ADHD and other behavior problems

ADHD is short for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. ADHD is one of the most common behavior disorders in children. As much as five percent of children in school may have ADHD. Boys are more likely than girls to have ADHD.

Doctors do not know what causes ADHD. But they do know ADHD is not caused by:

  • Eating too much sugar
  • Bad parenting
  • Watching too much TV

Doctors who study the brain think some people with ADHD don't have certain chemicals (called neurotransmitters) in their brain. These chemicals help the brain control behavior.

There are three types of symptoms of ADHD:

Problems with paying attention. These teens and adolescents may have trouble:

  • Paying close attention to details
  • Focusing on play or school work
  • Following instructions
  • Finishing school work or chores
  • Organizing tasks and activities

Teens and adolescents who have trouble paying attention get distracted easily. They may also lose things like schoolwork, clothing and books.

Being very active (This is called hyperactivity.) Hyperactive teens and adolescents may:

  • Fidget and move around a lot
  • Have trouble being quiet
  • Talk too much

Acting before thinking (This is called impulsiveness.) Impulsive teens and adolescents:

  • Blurt out answers before questions have been completed
  • Have trouble waiting their turn
  • Interrupt others when they're talking

These behaviors often create problems for teens or adolescents at home, in school and with their friends. Because of this, they can feel anxious, depressed and unsure of themselves.

School can be hard for teens or adolescents with ADHD. Being successful in school often means being able to pay attention, and control behavior and impulses. These are things ADHD makes it hard to do.

There are many ways schools can help teens or adolescents with ADHD. Support or changes in the classroom (called adaptations) can help students with ADHD. Some teens or adolescents may be eligible for special education services.

There is no quick treatment for ADHD, but the symptoms can be managed.

For teens or adolescents with ADHD, it's important that family and teachers:

  • Learn more about ADHD
  • Help teens and adolescents learn to manage their behavior
  • Create an education plan that fits their needs
  • Follow the doctor's advice and treatment plan, including medicine if needed

Tips for Parents:

  • Learn about ADHD. The more you know, the more you can help your teen or adolescent – and yourself.
  • Recognize and encourage your child's strengths and talents.
  • Be specific, consistent and positive. Set clear rules and tell your teen or adolescent what he or she should do, not just what he or she shouldn't do. Make sure they understand what will happen if he or she does not follow the rules. Praise them when they behave and follow the rules.
  • Learn ways to help your teen or adolescent manage his or her behavior. Your mental health doctor or a parent support group can teach you techniques to help your teen or adolescent's behavior.
  • Talk with your doctor to see if medicine will help your teen or adolescent
  • Pay attention to your teen or adolescent's mental health – and your own. Consider counseling. It can help you all deal with the challenges of ADHD.
  • Talk to other parents who have teens or adolescents with ADHD. They can share advice and provide emotional support. Call your community mental health center to find a parent group. Look online to find a chapter of CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder). This national group might have a chapter in your area.
  • Meet with your teen or adolescent's school and develop a plan to help them succeed. Their teachers should get a written copy of this plan.
  • Keep in touch with your child's teacher. Let the teacher know how your child is doing at home. Ask questions about how your child is doing in school.

Want more information about ADHD? Visit these websites:

Oppositional Disorders

At one time or another, all teens or adolescents can be hostile. They may argue, throw tantrums or talk back to teachers or other adults. They may disobey parents and authority figures.

Sometimes this kind of behavior is normal. These behaviors help young teens gain more independence from their parents.

For some teens and adolescents, their hostile behavior could be a sign of oppositional disorder. This disorder can cause severe problems at home or school.

Common signs of this disorder are:

  • Regular temper tantrums
  • Angry outbursts
  • Provoking others on purpose
  • Failing to learn from mistakes
  • Not taking responsibility for mistakes and actions
  • Lying to get out of trouble
  • Lying to get attention
  • Refusing to do what adults or teachers ask
  • Saying mean things on purpose
  • If your child is diagnosed with oppositional disorder, talk with your doctor. Treatment can help your child get back on track.

Tips for Parents

  • Set limits and penalties for behavior in your home. Learn how you can manage your own frustration and anger. This will help you deal better with bad behavior. If you are too angry to deal with a situation, step away from it.
  • Don't bully, humiliate or threaten your teen or adolescent. This could create a situation where the anger feeds on itself. And the situation could get worse.
  • Don't forget your teen or adolescent's good qualities. Praise them for good behavior. Reward them with things they like.
  • Being a parent of a teen or adolescent with oppositional disorder can be very challenging and frustrating. Get support for yourself and other family members. Join a parent support group or a church group. Do things that help you regain your emotional strength.
  • Take time for yourself or your spouse or significant other. Make a special date to spend quality time together.
Conduct Disorders

Teens or adolescents with conduct disorders have a history of problem behaviors in their family, school, and community.

They often violate the basic rights of others. Teens or adolescents with this disorder break major rules including laws. They may do things that are dangerous to themselves or others.

Common signs of a conduct disorder include:

  • Hostility toward others, like threats, bullying, assaulting others, using weapons and harming animals
  • Destroying property, including setting fires or breaking things on purpose, breaking into homes or businesses
  • Lying, stealing or shoplifting
  • Running away from home
  • Refusing to attend school
  • These behaviors are very serious. Teens or adolescents who do these things face long-term penalties like going to jail.
  • If you think your teen or adolescent has a conduct disorder, it's important to get him or her treatment. This is especially important if he or she is in jail or detention.

Want more information about conduct disorders? Visit these websites: