Teens with ADHD

Social Smarts: The Teen Years

Five creative ways to help your teenager with ADHD (and poor social skills) find — and keep — friends.

Teen girls with ADHD holding hands outside and forming friendships
Teen girls with ADHD holding hands outside and forming friendships

Cultivating friendships during the teen years can be an awesome task for the youngster with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Cliques are hard to break into, and delayed maturity is a roadblock to social success.

While some hyperactive, impulsive ADHD teens win friends with their enthusiasm and offbeat humor, others find themselves ostracized, seen by their peers as overbearing or immature. And for primarily inattentive kids with ADHD, chitchat may be a challenge, paralyzing them into silence.

You can’t structure your child’s social life, as you did through elementary and middle school, but you can give the little push that helps her learn how to improve social skills. “Jump starts” that some of my clients’ parents have used include:

School Clubs

High schools are often much larger than elementary and middle schools, and the school-wide social scene can be daunting to navigate for inattentive teens with ADHD. Conversation — and friendship — come more easily among teens who have a shared interest.

Encourage your child to sign up for clubs or activities that will put her in touch with like-minded students. An outing with the French club may spark conversation with a student in a different class.

Youth Groups

ADHD teens, like ADHD children, often need planned activities. Although you no longer plan and supervise play dates, church organizations, scout groups, and other after-school or community activities can provide structure for the teen who cannot find a crowd on her own.

An added bonus: The adults who run such groups are generally committed to involving all the kids. They’ll take the time to talk to a teen standing on the edge of the group and encourage her to join in.

Outings with Parents

Some teens do best in smaller groups, with some parental monitoring. Although parents are generally “uncool” to high-schoolers, your presence is acceptable in certain situations. A teen who’s reluctant to call a friend to “hang out” might be persuaded to invite a friend or two to a sporting event, if Dad gets a few tickets.

Community-service programs often involve parents along with their children. The National Charity League sends mother-daughter pairs to volunteer in food kitchens or homeless shelters. I’ve seen many girls make real connections with peers in this kind of setting.

Part-Time Jobs

An after-school or weekend job can let a teen practice some social skills and gain self-confidence. I worked with one youngster who thought he was doomed to social isolation — until he landed a job at a local smoothie shop. He began by talking with classmates who came into the shop, then got to know many of them outside of work, as well.

Social-Skills Groups

If a teen is seriously struggling on the social front, his “jump start” might be a formal group designed to teach social skills. Such groups are generally led by a psychologist or therapist, and may be sponsored by schools or community centers.

The format may involve structured tasks or be an open forum for conversation, with feedback coming from both group leaders, and peers. I’ve seen social-skills groups work wonders for teens who turned a deaf ear when Mom or Dad pointed out social blunders.