Awkward and embarrassing? No, I'm not describing the teenager, but the parents. This is how we are viewed by the budding adults we created when we try to have a conversation about dating. When teenagers with ADHD want to start dating, we shouldn't be fraught with excessive worry about how they are managing their relationships and what they are up to. Here are some tips for breaching this tricky subject and confirming their values as a touchpost.
Don't forget to provide structure and support
Just because your child is 16 going on 17, doesn't mean they have a concrete sense of what a relationship with the same, or opposite sex, should look like. Remember that maturity and overall development is delayed by 30%. They don't want you around, but they need you to be there. Start around 3rd grade with the "birds and the bees" talk. The iGeneration is bombarded with sexual images as soon as they have access to social media. If you delay giving them a smartphone, they will borrow a friends and so their education begins without you shaping it. If you have an idea that they are accessing adult material, don't avoid talking about it with them because they are 10. Children with ADHD take more risks and start sexual activity much younger than their average peer.
During COVID 19, you may not be driving around much, but you can find other opportunities for on-to one captive conversations. Teenagers, don't want to hear what to do with, and expect from, their girl/boyfriend. This is one way to ensure that they are focused elsewhere and not listening. Ask how they want to be treated and get a firm sense of their values, which may not be identical to yours. The idea is to encourage them to come up with a toolkit of how they can manage scenarios that occur frequently: pressure to enter into a physical relationship, and if they intend to say no for example. Support what you are saying with a story, but nothing that is alarmist or they will tune out. Wearing a face mask to prevent infection may be relatable to barrier contraceptive protection. For girls, there is a tendency to focus on pregnancy prevention, but not disease. Ask your teen what they think about teen parenthood, what do they think it means for future endeavors, college, jobs, careers etc. If they continue to give you a response, and engage in a conversation, they may be owning their answers.
Resilience and Pitfalls
Consciously monitor how they are treated after you have talked. Teens who have little resilience can easily enter into relationships with individuals who are controlling and/or be susceptible to "gas lighting"- being undermined because their ADHD can cause insecurity and low self-esteem. For girls, the end of their first sexual relationship can be a trigger for suicide (Chris Zeigler Dendy, Teenagers with ADD, ADHD & Executive Function Deficits). Be on the look out for language that expresses an inability to cope. This is a serious red flag: a warning sign for suicidal ideation. You will always have a push and pull relationship with your teen regardless of the ADHD. Get over it. Be uncomfortable with them and keep them safe.