Dear Teen Parenting Coach

“Q: My Teen Thinks His ADHD Makes Him ‘Worthless.’”

“Teens with ADHD can be prone to having a low sense of self-worth because of the negative messaging they’ve picked up about themselves over the years. With ADHD, they may have been told, directly or indirectly, that they constantly ‘miss the mark’ – socially, academically, and in other areas. With so much negative messaging, it can be difficult for them to focus on anything positive.”

Q: “My teen son has been very down on himself lately. He feels like he’s ‘worthless’ due to ADHD, and like he has no future. How can we begin to help him improve his sense of self-worth?”


This is an important question, as it touches on what many teens and young adults, ADHD or not, are frankly experiencing at this time. The ADHD experience itself, however, is also likely playing a role in your son’s outlook.

Low Self-Worth in Teens with ADHD: Causes

  • Uncertainty. The pandemic (and other factors) have contributed to a sense of hopelessness and helplessness about their future among young people today. Things they’ve been looking forward to for years may be no longer available to them. College doesn’t really resemble the image they had in their dreams. For seniors in high school, this may understandably impact their thinking about applying to college. It’s difficult to conjure excitement for something so unclear.
  • Negative messaging. Teens with ADHD could be more prone to having a low sense of self-worth because of the negative messaging they’ve picked up about themselves over the years. With ADHD, they may have been told, directly or indirectly, that they constantly “miss the mark” – socially, academically, and in other areas. With so much negative messaging, it can be difficult for them to focus on anything positive.

Improving Self-Worth in Teens with ADHD

1. Validate and acknowledge

If your son’s self-worth has been impacted by the pandemic, start by acknowledging his concerns, fears, and other emotions. Encourage him to express his feelings and do your best to be empathetic and to validate them.

[Click to Read: True Grit – Turning Your Teen Into a Trooper]

To help him build self-worth, confidence, and resiliency, notice and validate any efforts your teen is making toward anything, whether in school, with friends, with hobbies, or when at home. Help him notice the positive events and small victories in his days. Beginning to focus on the positive can help your teen feel like he’s in control, especially at a time when so much change is outside of our control.

At the dinner table, for example, have everyone share something good that happened to them that day. It can range from “I wore my favorite shirt” to “I finished my math homework and turned it in.” You can also encourage your child to keep a daily journal or a log of three positive observations, or one of you can write them on a post-it and stick them to a wall for a week for him to see. Then take them down and start fresh the next week or leave them up for a month. It’s impressive to look back on the good that has actually happened.

2. Reframe ADHD

Being wired differently can foster negative feelings of being less than. Your teen is probably feeling it’s harder for them to do things than it is for other teens without ADHD. Help your son or daughter accept that this is okay! When you catch him or her comparing themselves to others, remind them that their brains do have the capacity to learn – it just takes more time and patience sometimes.

It’s also important to point out the ways your child is on track with their peers. Is there a sport she plays well? Does he play the guitar or another instrument? By finding the activities or traits where they “measure up,” they can begin to focus on building these skills – a sure way to improve confidence.

[Read: Inside Your Teen’s ADHD Mind]

3. Look for ADHD role models

People with ADHD have tremendous futures. The more your son or daughter is exposed to role models and others living with ADHD, the less they will feel like ADHD is a source of shame. Spend some time together looking up famous figures who have ADHD – Adam Levine, Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, and many, many more have achieved great success in their respective fields with ADHD.

Self-Worth and ADHD: Next Steps

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Updated on February 5, 2021

2 Comments & Reviews

  1. This article struck a raw nerve in me. I am a guy in his pre-geezer years. Please listen to me because I’ve BTDT. In high school in the 1960s I was the class nerd and definitely looked the part with my out-of-style crew cut.

    In an American high school the Big Men on Campus are the jocks. If you don’t have athletic talent, summer basketball camp will not land you a multimillion dollar contract and that’s OK. If you are a good student, that’s much better than OK. Work hard to enhance that strength but never brag about it. That will only engender jealousy. NEVER admit to having this ADD/ADHD $#1+; the BMOCs will weaponize it.

    What will boost your image is an appearance makeover. Wear glasses? Get contact lenses. Are you fat? Work it off. Also consider a change in hairstyle. In the dating game what counts the most is LOOKS, LOOKS, LOOKS. The airheads on the cheerleading squad will continue to ignore you and that’s OK but the beautiful smart girls will take notice and there is no better morale booster than having a hot trophy babe at your side.

    If you need professional help, get it. And continue to read ADDitude for its wise counsel.

  2. Unfortunately, the Comments section of ADDitude does not allow edits. Therefore I would like to attach the following as the first paragraph to my post above:

    Parental pep talks, although commendable, are largely ineffectual in helping a teen with low self-esteem. Waste of time. Low self-esteem and inferiority complex are synonymous and comorbid conditions.

    And forget mentioning celebrities with ADD/ADHD as role models. Useless extraneous information. These people live on a different planet. They can afford to bare all and can tell concert promoters and sports franchises to go to hell. Ordinary people do not have that luxury.

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