Does My Teen Have ADD, or Just Overcommitted?
Your teen is struggling when it comes to test time, they forget to turn in their homework, and sometimes they can’t even hear you when you call their name. It could be that they’ve already been diagnosed with ADD, or maybe you’re worried they you never had them tested. Is this behavior really ADD, or are does my teen’s attention suffering from external factors? It’s tough to say.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention finds that between 2003 and 2016, there has been an alarming 43% increase in diagnoses. These shocking numbers make us wonder if teens are being over-diagnosed as a result of being overcommitted. It might be that more teens are struggling with attention today because they have so much more to manage than teens in previous decades. Here’s how you can help.
Sixty-three percent of students feel that they are under pressure to get into a “good” college. At the same time, many teens overcommit themselves to school plays, choir practice, field hockey, AP courses, jazz band, AND starting their own club because they see these activities as critical “resume builders.” This intensity and the drive to do it all could contribute to why we are seeing so much more test anxiety, sports performance anxiety, tuning out, and other ADD-associated behaviors than ever before. It’s just too much to handle and teens don’t know how to inform their choices when being busy is framed as being successful.
If your teen is struggling with attention, try reducing the amount of extracurricular activities in their lives and see if it helps them focus on the few investments that are really important to them. Studies show that anyone under stress is going to suffer from weaker executive functioning. We think it’s better for your teen’s attention span if they have less activities in their life and can excel at a few choice goals.
Social Media Pressures
Another way teens are overcommitted is through social media. 45% of teens feel overwhelmed by social media and yet, 70% of teens check their social media accounts daily, with many reporting almost constant use. There seems to be a need for teens to be consistently attentive to social media even though it stresses them out and could be draining their mental resources.
To help your teen ‘detox’ from social media, we suggest that they ignore their accounts for a day or two at time and learn to get over the fear of not seeing some post, comment, or story. You could also try installing parental controls to keep them accountable. Teens are so eager to be up to date with everything that they should learn it’s okay to miss out on some of the digital world in order to accomplish their goals in the real world. I suggest negotiating with your teen to decide when they can sacrifice social media time to see if that affects their focus on school work or home chores.
Does the Diagnoses Warrant Medication?
If your teen has been diagnosed with ADD, there could be other factors influencing their poor attentional abilities other than neurological problems. It’s important to know if your teens are able learn how to manage their ADD without medication, given a more relaxed schedule with less responsibilities, because of the problems associated with medication. There are so many side effects from the stimulants prescribed to treat ADD such as anxiety, weight loss, lack of appetite, and poor body image. And you don’t want them to become dependent on a medication they don’t need.
Of course, millions of teens really need and benefit from this medicine, but there is a chance that the over-diagnosis of ADD could be causing overmedication. If your teen has ADD and can learn to manage their symptoms without medication, that is probably the healthiest route to take. If your teen struggles with even a simple and manageable schedule because their ADD is inhibiting their abilities to learn coping strategies, then medication is probably your best bet.
What Should I Do?
Have a serious conversation with your teen and their psychiatrist to decide if your teen really does suffer from ADD, or if their attention is being challenged by other stress. You can always do a trial run of medication to see if it makes them feel better or worse about their performance. This can help you decide if medication is necessary, or if adjusting lifestyle and learning coping techniques will be sufficient for success.
We recommend that you be savvy about introducing your teen to a medication that they can abuse as well. Many teens sell their ADD medication for a few dollars a pop to help other teens keep up with their demanding schedules, or just to get high. It’s not uncommon for teenagers to crush up and snort their pills for a buzz. If you think medication is important for your teen, it could be beneficial to manage the medication for them. Try doling out one pill at a time so you know they aren’t abusing a new drug to feel more positive and energetic instead of using it improve focus.
We think that with an increasing amount of commitments and stressors for teens today, there may be too much of a focus on using ADD medication as a crutch to keep up with unhealthy demands. We suggest that before medicating your teen, whether they are diagnosed or not, you could try to reduce pressure by decreasing the amount of intense extracurricular activities in their lives and the amount of time spent on social media. It could be good for your teen’s attentional abilities if they focus on what will make them the happiest instead of the best college candidate, or the most popular on Instagram.
Does My Teen Have ADD, or Are They Just Overcommitted?
Your teen is struggling when it comes to test time, turning in homework, and listening when you call. Is this ADD, or something external?
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.