ADHD and Adolescent Girls
Let’s put the emphasis this week specifically on ADHD and adolescent girls. Just the term adolescent girls make some people simply shudder. Adolescents in and of itself can be an intimidating life phase for all--the parents, family members, not to mention the young lady experiencing it.
It’s funny because, for me, one of my most favorite demographics is the 14-year-old girl. You never have to question where you stand with them--they are brutally honest, not interested in bull, and will tell you like it is with absolute flair. That scares many people; not me though--I relish it because it’s a sign of developing self-esteem, self-worth, and recognition of their value in the world. They have a voice, and it matters--even if it does make their parents want to shut them in a room until the phase passes (totally kidding--don’t do that).
But, for adolescents with ADHD, this can be a very different experience. While they experience the same challenges as typically developing children they also have an extra layer of difficulty to battle. Being a girl is hard. Girls can be vicious to one another; seeking ways to destroy the soul of another. Think I’m exaggerating? Walk into the 8th-grade wing of a middle school and then we can talk--just thinking about it gives me the heebie-jeebies. ***shudder***
So, while growing up girl in America is a high-stress event, growing up girl with ADHD in America is catastrophically high-stress--especially if it’s undiagnosed and unmanaged. Adolescents with undiagnosed/unmanaged ADHD are at a much higher rate of depression, anxiety, self-harming behaviors, and even suicide than their non-ADHD counterparts. This is largely due to their awareness of “being different.” The self-shame and blame that happens on a day-to-day basis -- the constant question: “why can’t I just (insert perceived failure here)” can have devastating consequences if not addressed.
Add in hormonal changes with puberty, body image issues, impulse control which may lead to overeating, the constant craving of carbohydrates (because it turns to sugar and has a natural calming effect on their brain--yup it’s true, look it up!), odd quirks that others don’t understand, not performing well on testing. Then their very own family not understanding them, getting frustrated and angry because of failures or constant need for monitoring you’ve got a perfect recipe for significant mental health issues secondary to the ADHD.
What do I mean by secondary? Well, the new mental health struggles likely weren’t the first issue. It’s like the old saying--what came first, the chicken or the egg? Well, in this situation it was ADHD. But, then what will happen is that those secondary diagnoses will end up taking center stage and the actual underlying issue will go undiagnosed. And, that is a tragic situation. Why?
It’s tragic because the treatment of ADHD is not as simple as behavioral modification therapy. ADHD itself is not something that needs to be modified--but some of the symptoms need to be managed. It is an entire family affair--it is important for an entire family to be involved with the treatment because the whole family has to shift the way they function. It is no longer making your child fit into your world, you as the adult have to figure out how to adjust your ways in order to fit into your child’s world. You cannot change how their brain is made--and you can’t force them to respond to traditional parenting techniques. They don’t work. Period. You have to take a deep dive into your own parenting values and expectations and shift accordingly. You have to help your non-ADHD child to understand why sometimes things are different for their sibling, you have to look at your desire to punish bad behavior and learn to refrain. The list goes on and on. And then while you’re doing that--you have to work diligently with your child’s other providers whether it’s professionals (teachers, coaches, caregivers) or family members (grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc) to understand how to best interact and get the results they want from your child. It is a whole family affair. It is not easy, and it should not be done alone.
Accessing a clinician who is skilled and educated in the specific treatment needs of people with ADHD will go a long way. Having a clinician to take the lead of your family changes, and guiding you step by step as you navigate this new world is worth its weight in gold. You’ve never faced this before, and you’re not expected to have all the answers--even for your own child. It’s ok to feel stumped, it’s ok to feel like you need help, but what’s not ok is letting things go to the point where your daughter faces a life of self-hatred because no one could ever understand her, so she, therefore, does not understand herself and believes that everything about her is wrong and unworthy.
If you would like guidance on how to start, please join my live webinar on March 30, 2021 at 7:30 p.m. You can register here:
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Jamie Racine is a licensed mental health clinician on a mission to educate the world about the facts of ADHD. She wants to eliminate the stigma and help fellow ADHD’ers see the superpower that they hold within themselves!
Questions? Email me at Jamie@embracetheextra.com