What Does ‘Inattentive’ ADHD Mean For Your Teenage Daughter?

What Does ‘Inattentive’ ADHD Mean For Your Teenage Daughter?

Takeaway: Teenage girls with an ‘inattentive’ ADHD diagnosis can often mask their difficulties so well that parents and teachers overlook their struggles. And this can worsen their practical, emotional, and social challenges – destroying their self-confidence and resilience. Thankfully, the right therapist can help you find simple solutions to most of these problems and teach your child to develop her strengths, adapt to her weaknesses, and develop a support network that understands her needs.

We often focus on the hyperactivity component of an ADHD diagnosis, which can be misleading.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) describes a pattern of behaviour in some children who are regularly inattentive and/or hyperactive. (Learn more about ADHD.) And these traits get in the way of their day-to-day functioning. However, we often focus on the ‘hyperactivity’ component of an ADHD diagnosis because a fidgety, impulsive, and restless child tends to be disruptive and attract attention. After all, how can you ignore someone running around in class, talking loudly, interrupting conversations and more?

Inattentiveness in ADHD is just as challenging as hyperactivity, though. And it’s what girls usually struggle with the most.

The ‘inattentive’ component of ADHD describes difficulty focusing/concentrating, paying attention to details, following through with commitments, staying organised, and more. So, rather than being disruptive, children diagnosed as inattentive might simply make more mistakes in their schoolwork, hand in assignments late, daydream during lessons, misplace their belongings, etc. These are more subtle characteristics, and they’re the things girls with ADHD tend to do. I.e., the ‘inattentive’ component of ADHD is often more dominant in girls than the ‘hyperactivity’ component.

Interestingly, this girls-vs-boys difference extends to other aspects of ADHD, too.

ADHD in boys usually makes them hyperactive and impulsive, so the biggest challenge for parents and teachers is getting them to behave. In girls, ADHD affects their inner world more than their outward behaviour. So, they struggle with handling their emotions rather than following rules and behaving. (This isn’t to say that girls are never hyperactive and disruptive. It’s just less common than in boys.)


This subtlety is why we often overlook ADHD in girls.

Since girls struggle more subtly with ADHD, they find it easier to blend in. For instance, they’ll push themselves to finish tasks (even the overwhelming ones) and befriend teachers for extra guidance and support. So, rather than seeming to struggle, they come across as absent-minded or disorganised students taking all the necessary measures to do better.

That’s why parents with teenage daughters need to pay extra attention to an ADHD ‘inattentive’ diagnosis.

It’s vital that you recognise and address the inattentiveness in your daughter before it complicates her life. The longer she struggles without help, the more she’ll have to battle emotional and self-esteem issues. Remember, she gets daily feedback that she’s not ‘good enough’ at listening in class or doing her homework – and this could convince her that she’s not ‘good enough’ as a person. That’s a heavy burden to carry on her own. Further, the sheer stress of trying to deal with her ADHD and trying and blend in can be exhausting. And constantly being this exhausted and disheartened can lead to mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

The good news is that there are simple solutions to many of these challenges.

The key to dealing with inattentiveness is to be more disciplined and deliberate about daily life. For instance, your teen can start by turning off her phone when studying and permanently disabling app notifications. And she can sit in the front of the class to prevent classmates from distracting her. Further, she can use tools like mind maps and the Pomodoro Technique to keep her engaged when learning. And she can use a notebook/planner to track assignments, commitments, books to read, ideas to explore, and more. Also, she can build a social support system of friends and teachers who know about her challenges, encourage her, and hold her accountable for her choices.

You’ll also need to guide your child through distressing emotions.

Inattentiveness can be a frustrating character trait, so your child will likely feel annoyed, angry, overwhelmed, and hopeless. Here’s where you’ll need to step in and correct her inner self-talk. Get her to describe her feelings and help her process emotions gently. This means directing her away from harsh self-criticism like ‘I’m stupid’ or ‘I’ll never get better,’ and refocusing her attention on empowering thoughts like, ‘This is the ADHD at work, and that’s something we can tackle.

Don’t forget to monitor her social life, too.

Some studies show that teenage girls with ADHD often find it harder to make and keep friends than girls without ADHD. (This is likely because they struggle to stay present, focused, and patient in social situations.) Unfortunately, these social challenges affect girls more than boys. And this difficulty in meeting social expectations is likely to make them more anxious and obsessive. So, you’ll want to help your child decide what she (rather than society) wants and encourage her to develop the skills to reach those goals.

Crucially, keep reminding your teen of her strengths and potential.

It’s easy to get lost in a rush to ‘fit in.’ Instead, help your child explore and develop her innate talents. Sure, this journey of self-exploration is fun, but just as importantly, it’s confidence-building. The more time she spends on things she’s good at, the easier it is to accept and work on the things she struggles with. And this is a powerful shield against judgement and criticism. So, encourage her to join clubs, explore her artistic abilities, try new sports and physical activities, do volunteer work, befriend new/like-minded people, and more.

Finally, remember that there are specialists and therapists who can help.

All of this might seem overwhelming, but thankfully, there are skilled ADHD specialists and child psychologists you can lean on for support. The Ed Psych Practice offers face-to-face and online assessments, consultation, advice, and problem-solving strategies for parents, nurseries, schools, and universities in London. We have psychologists, paediatricians, and therapists who can help assess your child and offer guidance and support. To consult with us or set up an appointment:

Want to see how else you can help your child? You might enjoy some of our other posts.

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