationship ends, kids with ADHD often experience it more intensely. This is true even if they’re the one who ended it. Feelings of loss, sadness, and hurt can become overwhelming.
Let your child know you’re there if they need you. It’s important to validate your child’s feelings, even if they seem over-the-top to you. But try not to dwell on it. Instead, help your child focus on other things that bring them joy.
If your child seems extremely down or doesn’t seem to be bouncing back after a reasonable amount of time, it might be time to get some help from a professional. Kids with ADHD are at higher risk for depression.
Watch as ADHD expert Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, PhD, discusses ADHD, emotions, and falling in love.
Impulsivity and risky behavior
Teens with ADHD often have trouble with impulse control and resisting temptation. They may be so excited that they come on too strong. Or rush into a relationship without considering whether it’s likely to be a good and healthy one. And they may be more likely to take unnecessary risks to gain the attention of someone they really like.
Sexual activity is one area where teens with impulsivity often get into trouble. Many teens with ADHD have trouble putting on the brakes — or considering the consequences before acting. Teens with ADHD are more likely to become sexually active at a younger age than their peers. They’re also less likely to use protection and more likely to have unplanned pregnancies. Once again, executive function challenges are the cause.
Having frank, thoughtful conversations with your child can help. Be clear (not sensational or vague) about the potential consequences of risky sexual behavior. Give your child the chance to ask questions. If you’re not comfortable talking to your child about sex, consider asking your family doctor, a guidance counselor, or a trusted adult who understands the challenges of ADHD to step in.
How you can be there for your teen
Let’s be real. Most teenagers don’t jump at the chance to share their private lives with their parents. You might only get glimpses into what they’re going through. Or you may offer advice without knowing if it’s taken.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t be there for your child. Make sure your child knows you’re available if they need to talk. And have clear rules around dating. Talking them through with your child can help set the guardrails and boundaries that kids need to stay safe.
Falling in love and having good first relationships is a powerful experience for all teens. Helping kids with ADHD navigate it safely can build confidence and lay the groundwork for happy, healthy relationships both now and as they grow.
Executive function develops more slowly in kids with ADHD.
Impulsivity can lead some teens to engage in risky behavior like unprotected sex.
It’s important to be available and non-judgmental if your teen wants to talk.