5 things to know about ADHD and puberty

Here’s what families need to know about ADHD and puberty, including tips to help your child.

By Rae Jacobson, MS

Expert reviewed by Roberto Olivardia, PhD

Updated January 5, 2024

Puberty can be difficult for kids. And when ADHD is in the mix, things can be even tougher.

1. Bodies are changing, so kids need new routines.

Puberty means big body changes. Kids might be excited for some of these changes, like a long-awaited growth spurt.

But other changes, like periods and smelly armpits, can be more challenging. This is especially true for kids with ADHD. They may struggle to remember important items, like tampons or pads. Or forget to put on deodorant. These slips can leave kids with ADHD feeling embarrassed and self-conscious.

Families can help by making it easier for kids to remember what they need to do and bring. For example, post a checklist of important self-care tasks, like brushing teeth, on the bathroom door. Or make a period “go bag” with extra tampons, pads, and a change of clothes for kids to keep in their backpack or locker.

2. There’s so much more to remember.

Tweens and teens often have a lot of social things to remember, like friend facts and birthdays. Plus, things like which shoes are cool (or not cool). But there’s also a lot more to remember for school. Kids often have more homework, changing class schedules, and more extracurricular activities.

Kids with ADHD who struggle to stay on track can find themselves overwhelmed. Having the right accommodations can help. Working with your child to find organization strategies can also make a big difference.

3. Friendships are more complicated.

As kids reach adolescence, friendships become more important — and more complex. For kids with ADHD, especially those who’ve struggled socially in the past, this can be a tough time. Kids with ADHD are often less mature than their peers. As kids get older and start wanting to be more “grown up,” kids with ADHD can end up feeling left behind.  

This is also when social pressures get more intense. Kids are navigating a whole new world of rules and cues. What’s cool and what isn’t. How to act and what to say. These complex social cues can be hard for kids with ADHD to decode. And even harder to follow.

Kids with ADHD may feel like they can’t keep up. They may be so focused on socializing that they forget to do other important things, like homework. Or they may have trouble staying focused in class. 

4. Kids may have bigger emotions.

The hormones that come with puberty can wreak havoc on kids’ emotions and moods. This can be even more intense for kids with ADHD who struggle to manage their emotions.

Kids with ADHD are often much more sensitive to rejection. The social struggles and self-esteem issues that are so common during puberty can be even more upsetting for kids with ADHD. 

Hormones can also — but not always — affect how kids respond to ADHD medication. A medication that was working well before puberty might be less effective after puberty starts. If you notice that your child’s medication isn’t as effective, talk to your provider.

Pay attention to how your child is feeling, even if some of those feelings seem a little over-the-top. Expect some moodiness. But kids with ADHD are at higher risk for mental health challenges, and puberty can be a very difficult time. If your child is struggling with anxiety, sadness, or irritability that impacts daily life or that doesn’t seem to go away, it might be time to talk to a mental health professional. 

5. They need space — and support.

Puberty is the beginning of a really exciting time for kids. They’re gaining independence, and that’s a good thing. Giving your child the space and support they need to explore their identity is important. But it’s not always easy to do, especially for parents of kids with ADHD.

You might worry that your child won’t be able to stay on track at school. Or that your child will struggle to make friends. Or even that trouble with impulsivity could lead to risky behaviors.

Giving kids space to grow doesn’t mean suddenly saying, “OK, you’re on your own!” Instead, kids need support and strategies so they can learn to do important things for themselves — and to do them safely. Work together to find practical, independent solutions that work for your child.

Find out more about ADHD and puberty on this episode of the In It podcast.

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