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Working Professionally with Children and Youth in Care
CYC-Online Issue 85 FEBRUARY 2006 / BACK
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Attachment to parents and adjustment in adolescents: Literature review and policy implications

This is an introductory summary of a full paper which presents a critical review of the research literature on the relation between attachment to parents during adolescence and psychological and social adjustment. Recommendations for healthy parenting practices, government programming and research are summarised. Details on how to find the complete paper are given at the end.


Research Question 1: Does attachment to parents during adolescence impact psychological and social adjustment?

Secure attachment during adolescence is related to fewer mental health problems, including lower levels of depression, anxiety and feelings of personal inadequacy1-5. Securely attached adolescents are less likely to engage in substance abuse, antisocial and aggressive behaviour, and risky sexual activity2,6-9. Securely attached adolescents also manage the transition to high school more successfully, and enjoy more positive relationships with family and peers10,11. They demonstrate less concern about loneliness and social rejection than do insecurely attached adolescents and they display more adaptive coping strategies 1,12.

Research Question 2: What role, if any, do parents play in ensuring secure attachment during adolescence?

Parent-child relationships undergo important transitions during adolescence, including a decrease in time spent with parents and a shift from dependency to mutual reciprocity 13,14. Parents play a significant role in supporting secure attachment during these transitions 15. Adolescents benefit from parental support that encourages autonomy development yet ensures continued monitoring and emotional connectedness. Specific parenting skills that promote attachment security and autonomy development include psychological availability, warmth, active listening, behaviour monitoring, limit setting, acceptance of individuality, and negotiation of rules and responsibilities 16-18. Parental support during stressful periods of transition (e.g., entry to high school) predicts positive adolescent adjustment 11.


Implications for Effective Parenting

Implications for Government Programming

Government should support the following initiatives in mental health programming:

Recommendations for Research Initiatives


1 Kerns, K. A., & Stevens, A. C. (1996). Parent-child attachment in late adolescence: Links to social relations and personality. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 25, 323-342.

2 Kobak, R., & Sceery, A. (1988). Attachment in late adolescence: Working models, affect regulation, and representations of self and others. Child Development, 59, 135-146.

3 Nada-Raja, S., McGee, R., & Stanton, W. R. (1992). Perceived attachments to parents and peers and psychological well-being in adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 21, 471-485.

4 Lessard, J. C., & Moretti, M. M. (1998). Suicidal ideation in an adolescent clinical sample: Attachment patterns and clinical implications. Journal of Adolescence, 21, 383-395.

5 Paterson, J., Pryor, J., & Field, J. (1995). Adolescent attachment to parents and friends in relation to aspects of self-esteem. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 24, 365-376.

6 Cooper, M. L., Shaver, P. R., & Collins, N. L. (1998). Attachment styles, emotion regulation, and adjustment in adolescence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1380-1397.

7 Fonagy, P., Target, M., Steele, M., Steele, H., Leigh, T., Levinson, A., & Kennedy, R. (1997). Morality, disruptive behavior, borderline personality disorder, crime and their relationship to security of attachment. In L. Atkinson & K. J. Zucker (Eds.), Attachment and psychopathology. New York: Guilford.

8 Rosenstein, D. S., & Horowitz, H. A. (1996). Adolescent attachment and psychopathology. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64, 244-253.

9 Voss, K. (1999) Understanding adolescent antisocial behaviour from attachment theory and coercion theory perspectives. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Concordia University.

10 Kenny, M. E., & Donaldson, G. A. (1991). Contributions of parental attachment and family structure to the social and psychological functioning of first-year college students. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 38, 479-486.

11 Papini, D. R., & Roggman, L. A. (1992). Adolescent perceived attachment to parents in relation to competence, depression, and anxiety: A longitudinal study. Journal of Early Adolescence, 12, 420-440.

12 Florian, V., Mikulincer, M., & Bucholtz, I. (1995). Effects of adult attachment style on the perception and search for social support. Journal of Psychology, 129, 665-676.

13 Larson, R., & Richards, M. H. (1991). Daily companionship in late childhood and early adolescence: Changing developmental contexts. Child Development, 62, 284-300.

14 Larson, R. W., Richards, M. H., Moneta, G., & Holmbeck, G. C. (1996). Changes in adolescents' daily interactions with their families from ages 10 to 18: Disengagement and transformation. Developmental Psychology, 32, 744-754.

15 Laursen, B., & Williams, V. A. (1997). Perceptions of interdependence and closeness in family and peer relationships among adolescents with and without romantic partners. In S. Shulman & W. A. Collins (Eds.), Romantic relationships in adolescence: Developmental perspectives. New directions for child development, No. 78. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass .

16 Allen, J. P., & Hauser, S. T. (1996). Autonomy and relatedness in adolescent-family interactions as predictors of young adults' states of mind regarding attachment. Development and Psychopathology, 8, 793-809.

17 Allen, J. P., Moore, C., Kuperminc, G., & Bell, K. (1998). Attachment and adolescent psychosocial functioning. Child Development, 69, 1406-1419.

18 Karavasilis, K., Doyle, A.-B., & Margolese, S. K. (1999). Links between parenting styles and adolescent attachment. Poster presented at the biennial meetings of the Society for Research in Child Development, Albuquerque, April.

This feature: Summary of Doyle, A.B., Moretti, M.M., Voss, K and Margolese, S. Attachment to Parents and Adjustment in Adolescence: Literature Review and Policy Implications. Report to Childhood and Youth Division, Health Canada, Ottawa, Canada. The full paper is available at:

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