Why friendships are important for teenagers with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Friendships help teenagers:
- feel a sense of belonging, security and comfort in their peer group
- feel that they’re valued and supported by people other than their family
- build confidence
- build skills for getting along with others, solving problems and resolving conflict.
When teenagers have friends, they have safe people for:
- talking about things with, like puberty, worries and romantic relationships
- doing new things with, like going out independently or trying new sports
- exploring things with, like values, roles, identities and ideas.
For teenagers with ADHD, good friendships can help them do better at school. Good friendships in childhood might also mean fewer social and emotional difficulties for them later in life.
ADHD and teenage friendships
Teenage friendships are often more intimate and close than friendships among younger children. Teenagers might expect more empathy and understanding from their friends.
To enjoy these kinds of friendships, teenagers need to be able to do things like:
- talk and listen
- think before acting
- respect boundaries
- recognise other people’s social cues
- take turns
- learn to see other people’s perspectives
- be sensitive to other people’s thoughts, feelings and wellbeing.
Most teenagers need help at times to develop these complex social skills.
For teenagers with ADHD, these skills might need more practice. This is because of challenges they can have with paying attention and controlling impulses and hyperactivity.
For example, difficulty with paying attention can mean that teenagers with ADHD seem quiet or uninterested in other people. Or difficulties with concentrating and remembering might mean that teenagers forget to respond to DMs, which might look like they’re not interested in their friends.
Teenagers with ADHD might socialise, interact and do other things differently from neurotypical children. This is part of being neurodiverse. You can encourage people to embrace your child’s neurodiversity.
Social and emotional skills for friendship
Teenagers with ADHD might need support to learn how to handle the complex emotions and social situations that come with teenage friendships.
For example, your child might still be working on recognising and managing strong emotions like joy or excitement when they’re at a party, concert or sporting match. Or they might be working on feelings of humiliation or anger if they feel criticised or rejected by a friend.
It’s good if your child can have a few options for handling strong emotions like these. These might include leaving the situation and going for a walk, listening to music or slow breathing. Our calming down steps can help your child learn to calm down by themselves when they need to.
Problem-solving steps can help your child understand and manage challenging social situations like disagreements with friends.
Preparation and practice can help your child with specific social situations like parties. For your child, this might include:
- going through what to expect in these situations
- planning how to have quiet time in these situations
- practising things like noticing social cues and having conversations
- remembering how they’ve handled similar social activities.
Finding friends for teenagers with ADHD
Your child with ADHD can make and have good friends, but they might need some help to find them.
Extracurricular social groups or activities can give your child the chance to meet people who share their interests. Shared interests are a good basis for friendship, and structured activities with routines and rules can help your child to feel confident. Your child could try a team sport, gaming group, martial arts or drama class. Keep trying until your child finds a group or activity that suits them.
Clubs or groups for neurodivergent teenagers or teenagers with ADHD can give your child a sense of belonging and help them develop friendships with people who share their experiences. And this can help your child feel accepted and understood. Your child might be able to find groups online or through a local ADHD support group.
Helping friendships grow for teenagers with ADHD
If your child has made some new friends, here are some ideas that your child can use to help these friendships grow:
- Use strategies to show interest in other people and nurture deeper friendship. For example, your child could set alerts on their phone for their friends’ birthdays, or you could remind them to contact friends regularly.
- Learn to see other people’s perspectives. For example, if your child has a disagreement with a friend, your child could write down what happened or talk it through with you. This can help your child understand how the friend might be feeling, why they might have acted the way they did, and what social cues to watch for in the future.
- Explain to friends how ADHD affects the way they socialise. For example, they might say, ‘My ADHD means I can be enthusiastic and excited about things. Sometimes I might accidentally talk over you or talk a lot and forget to give you a turn to speak. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about what you think. I’m working on being a good listener’.
Good parent-teenager relationships help children have positive relationships with peers. By being warm and supportive, staying connected and actively listening, you can help your child develop social and friendship skills.