Attachment Parenting and the Adolescent Child

By Chris Oldenburg, originally published on, reprinted with permission

Creating Bonds that Will Support Teenage Development

Many people who have heard of the term attachment parenting probably envision babies cozied against their mothers in wraps or co-sleeping with their parents. However, this parenting approach of forming close bonds with children through consistent positive interactions is not limited to infants and toddlers. Research shows that adolescents go through a period of such tremendous change that they, too, require some of the same foundations that attachment parenting provides.337571_6215 teen

What is Attachment Parenting?

Obviously attachment parenting is not done the same for infants as it is for teenagers, but some of the same core principles are still present. Infants develop attachments to caregivers when their cries and other signals for needs are met. Caregivers, usually one or two involved parents, are present offering positive support, creating a strong bond with the infant. Contrary to some beliefs, infants do not then grow up to be too dependent on their parents and afraid of venturing into the world alone. Instead they learn positive self-images and gain confidence that allows them to step out and try new things, secure in the relationships they can reach back to if needed.

How can I use Attachment Parenting with my teenager?

Now imagine a relationship between a teenager and a parent. Aren’t these some of the same qualities we would hope to see between them? While adolescence is the time when children often seek independence, which can seem at odds with parental involvement, research shows that close parental attachments during this time are imperative for positive growth and development. What might be surprising to many is that teenagers actually want more time and attention from their parents, according to a recent survey that showed 67% of teens polled craving stronger relationships.

Authors Marlene Moretti, PhD, and Maya Peled, MA thoroughly discuss the research that pertains to adolescent development in relationship to attachment parenting in their article, “Adolescent-Parent Attachment: Bonds That Support Healthy Development.” The authors draw clear connections between the positive support that parents can give teenagers and the healthy maturing that these children display. Adolescents who have parents who use attachment parenting techniques appropriate to this age group tend to have higher levels of social skills, are more capable of social transitions, and experience less peer conflicts. Conversely, children who do not have engaged and connected parents tend to suffer from greater rates of mental illness such as depression, have lower self-esteem, and are more prone to eating disorders.

Moretti and Peled compare the support that parents need to give their teenagers as the scaffolding on which these children build their adult lives. How can parents of adolescents provide the attachment parenting techniques that will bolster their relationships instead of threatening their children with the suffocation that many envision?

Parents of teens need to:

  • be aware of the physiological changes occurring in the brains of adolescents.
  • be sensitive to both the physical and mental changes faced by teenagers.
  • be present in their daily lives, attending events, inquiring about their days, and genuinely displaying interest in the activities of the child (even if the only return response is a roll of the eyes).
  • allow their children to make their own decisions on small and medium risk issues, giving them opportunities to both fail and succeed.
  • accept that their children are facing new social parameters that often mean spending more time away from family. Securely grounded children will know precisely how to find their way home again.
  • provide discipline as needed, but be wary of the differences between discipline that addresses behaviors that need correction and punishment that negatively affects the individualism of the teen.
  • choose their battles carefully. This is a time of immense change. Consistent support and gentle leading will have further reaching effects that are positive than ruling with an iron fist.
  • always let their children know that they love them and want to support them on their personal endeavors to reach their own goals.

One of the worst things parents can do is try to force their teens to comply with sets of rules that are so strict and unbending that there is no room left for the child to make mistakes. Making mistakes is how we learn, no matter our age, and we need to provide our teens with safe places to fall and guiding hands to help steer them in the right directions. When parents oppress their children and try to control their every move throughout adolescence, perhaps feeling that they are protecting or teaching them, they are actually taking away valuable opportunities for personal growth. Sometimes the harder parents try to make children to conform, the more children attempt to flee from that control.

Parenting a teenager is no easy task and requires mental and emotional energy unlike any other times in parenting journeys. Using the model of attachment parenting during adolescence can provide teens with a secure foundation on which they can lean during those turbulent years. It can also lead to a solid lifelong relationship between parents and adult children.

8 thoughts on “Attachment Parenting and the Adolescent Child”

  1. Nice article. I have been pretty attached w/my kids (now 7 and 13) in their younger years but as they get older, it’s not as obvious how to be attached. I do think our earlier attachment has helped and will help with the teen years.

  2. I like this article and think maintaining attachment with our children is very important. I have a 4 and 7 yo and our family is going through immense changes. It can be easy to be so involved with my own feelings that I overlook my children’s. However, when I take the time to listen compassionately, reflect, and have curiosity then our relationships feel strong, even in the midst of upheaval. As a parent coach, I enjoy helping others find their own ways to stay connected.

  3. Hi, I have a 15 year old and a 13 year old who I attachment parented:I did not know how this fruit would bear once the teen age years hit.. there have been a few wobbles on the way where mistakes have been made on both parts, but my eldest seems to have transitioned through the hormone surges with much less upheaval than I had anticipated. Communication is key and is just a natural extension of attachment parenting: staying connected, empathising and listening. Attachment parenting has laid a foundation of deep rooted connectedness that doesn’t just suddenly disappear because the hormones of adolescence has appeared. It keeps your children anchored through the changes and helps them know where they are safe and valued.

  4. This is a REALLY GOOD article. I’ve shunned most people’s “good advice” on parenting for the last 10 years & followed my heart & principles like this article describes.

    Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “Oh, but just WAIT until he’s ______ (fill in the blank…1, terrible two, rebellious 3, tantrum 5, in school, etc., etc., etc.) Honestly, Zack & I have NEVER had that head-butting relationship EVER (not that either of us is perfect by any means).

    I’ve tried to be consistent so he can count on me, teach him to be responsible so others can count on him, be accountable for his own actions, and mostly be a kind presence on the world. I’m no more worried about his adolescence, pre-teen & teen years than I was over him turning 1, 2, 3, 5 or 9.

    I’m AMAZED at the awesome, kind, sensitive, cool young man my son is turning into! He may not be a math wiz, or a jock, but is honest as the day is long, sensitive, caring and helpful 🙂

  5. Brilliant! I stumbled into attachment parenting with my baby (as much as possible, although I worked outside the home full time) because it felt right, and I was always glad to read so much that supported my instincts.

    My daughter is 15 now, and I think all those years of accepting her as a whole, good person with unique needs and motivations–someone who needed acceptance and understanding more than judgment and arbitrary discipline–have made this phase truly easy. It is not the same as parenting a toddler, but the foundation of trust and affection is solid. It is amazing getting to watch her confidently spread her wings out in the world!

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