Teens with ADHD: Tips for Improving Social Skills

Health Writer

For more on the series of teens with ADHD:

For Teens: Understanding ADHD

Strategies to Help at Home

Strategies to Help at School

Acting without thinking, blurting out comments, not paying attention to conversations. All of these can interfere with your ability to make and keep friends. Many teens have told me that they feel like they don't fit in, they feel alone and lonely. Sometimes, you may try too hard to fit in with your peers and end up doing things you know you shouldn't, like drinking, taking drugs or stealing. During times of high stress, your ADHD symptoms might increase, making friendships and relationships even more difficult. But as with all teens (both with ADHD and without) friendships are extremely important during the teen years.

The following tips may help you:

Talk to your friends about your ADHD. At first you may be embarrassed to say you have ADHD, helping your friends understand what ADHD is and how it may impact your friendship can make situations less stressful. For example, you can explain that you sometimes lose track of time or are forgetful and if you sometimes forget to meet them or are always running late when getting together. By doing so, friends are less apt to get angry and more apt to be understanding when this happens.

Practice expressing your feelings and ideas with family members. Being a teen involves talking about how you feel and what you think about different things. In school and in friendships, you are expected to be able to talk about your viewpoints. With ADHD, your thoughts may feel like they are going 100 miles an hour and you may have a hard time organizing your thoughts to be able to explain what you think or feel to others. Read passages from books, newspapers or magazines or watch a television show with family members and take turns summarizing what you read or watched and then expressing your point of view to give you practice.

Look for activities that are based on your interests. Often, teens with ADHD are able to pay attention longer when the situation or activity is one that is interesting to you. Most high schools and communities offer a variety of after-school activities, clubs and sports.  Think about your interests and then search out activities that interest you. Making friends is easier if you have common interests.

Practice understanding non-verbal language. Some teens with ADHD have a hard time understanding facial expressions or other non-verbal language used during conversations. According to some experts, up to 90 percent of what we say is through our expressions and body language. You may misinterpret someone teasing if you don't notice he is smiling when he says something. Ask family members to help you by role-playing or explaining their body language as you talk with them.

Watch television shows and movies that revolve around teens to help understand teen relationships. While you need to remember these shows are fiction, you can learn about how teens relate to one another by watching television and paying attention to how the characters interact with one another. If you want, ask your parents to watch with you so you can discuss different aspects of the friendships in the shows.

Learn relaxation techniques for when situations and events become stressful. Stress can make ADHD symptoms exaggerated and learning to calm down can help. Practice skills like meditation, yoga or deep breathing to help you keep stress levels low. Daily exercise also helps to lower stress levels, try to exercise for at least 20 minutes each day.

Ask friends to repeat what they said if you don't hear, forget or if you don't understand. While you might feel embarrassed asking because it means you weren't paying attention, it can be more embarrassing to go on with a conversation when you have no idea what was said. You might want to make a joke, saying "Sorry, I just had an ADHD moment, would you repeat what you said," to help make the situation amusing rather than embarrassing.

Stay involved in conversations by asking questions. When you are listening to a friend and not contributing to the conversation, it is easy to get lost in your own thoughts and miss what he has said. Instead, make a point of asking questions and staying involved. This helps you stay interested and focused.

Respect personal space. You may have a hard time with understanding personal space, moving too close to someone else or standing so far away your friend thinks you are not interested. A general rule is you should stand about one arms length away from someone when engaged in conversation.

Remember to make eye contact. Eye contact shows someone you are interested in what he has to say. When talking with someone avoid looking at the floor or around the room, which shows you are bored. Instead, make an effort to make frequent eye contact during the conversation.

If you are struggling with social situations, you may want to talk with your parents about looking into social skills training. Many psychologists offer social skills training, either individually or as a group, to teach you specific skills for social situations and to use those skills in a variety of situations.

For more information:

Improving Social Skills in Children with ADHD

Social Skills Training for Children with ADHD

Role Playing to Teach Children with ADHD Social Skills

Social Skills for the Child Who Doesn't Fit in


"ADHD Success Guide for Teens," 2001, Feb, ADHD.CO.IL

"Your Adolescent - Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder," Excerpt from Your Adolescent from Harper Collins, Academy of Adolescent Psychiatrty