10 Common Mistakes Parents Make When Talking To ADHD Teens About Friendships

High school is a fast-paced, shifting social landscape where old friends can drift away and social status takes on greater importance.

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High school is a fast-paced, shifting social landscape where old friends can drift away and social status takes on greater importance. This is also a time when many kids shift their primary friendship focus away from family and spend most of their social hours with a core group of friends.

For kids who have trouble making friends or who end up in messy friendship situations, navigating these challenges can be a minefield. ADHD isn’t necessarily the reason they have friendship challenges, but kids with ADHD have different ways of being in the world.


To make life easier for everyone, parents can learn how to make subtle changes in their communication style to reduce the stress of helping a kid with ADHD.

RELATED: 4 Strategies To Reduce Arguments With Neurodivergent Teens

Here are 10 common mistakes parents make when talking to ADHD teens about friendships.

1. Assuming you understand the reasons why your teen is struggling.

By withholding judgment, you open the lines of communication and create an atmosphere of safety and trust, which allows them to evaluate their own thoughts and values. By starting each conversation with the mindset of being curious rather than the authority, you create the opportunity for your child to teach you about their experience.


This powerful shift will help your child feel supported and trusted by you in immeasurable ways. You’re literally saying to your child, “I trust you know yourself better than anyone ever could.”

2. Refusing to see their perspective

Many teens feel misunderstood by the world around them. This can be particularly true for kids with ADHD and other neurodiverse mindsets. By stepping into your teen’s shoes and hearing their perspective, you can get better insight into what matters to them and why. Then, when your teen harps on a topic, hounds you, or vehemently objects against something, you have a better understanding of their perspective why their reaction seems extreme to you.

3. Performing a monologue 

Conversations don’t need to be interrogations or monologues. It’s important to talk about positive experiences and situations rather than focusing on the negative. By engaging in lighter conversations, your teen will engage with you more easily and more often, even when the topics are heavier.

RELATED: 5 Ways To Adapt When Your Child's ADHD Overwhelms You


4. Assuming you know what they're thinking

When you’re unsure about what is causing your teen’s reaction, ask them questions like, “Why is that so important to you?” or “Why do you feel this way?” so you hear their perspective firsthand. The cardinal rule is to not assume, but to ask instead.

5. Waiting for your child to initiate new things

If making new friends or deepening relationships is the goal, the easiest path is a shared interest or activity. Brainstorm with your teen what they are interested in and where they can meet others. Support their interests with encouragement and coordinate the logistics with them. This makes participation simpler for everyone.

6. Assuming your child knows basic teenage social skills

Often kids with ADHD struggle to understand “social norms” and how to participate with friends or in groups without stress. One easy way to coach your teen is with “Social Spy”. This activity teaches kids how to discreetly observe an individual, group, or situation BEFORE getting involved.

As a Social Spy, kids observe the mood, tone, energy, of the group/friends so they have a sense of how others interact and what social behaviors are common.


RELATED: 5 Easy Ways To Help Your Child Make Friends When They Have ADHD Or Behavioral Issues

7. Leaving the learning of social skills to your child

Help your teen to understand humans are complex and can act differently in different situations. Using the Social Spy model, have your teen notice how someone acts, what they’re interested in, and how they communicate non-verbally.

As an observer of people, what do they see? Is the person a people pleaser? Are they introverted or do they love the spotlight? What do they say and don’t say in different settings? This practice of making inferences can lead to conversations with your teen about how to adapt their communication style to connect with someone as a friend on a deeper level.

8. Letting your kid do conflict resolution alone when they're new to teen friendships

Conflict is a regular part of life, and it certainly happens in friendship. It’s important your teen has some skills to navigate when things don’t go as smoothly as we would like. It’s easy to let emotions take over when conflicts come up.


Teaching kids to recognize how to cool off, take a time out, and how to know what’s going on internally so they don’t misread things like “being hungry” with frustration. This will help you to support your child in reducing emotions before conflicts grow from smoldering embers to outright fires.

9. Focusing on your own perspective 

Your teen’s brain typically focuses on their own perspective, so it’s important to model stepping into another person’s shoes. This supports positive friendship skills around compromise, compassion, and empathy.

10. Setting friendship expectations too high 

Encourage your teen to be in touch with their positive attributes and strengths. Which traits should they express more? What makes your teenager special and unique in the world? By acknowledging their strengths, they will feel greater confidence which goes a long way to helping them find their place in the high school social scene.


Remember the goal with high school friends isn’t to be the most popular kid or to have dozens of friends. Research supports that most people have 3-5 great friends in their lifetime and your closest friends contribute greatly to your self-esteem. ADHD may have impacted your teen’s ability to make friends in the past, but high school is an exceptional opportunity for someone to reinvent themselves.

RELATED: Social Anxiety & ADHD: How To Better Manage Anxiety With Supportive Planning And Preparation

Caroline Maguire, M.Ed., ACCG, PCC founded and facilitates a comprehensive SEL training methodology (#ConnectionMatters) for adults, parents, clinicians and academic professionals on how to develop critical social, emotional and behavioral skills, in themselves and in others.