What is ADD?

ADD stands for Attention Deficit Disorder.

An ADD teen struggling to integrate this condition into their life will often struggle with impulsivity, hyperactivity, and an overall lack of ability to pay attention.

Is it a natural condition of our ancestors that survived because they were hyper-alert to every sound everywhere?

Or is it a byproduct of emotional distress in the early years?

Is it an impairment or an advantage?

The optimist wants to say it’s both.

ADD is a continuum. We all have it to varying degrees, but when it interrupts our life or prevents us from getting the things we need to get done, that’s when we call it an impairment.

What causes ADD?

Although we are still not sure what causes ADD, in his book, scattered, well-known physician Gabor Mate, M.D. makes a strong argument that the cause is due to conditions in our environment much more than the hereditary argument we have long held onto.

Genes carry potential and the environment will carry out the potential of the instructions of the gene. Meaning, many different genes will/can be activated depending on the circumstances.

We often give genetics the attention for most conditions of the mind because “they are easy to grasp, socially conservative, and psychologically soothing.”

However, new research suggests our environment and the amount of stress we are exposed to at a young age plays a much larger role than previously thought.

Below is an excerpt explaining the cause between dissociation and ADD

“In the language of psychology, mental absence, tuning out, is an example of a mental state known as disassociation. It is employed in clinical psychiatry to refer to specific syndromes such as multiple personality disorder, but here the term is used in its general sense.

Dissociation, including the tuning-out of ADD, originates in a defensive need – it is a form of psychological defense. Gloucester’s motive to be “distract,” in the fourth act of King Lear, is very close to the source of “distractedness” of ADD. It is a way of coping with emotional hurt.

The original purpose of dissociation is to separate conscious awareness from some emotional pain we are experiencing, to dis-associate one from the other. we may think of dissociation as a psychological esthetic.”

He also points out that it is normal for all of us to at times to experience “absent-mindedness.” It is a psychological byproduct of the complex society we all live in.

How Can I Help My Teen?

Educate yourself and your teen

The conditions of ADD can be managed when they are understood. But like anything, a lack of understanding is breeding grounds for frustrations, confusion, and resentment. ADD is curable, or at the very least incredibly manageable when a firm grip on the condition and plenty of understanding is set into motion. Educate your teen so they know what to expect from this seemingly complex and flustering thing to cope with. All things are better when working together.

Teach them social skills

Teens with ADD often feel like they are missing something that other kids have. They can sometimes be oblivious to the social norms. Be mindful and watchful of where they might be experiencing this. Common themes are interrupting people while they are speaking, not listening, jumping from topic to topic. Peak to them in a way that can hear without feeling or small, but in a way, they feel seen and cared for.


Is a must always. There are certain foods like processed sugar and white flour that is hard on all of our brains. But can be even more detrimental when someone is struggling with concentration because it revs the engines and then often leaves the brain feeling more depleted decreasing ability to stay focused.

Setting Clear Boundaries

Teens often struggle with low self-esteem anyway, especially teens with ADD. It might seem counterintuitive but setting clears boundaries for a kid gives them a clear guideline of permissible behavior. It’s important for kids to know what they can expect from their parents. And in turn, helps raise their self-esteem.


School can be tough with kids struggling with ADD. Kids with ADD often struggle with note taking, study skills, listening to lectures, and time management/organization leaving them seemingly vastly behind. Sometimes the embarrassment is enough to not want to speak up about how they are really feeling, because more times than not, they will take their lack of attention as a sign of a lack of intellect. Despite popular opinion, intellect and ability to pay attention are not mutually exclusive. Monitor where your child is and consider finding outside help to explain the material to them in a calm way.


There exists medication that physicians can prescribe that will help the effects of ADD. Some teens will be adamant about not taking their prescriptions which is why it’s important to have an open dialogue educating them how it can help.


A teen struggling with ADD is motivated by novelty, urgency, interest, competition, and enjoyment. That means that while you’re thinking of ways to spark their attention, remember that being frustrated about why they won’t do what you want for purely logical purposes isn’t enough to convince them to get moving. It requires creativity and patience to figure out what will encourage them to do what needs to get done.


The main idea Mate writes in his book is that often kids with ADD feel disconnected from other people and their attention is hard to catch because they are trying to get more basic needs met, like connection. This is why it’s common to see them in class at a young age, not paying attention to the lecture because they are busy talking to other students during class.