The normal signs were there, a changing voice, a few pimples and a couple of extra inches. Puberty had arrived, but it brought with it a surprising change, my son’s ADHD was going bonkers. He was easily distracted, missing assignments, leaving his water bottle at home. The raging hormones were causing all kinds of chemical changes in his body and his meds just weren’t doing the trick. He had basically maxed out on the stimulant and his doctor didn’t want to try anything new due to his changing body, so we just trudged along.
The physical changes that mark puberty typically begin in girls between ages 8 and 13 and in boys between ages 9 and 14. I noticed that he was becoming more impulsive and pushing boundaries. He wanted to see just how far he could go before he got a reaction. I would try to ignore the behavior, but it would just go on and on until I blew my top. He wasn’t really behaving badly as much as he was challenging everything. I was at my wits end, so I started to do a little research. What I found was interesting.
We were right in this sweet spot. There was no denying what was going on. The physical and psychological changes that come along with this stage of life can be difficult for kids and parents to navigate. And the experiences can be different for boys and for girls.
What I was learning about boys concerned me, I’m not going to lie. A common behavior during puberty is a sudden refusal to take medication. Kids want to be like their peers and if those friends can get by without medication, why should they take it? I mean, I get it. Who wants to be different? When your body is already going crazy and suddenly you’re 4 inches taller than everyone and have a mustache, you just want to start to blend in.
In addition to an increased desire to stop taking meds, boys may be more prone to risky behaviors due to changing testosterone levels. “Testosterone also interacts in complex ways with dopamine and other hormones that are relevant to ADHD,” said Dr. Joel Nigg in an interview with ADDitude Magazine. “Thus, we might speculate that boys with ADHD may be more susceptible than other boys to the risk-enhancing elements of pubertal testosterone, and this may be related to greater risk for substance abuse among youth with ADHD.”
ADHD in girls is different and can also be tricky. According to ADDitude, It has been found that girls with ADHD are more likely to have academic problems, mood disorders, early signs of substance abuse problems and aggressive behaviors than girls without ADHD.
According to Verywell Mind, as an adolescent girl’s body is changing, so are her hormones. This can be a tricky causing an emotional roller coaster. In addition, girls may find that they are having sleep problems, more difficulty focusing and being organized or even just being overwhelmed, may be more prevalent. This can all lead to self esteem issues.
Girls with ADHD can struggle during their menstrual cycle while progesterone and estrogen levels vary. These changes can create unpredictable, and sometimes intense, ADHD symptoms through the 28-day cycle. If that weren’t enough, girls with ADHD also tend to experience more PMS symptoms than girls without. Silver lining? Treating ADHD can aid in treating those PMS symptoms, according to ADDitude.
Along with the hormone changes causing difficulties with mood and impulsivity and aggression, classic ADHD symptoms listed by Healthline are present for boys and girls too. Being easily distracted or fidgety. Not remembering to bring your lunch to school or totally tuning out a friend when they’re talking to you because you have a song in your head. It’s all just exacerbated and it makes things really tough for adolescents dealing with all of these additional hormone-induced bigger challenges.
A commonality among girls and boys is that children with life-long ADHD may feel isolated from their peers during puberty and will latch on to other children who don’t always fit in. Oftentimes, these adolescents will band together and engage in alcohol or other substance abuse. It can be a scary time for kids and for parents. Adolescents with ADHD may also find this time of life difficult to stay motivated. They may be struggling at school or at home and feel helpless and just quit. It is important to try to lift them up.
So what do you do? How do you manage the symptoms and the behaviors? It’s all about creating the proper strategies for your family and your child. Nigg advises a series of risk-reducing steps, emphasizing excellent parent-child communication. “The communication must be non-judgmental,” Nigg says. “Educate your teen, in a minimally-invasive way, on how to handle herself around major risks — internet use, social media, drugs, friends engaging in delinquent pranks or more serious illegal activities, peer pressure, automotive safety, and firearms safety for youth who are or might be exposed to firearms.”
There are also some simple steps you can take to try and ease this transitional time. Make sure that your child is eating well and getting enough rest. Proper diet and sleep are critical to being healthy. It is also important for you to help your child to minimize stress that may lead to risky behaviors.
ADHD is a complex thing. It is a challenge for parents and for kids, but working together and having open lines of communication are key. Medical News Today reports that on average, puberty lasts between 2 and 5 years. This gives parents and kids time to change and to grow and to learn the best ways to deal with ADHD. With a solid plan, parents and kids can navigate ADHD and puberty together, while looking forward to a happy adulthood.