Attachment in Adolescence

Attachment in adolescence tests many of the teachings and experiences of childhood. Learn more in the following article.
Attachment in Adolescence

Last update: 04 September, 2022

Are attachment and adolescence two compatible words? How is this possible? In general, young people seek freedom and autonomy, and attachment implies presence, closeness, and contact. However, although they may seem to be mutually exclusive situations, they’re actually not. Sustaining an attachment is still necessary during adolescence, although it must be adapted to the new forms and needs of our children. Let’s see then how to achieve it.

Types of attachment

To understand attachment in adolescence, it’s important to understand the main concept.

When we talk about attachment we refer to a bond that’s established early on between an infant and the adult caregiver. Our first experiences with our parents are very important and leave an imprint capable of exerting a certain influence throughout life. The fact is that children require full care for their survival, so the relationship with the caregiver is very intense.

As the months and years go by, children gradually acquire skills and develop competencies to fend for themselves. However, this doesn’t mean that their mental models are inflexible; on the contrary, they’re open to change.

We’ll now look at the different types of attachment.

Secure attachment

If the attachment bond was positive, identity and the process of discovering one’s own path will be easier. Thus, adolescents will be secure enough to explore the world and allow themselves to build their lives in their own way.

Secure attachments make it easier for children to feel valued and listened to. Therefore, in the future, they’ll be able to express themselves better, will have an easier time relating to others, and will be able to achieve a better sense of belonging.

Ambivalent insecure attachment

When the attachment bond established with the parents wasn’t secure, the adolescent will face certain insecurities. In this sense, it’s very important to pay attention to their behaviors, because if the bond was ambivalent, negative behavior may be exacerbated. That’s to say, they may oppose, confront, or seek attention in an attempt to find an answer to their existential dilemmas. Also, they may maintain complacent behaviors with others, even if it means going against their own convictions.

Disorganized attachment

In the case of adolescents with a disorganized attachment bond, a contradiction is presented: “The one I depend on for care and affection mistreats me”. Therefore, the relationship is one of compromise–the child needs to get closer and, at the same time, needs to move away. In these cases, the experience is one of fragmentation and dissociation: I want and I don’t want; I get closer, but I move away to defend myself. This type of attachment can produce difficulties when it comes to relating and opening up to other people.

Avoidant insecure attachment

Another possible case is that of insecure-avoidant attachment, which refers to bonds with parents who reject the child and don’t respond to them.

In this case, the child gets used to not asking and not interacting, as their demands are left unmet. In adolescence, this may continue as internalizing disorders or mood-related problems. Here, young people learn to be self-sufficient and are characterized by maintaining an emotional disconnection. As a result, they find it difficult to share with others what’s happening to them and minimize or keep it to themselves.

A teenage girl sitting on the floor looking overwhelmed.
In the case of insecure-avoidant attachment, when reaching adolescence, the young person tends to disconnect emotionally, be reserved, and minimize the things that happen to them.

How to bond with adolescents through attachment

As we pointed out, it’s important to understand that, like all relationships, each stage of life has different demands and we must be able to adapt to them. Here are some tips to achieve a better bond with adolescents from the attachment point of view:

  • In the bond with their parents, young people seek and need availability, but also their own space. A balance must be struck between taking an interest, sharing, and giving them privacy. They need both attention and freedom to make their own decisions. In this regard, adults should also be close and accompany them, but without invading and accepting changes.
  • In all cases, it’s a matter of continuing or strengthening work related to emotional intelligence. Dialogue should be encouraged, helping them to identify and express their emotions. Also, to discover how to face the different challenges of their age.
  • Pay attention to abrupt changes. Striking behaviors, such as loss of interest in something they liked, poor academic performance, and sleeping difficulties may indicate that the adolescent is going through a difficult situation. This is an opportunity to accompany them, counsel them, and intervene if necessary.

You may be interested in: The 7 Major Challenges Teenagers Face

There can also be a relearning of relationships

Finally, adolescence is also a stage where we find tension and confrontation. Young people come to bring to the adult world a fresh and renewed look, with fewer prejudices and new visions. That’s why parents should also stop to observe the potential they offer and accept that they may have a critical position regarding certain teachings.

That’s why adolescence also shows us that not everything’s set in stone. It’s an opportunity to heal and to review certain failed or dysfunctional bonds, to establish limits, to allow, to create, and to transform relationships.

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