Mythbusters: ADHD is Caused by “Bad Parenting”

By Jessica Flannery, PhD

Research Roundup

Ever heard that ADHD is a result of bad parenting? It’s this idea that if parents had ‘just done something different,’ their child would not have ADHD. Well, it’s time for some myth-busting! Parenting styles do not cause ADHD. Unfortunately, this pervasive myth has negative impacts on both parents and children, especially since it can keep families from pursuing necessary treatments for ADHD. In this article, we’ll dig into why that myth is not true and what we do know about parent involvement in ADHD.

ADHD is not caused by one thing

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects people of all ages, sexes, and genders. ADHD’s heritability1 is estimated to range from 30% to 90%, depending on many factors, such as age or level of shared genetics. In fact, ADHD is thought to be one of the most genetically heritable psychiatric conditions!

However, your genes are not determinant. In other words, scientists cannot sequence your genes and tell you that you’ll develop ADHD. Environmental exposures during prenatal and postnatal development, such as tobacco smoke, alcohol, or drugs, as well as premature birth or low birth weight, can also contribute to the development of ADHD symptoms. However, birthing parents with ADHD are more likely to engage in those high-risk behaviors, such as smoking or drinking during pregnancy. That means it is difficult to tease apart genetics from environmental influence. These early environmental factors can be better understood as “influencers” of ADHD symptoms presentation rather than the cause. 

Parenting styles are not the cause

Parenting a child with ADHD often evokes a particular set of challenges, which can require more patience and flexibility. Traditional parenting strategies, like establishing a natural consequence, may not work as well for a child with ADHD. Children with ADHD often require more structured routines, positive reinforcement, and support systems to help them keep track of time or complete tasks. At the same time, a child’s impulsivity or difficulty sustaining attention may contribute to a cycle of negative parent-child interactions, increased corrections, and frustration on both sides. This cycle can also be particularly difficult if the parent has ADHD and difficulty with emotion regulation or heightened impulsivity.

But parents can still be part of the solution

Although parents are not the cause, they can be part of the solution. Parenting a child with ADHD often requires learning a new set of strategies. Evidence-based therapies for ADHD in children involve parents, not because they caused it, but because they can help create structures that support the way their child’s brain works and increase parent confidence. Recognizing these ADHD-related parenting challenges can empower parents to seek treatment for their child and find support for both their children and themselves.


ADHD is a highly heritable neurodevelopmental disorder, with many contributing factors to the onset and individual presentation. Parenting styles do not cause ADHD, but parents can help support their child to develop systems to better manage their ADHD symptoms. If you suspect your child may have ADHD, contact your healthcare provider. By dispelling the myth of parent blame, we can foster a more empathetic and informed approach towards ADHD, ensuring that both parents and children receive the understanding assistance that they need.

About the Author

  • Jessica E. Flannery, PhD is the Associate Director of Clinical Science at Akili. She is a clinical licensed psychologist, an ADHD-Certified Clinical Services Provider (ADHD-CCSP), and a developmental social neuroscientist. She has published over 50 peer-reviewed articles, received prestigious fellowships and awards and is a prior TEDx speaker.