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Risky Behavior and Teens With ADHD

By Camille Noe Pagán
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD

The teenage years can be tough for kids. But for teens with ADHD, they can be especially hard. If your child has ADHD, you might notice he does certain things that upset you, himself, or other people. You might even realize he does things that are unsafe. Know that this is normal.

“Risky behavior is more common in both kids and adults with ADHD,” says Stephanie Sarkis, PhD, a mental health counselor who specializes in ADHD.

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Experts think that genetics, differences in brain structure, and lower levels of some brain chemicals make people with ADHD more likely to take chances and do things that are dangerous.

Here are four risky things that kids with ADHD may do, and ways that you can help your teen stay safe and healthy.

Risky Behavior: Driving Too Fast

Teens with ADHD who drive have more car accidents than those who don’t have ADHD.

“When you have ADHD, you have lower levels of certain pleasure-causing brain chemicals like dopamine,” Sarkis says. “Teens and adults may be drawn to risky behaviors like speeding and ignoring traffic rules. That’s because these activities can increase dopamine and cause a ‘rush.'”

What you can do: Be kind but firm about your expectations. Your teen should know that you won’t tolerate unsafe driving. Teens should not use their phone, text, or do things like adjust music or look up directions while driving.

You may want to only let your child drive with you or by himself instead of with friends who could be a distraction, says Jon Belford, PsyD, a clinical psychologist specializing in ADHD.

“Make it very clear that there will be a stiff penalty -- like taking the car away -- the first time he doesn’t follow the rules.”

Risky Behavior: Blowing Off Important Commitments

You want your child to thrive and be successful. So it can be frustrating when he doesn’t do his homework, skips doctor or therapist appointments, or does other things that seem self-sabotaging.

“You may find yourself thinking, ‘You can play video games or build a Lego tower for hours at a time; why can’t you do a couple pages of homework?’” Belford says. “But ADHD is a disorder that can make it hard and often even impossible for kids to tackle things they don’t want to do.”

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