Being a parent to a teen with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be an extremely rewarding experience; their boundless energy, personalities, creativity and the drive of their hyperfocus which can be a powerful advantage if channelled in an effective way.
However, as we all know, teen years are a really challenging time of life with lots of hormonal changes and life transitions. Forming self-identity, planning for the future and moving towards a more independent life are just some of those bigger transitions. For teens with ADHD, these changes and transitions can seem overwhelming with greater highs and lows in comparison to their peers1.
ADHD and executive functions
It is well understood that ADHD symptoms are strongly related to deficits in executive function skills2. These executive functions are a set of mental skills in the brain that enable us to manage our thoughts, behaviours and emotions. For teens with ADHD, this means that they can find it difficult to regulate their behaviour, take on responsibility, set and achieve goals and function independently. Understanding what is going on in your teen’s brain can help you identify their executive function challenges so that you can support them in their journey through adolescence towards happiness and success.
What are executive functions?
Executive functions are a set of mental processes that help us with daily skills such as prioritising, filtering out distractions and controlling our impulses and emotions. Residing in one of the most evolved brain regions known as the prefrontal cortex in the frontal lobe, these skills work together to control all of our thoughts, emotions and behaviour3. Our executive functions include skills like working memory, organisation, time-management and goal-directed thoughts.
If you want to find out what your executive function strengths and challenges are, then take our Executive Function questionnaire.
Do ADHD symptoms present in the same way during childhood and adolescence?
During the teen years some of the symptoms and associated behaviours of ADHD, particularly those related to hyperactivity, can become more subtle4. However, the other pronounced symptoms such as impulsivity and inattention can mean that teens find it difficult to cope with frustration and progress academically. Other common challenges include emotion management and working memory which can lead to problems with social relationships, home life and decreased confidence and self-esteem5,6.
Why does this happen?
Delayed frontal lobe maturation is common in ADHD which often results in children and adolescents having delayed development in their executive functioning in comparison to their peers6,7. Research has shown that maturation can be delayed by up to 5 years8 meaning that teens with ADHD differ in maturity levels and are often a few years behind in terms of cognitive and emotional development in comparison to their peers. Be mindful of this when you find yourself in conflict with your teen!
As many parts of the adolescent brain are still maturing, your teens brain is at an all important stage of neuroplasticity . Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to structure and organise itself through its environment by forming neural pathways. The stronger the neural pathway, the stronger the attitude, habit or belief9.
The good news is that your teens’ brain has much more plasticity than yours or mine. In fact, during our 20s our brains stop forming natural neural pathways which means that our habits, biases and attitudes are harder to change10. However, your teens brain is primed to change, adapt and respond to their environment through a process of strengthening and accelerating neural pathways between brain regions. So, when you feel particularly challenged by your teen, just remember that they are able to adapt their attitudes and improve their executive functioning because their brains have a high plasticity.
How will this support my teens executive function development?
As executive functions underpin all behaviour, emotions and thoughts, harnessing their executive functions is so important. All you need is the right strategies. That’s why we have created our online Executive Function Support Group for Adults and Parents which is full of executive functions strategies to help your teen, and even yourself, succeed and flourish. We highly recommend watching our short video which explains neuroplasticity in simpler terms.
How can Connections in Mind help?
At Connections in Mind, we are a team dedicated and caring ADHD and executive function coaching experts. Through our Coaching for Independent Learning programme, our coaches combine their expertise and knowledge acquired through experience and education with strategies based on the latest empirical research to create bespoke coaching programmes tailored to individual client needs. Whether your teen is struggling with organisation, time-management or emotional control, they can work one to one with one of our amazing coaches to address their executive function challenges and develop new strategies so that they can flourish personally and academically.
Book a free 30 minute consultation call
Seeking additional support can also reduce tensions in relationships and create a happier and calmer household. To help you understand the coaching process and to find a bespoke programme that works for your teen, or even yourself, book a free consultation call with Sarah, one of our executive function coaching experts today. You can watch our client testimonials here.
By Rebecca Tyler, Connections in Mind
1Gotlieb, E. M., & Gotlieb, J. S. (2009). Helping adolescents with attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder transition toward adulthood. Adolescent Medicine, 20, 203-222.
2Rapport, M. D., Orban, S. A., Kofler, M. J., & Friedman, L. M. (2013). Do programs designed to train working memory, other executive functions, and attention benefit children with ADHD? A meta-analytic review of cognitive, academic, and behavioural outcomes. Clinical Psychology Review, 33(8), 1237-1252.
3Diamond, A. (2013). Executive Functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 135-168.
4Resnick, R, J. (2005). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in teens and adults: They don’t all outgrow it. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 61(5), 529-533.
5Rinsky, J. R., & Hinshaw, S. P. (2011). Linkages between childhood executive functioning and adolescent social functioning and psychopathology in girls with ADHD. Child Neuropsychology, 17(4), 368-390.
6Shaw-Zirt, B., Lehane-Popali, L., & Chaplin, W. (2005). Adjustment, social skills, and self-esteem in college students with symptoms of ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 8(3), 109-120.
7Shaw, P., Eckstrand, K., Sharp, W., Blumenthal, J., Lerch, J.P., Greenstein, D., & Clasen, L. (2007). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is characterised by a delay in cortical maturation.
8Kakuszi, B., Szuromi, B., Bitter, I., & Czobor, P. (2020). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: Last in, first out – delayed brain maturation with an accelerated decline? European Neuropsychopharmacology, 34, 65-75.
9Rossignoli-Palomeque, T., Perez-Hernandez, E., & Gonzalez-Marques, J. (2018). Brain training in children and adolescents: Is it scientifically valid? (2018). Frontiers in Psychology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00565
10Pauwels, L., Chalavi, S., Swinnen, S. P. (2018). Ageing and brain plasticity. Ageing, (10) 8, 1-2.