Attachment theory has created some interest in today’s culture, and if you caught last month’s blog on attachment styles in relationships, you’re likely already convinced of its importance. But what about attachment styles for teens? How much does attachment come into play in our teen years?
We are more familiar with talking about what attachment means for babies than we are with teens, but during the years of adolescence, your brain undergoes some serious renovations. Truly, we undergo all kinds of changes that are identity shaping, life-changing, and perception-altering. Teenagers experience a shift in their core sense of self and, in response, a change in their worldview.
Understanding attachment—as a whole and as it’s expressed in the teen years¹—can mean the difference between healthy teen relationships and a teen who feels utterly lost. Whether you’re near our Highland office in Milford, Michigan, or are a teenager from Mars, we’re here to help you break down the meaning of attachment theory as it applies to being a teen.
The original four attachment styles and how they play out for teens
Developed initially by John Bowlby², attachment theory was directly tied to early childhood and parental relationships. Attachment was thought to develop in infancy for humans and continue on as a theme for the rest of that person’s life. In recent years, two new theorists³ have expanded the application of attachment in profound ways across the lifespan based on the types of attachment Bowlby identified.
Secure Attachment in Teens
This is the ideal attachment style—one in which the individual feels comfortable and confident in the bonds they have as well as their ability to bond with others. A securely attached teen feels comfortable moving toward their independence, nurturing relationships with meaning, and supporting their identity alongside their place in their family structure.
Anxious Attachment in Teens
Anxious attachment has its central theme right in the name. Teens who have developed an anxious attachment style throughout their lifetime may struggle more with departure from established emotional routines, and find it difficult to take risks in initiating new relationships or experiences. They are likely to fear rejection, feel agitation or anger more frequently, and seek validation regularly. Coping with the often-present anxiety may feel insurmountable for teens and often, one or both parents. Anxiety counseling for yourself, your teen, or family therapy can be a great resource in cases where challenges are causing significant distress.
Avoidant Attachment in Teens
The attachment style of many names, avoidant attachment may also be called ambivalent or dismissive attachment. Teens who have an avoidant attachment style may seem emotionally unavailable, frustratingly detached or just disconnected from the emotional world in which they operate socially and emotionally. Avoidantly attached teens may seem utterly switched off, uninterested, and largely reluctant to engage in relationship development. When this behavior is present in your family, you may be looking for depression therapy for your teen if the challenges are significant enough.
Disorganized Attachment in Teens
An unpredictable mix of behavior, and disorganized attachment may swing rapidly or regularly between appearing to be the other three attachment styles—even secure. Disorganized attachment style is hallmarked by inconsistency. Teens who are disorganized in attachment may be impulsive and reactive to changes in their emotional relationship with those around them, even friends and partners of their choosing.
Are attachment styles for teens set in stone?
It’s disconcerting to think that things that happened to you before you can even recall your existence is what shaped your entire future, isn’t it? You’ll be glad for this then: attachment goes beyond the way it presents and what happened to you as an infant.
No matter your attachment style, you will always retain the power to shape your future from the moment you identify the spaces you’d like to change. Whether you are working through life issues or overcoming depression, you are always in a position of power in your life. Knowing your attachment style can help you successfully take hold of that power in your teen relationships.
What does attachment mean for teens?
In teen relationships, attachment can help teenagers to inform their own internal compass for how and who makes them feel comfortable in the relationships they develop. Attachment in teens informs their stress-resiliency⁴, overall life satisfaction, and willingness to develop their own identity within the scope of risk and reward in their social relationships.
Honestly, with that in mind, attachment informs how you learn to love as a teenager. Whether that’s friendship love, romantic love, or even inanimate love (for things like your hobbies), your attachment style can help you figure out how to do that in a way that is fulfilling for your specific needs.
Your relationships don’t fit into a box (and neither do you)
For teenagers, relationships that feel healthy and secure may not look like they will in adulthood and they definitely don’t look like they did in childhood. Understanding attachment styles for teens, and the impact of recognizing and working within the needs identified within them, is the difference between flourishing in relationships and frustrating yourself into a sense of isolation.
The goal of healthy attachment is trusting yourself and the people you love. It doesn’t require that you know you’re okay or that you never struggle- in fact, it’s the opposite. When you do not know you are okay, healthy attachment means you know where to turn and how to ask for the support you need to feel okay.
If you’re looking to get to grips with the relationships you’re building, to understand attachment styles for teens better, or looking for depression therapy for your teen, we’re here to help you. From our Highland office to Milford, Michigan, and beyond, you don’t have to navigate the complexities of your inner or outer world alone.
New Perspective Counseling is a group practice dedicated to emotional wellness and healing. Our caring therapists provide psychotherapy, individual counseling, marriage counseling and family counseling in our Highland, Michigan office. We are located conveniently near Milford, White Lake, Commerce Township, Holly, Hartland and Brighton, Michigan.
¹Karine Dubois-Comtois, C. C. (2013, October 25). Attachment theory in clinical work with adolescents. OMICS International. Retrieved May 20, 2022, from https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/attachment-theory-in-clinical-work-with-adolescents-2375-4494.1000111.php?aid=20894
²Cherry, K. (2020, March 29). How John Bowlby influenced child psychology. Verywell Mind. Retrieved May 20, 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/john-bowlby-biography-1907-1990-2795514
³Logicalincrementalism. (2015, July 11). Back to Bowlby, briefly. moving on from Bowlby. Retrieved May 20, 2022, from https://movingonfrombowlby.wordpress.com/2012/10/10/back-to-bowlby/
⁴Mónaco, E., Schoeps, K., & Montoya-Castilla, I. (2019). Attachment Styles and Well-Being in Adolescents: How Does Emotional Development Affect This Relationship?. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(14), 2554. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16142554