Study: ADHD Diagnosis Linked to Teenage Parenthood

According to a new study, teens with ADHD are significantly more likely to become parents than their typical peers.
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As if parents of kids with special needs don't have enough to deal with, a new study reveals that teenagers are more likely to become parents if they have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

According to "Teenage Parenthood and Birth Rates for Individuals With and Without Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Nationwide Cohort Study," published in the July 2017 Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, which studied data from 2.7 million people born in Denmark from 1960 to 2001, those with ADHD (1% of those studied) were significantly more likely to become parents at ages 12 to 15 and 16 to 19.

Previous studies have found that ADHD is associated with risky sexual behavior. "Since teenage parenthood is associated with a number of adverse outcomes for both parents and children, it may be of relevance to target this group with an intervention program (including sexual education and contraceptive counseling) to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies," the study's authors wrote.

Interestingly, while those with ADHD were more likely to become teenage parents, they were less likely overall to ever become parents. This finding is consistent with research showing that mental disorders are associated with a decreased likelihood of having children. The findings continued to hold true in the adjusted analysis that took into account variables like history of mental disorders, education level and occupational status.

To better understand the results of this study, we spoke with David Anderson, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and senior director of the ADHD and Behavior Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute.  p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px Helvetica} span.s1 {font-kerning: none}

"Teens with ADHD are more likely to engage in a variety of risky behaviors in general, with research showing higher incidence of driving accidents, drug and alcohol use, and sexual behavior," Dr. Anderson told us. "And because teens with ADHD are more likely to be impulsive, make decisions quickly, and perhaps value short-term rewards over long-term consequences, engaging in safe sex and wearing a condom might be afterthoughts, particularly when alcohol is also involved."

However, he encourages parents to keep things in perspective. "What’s important to remember with a study like this is that most teens with ADHD will NOT become teen parents," Dr. Anderson said.

So, what's the takeaway? "We can always understand why a study like this increases the level of parental concern around this topic. But even with a novel research result that provides scientific support for this link, recommendations for parents of teenagers with ADHD remain the same: to monitor your teen, get to know their friends, place appropriate boundaries on their social life, and have discussions that incorporate their ADHD symptoms into decision-making about drugs, alcohol, and sex. And with regard to sex education, research clearly indicates that teen outcomes improve when teens with or without ADHD have access to information about important topics like safe sex and consent."

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