During the teen years, dating is a big deal. For many teens, it is an inevitable part of growing up and is the first step in learning how to maintain a romantic relationship. For parents, this is a scary time. You want to protect your child, yet you know eventually he or she will be heartbroken. You want to know the other person cares for your teen. For parents of teens with ADHD, this can be even more difficult.
Teens with ADHD are often more emotionally immature. Some experts believe there could be a difference of several years between chronological and emotional level, for example, your teen may be 15 or 16 years old, yet have the emotional maturity of a 12 year old. This disparity can cause problems when your teen wants to start dating. Chronological age would say he is ready to start exploring relationships and many of his classmates have already started dating. But your teen's emotional maturity, if it is several years below his chronological age, can hold him back from both starting and maintaining a relationship.
Other relationship challenges often associated with ADHD:
Impulsivity - Does your teen tend to blurt out whatever comes to mind? Does he forget to think about how his words may affect the other person? This can often cause problems. Imagine your teen blurting out something hurtful, without meaning to, while out on a date. His date may break up with him right there and then.
Inability to Understand Non-Verbal Cues - In the dating world, you need to understand not just what the other person is saying, but the meaning behind the words. Flirting can be confusing to someone who doesn't get the subtleties of non-verbal communication. On the other hand, someone may be letting your teen down gently, not wanting to hurt him, but your teen isn't getting the message.
Poor Communication - Everyone wants to feel important and feel their ideas and thoughts are heard. Listening, therefore, is a big part of any relationship. But your teen's mind may be going a hundred miles an hour - he may be thinking about what to say next or worrying about saying the wrong thing, unable to slow down his thoughts long enough to really listen. Or he may have a hard time focusing because of nervousness and start paying attention to everything else except what his date is talking about, leaving him clueless about how to answer or continue the conversation.
Constant Need for New Stimulation - Some people with ADHD tend to move from partner to partner, being attentive and focused on the relationship in the beginning, when it is new and exciting. But once it settles down and becomes more routine; he becomes bored and looks for something more exciting.
Forgetfulness - In a relationship you want to know you can count on the other person. But if your teen forgets to call when he says he is going to or is late or completely forgets about a date, his romantic partner will quickly run out of patience.
How Parents Can Help
While teens with ADHD are used to using different strategies to help them with their schoolwork, they don't always think about using these same strategies to help build a relationship. Help your teen think about what works in the classroom, for example, what does he do to help him stay focused on the lesson? These same strategies can be used when he is listening to his date. What strategies does he use to help him remember due dates for projects? Does he use reminder systems on his watch or phone? Does he use a calendar? These same approaches can be carried over to relationships.
Make sure, as a parent, you go over "dating 101" with your teen. Give examples on the right way to ask someone out, how to develop good listening skills and have two-way conversations. Emphasize the importance of developing friendship within the relationship. Watch television together, talking about the teen relationships you see on different shows - what is a healthy teen relationship and what is an unhealthy relationship?
Suggest group dates to start with. This usually takes the pressure off as conversation isn't limited to just two people. It also may be easier to ask someone on a group date, for example, "I am going bowling with some friends on Saturday, would you like to join us?" is much less intimidating than asking someone on a date.
Teach dating safety. Whether your teen is male or female, it is important to understand dating safety, having dates in public places that are well lit. Make sure your teen carries a cell phone for emergencies. Teens with ADHD who have felt out of place or that they don't fit in may go along with dangerous situations just to fit in or show they belong.
Once your teen is in a relationship, encourage him to explain ADHD and how it impacts his life. This helps the partner to better understand and not get so angry, for example, if your teen is late meeting their date. Together they can talk about some problem areas and work together to find solutions.
You should also make sure your teen is receiving treatment for ADHD. Medication and behavioral therapies have been found to be the most effective. If your teen's ADHD symptoms are interfering with his or her ability to maintain relationships with peers, talk to your doctor about whether the current treatment is working or if it should be adjusted. Talk therapy may also help your teen by learning strategies to cope with symptoms and increase self-esteem. Social skills training may help your teen feel more comfortable with peers.
Keep up the conversation. Teaching your teen about dating and relationships isn't a one-time conversation. As his or her relationships change and grow, make sure he or she knows that you are there and available to talk and answer questions.
Understand that heartbreak is an inevitable part of growing up. Offer your teen support and encouragement when, and if, a break-up occurs. Make sure you remind him that most teen relationships end and that it isn't always what someone did wrong.
"ADHD and Relationships: Tips for Adults, Parenting Children Living with ADHD: Tips for Parents," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, National Alliance for