Secure Parent Attachment Decreases Depression Risk in Anxious Teens

Shyness and fear are not unusual traits for children. When young children begin to experience new situations and new people, they often exhibit hesitation. As they age, some of these children may continue to be apprehensive in unfamiliar environments, while others may comfortably assimilate themselves to their surroundings. Children who cannot overcome their fear and shyness tend to manifest symptoms of anxiety as they age. Research has shown that these early behaviors patterns of shyness and anxiety can predict depression. Although there are numerous factors that can contribute to the development of depressive symptoms, insecure parent-child attachment has been shown to be one factor that increases the risk for depression in children with anxiety. However, understanding how secure and positive parent-child attachments affect this risk has been less explored.

To address this gap, Ida Skytte Jakobsen of the Department of Political Science at the University of Southern Denmark recently led a study that looked at how secure parent-child attachment in adolescence influenced the risk for later depression in adults with a history of childhood anxiety. Using data from a longitudinal study, Jakobsen analyzed information gathered from 948 individuals. She assessed levels of anxiety and withdrawal in preadolescence, attachment levels at age 15, and subsequent anxiety or depression in early to mid-adulthood. Jakobsen discovered that consistent with existing research, early evidence of anxiety predicted an elevated risk for anxiety or depression in later life. However, that risk decreased by 50% for the children who had secure parent-child attachments at age 15.

These results clearly demonstrate the positive effects of secure parent-child attachments for children who are at risk for later internalizing problems. Although the attachment did not eliminate the risk for later psychological issues, for those most at risk for later problems as a result of high levels of early childhood anxiety, the decrease in vulnerability was significant. Specifically, the highly anxious children with insecure attachments at age 15 had a 29% chance of depression or anxiety in later life compared to a 19% chance found in those teens with secure parent-child attachments. Jakobsen added, “The clinical implications of these findings are that interventions which increase parent-child attachment may play a useful role in developing programs for children with early anxiety/withdrawal.”

Jakobsen, I., Horwood, L. J., Fergusson, D. M. (2012). Childhood anxiety/withdrawal, adolescent parent-child attachment and later risk of depression and anxiety disorder. Journal of Child & Family Studies, 21.2, 303-310.

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  • michelle

    April 21st, 2012 at 8:07 AM

    The more secure a child feels with his relationship with parental figures in his life, the more stble he is going to tend to feel overall. And this is bonding that has to start young with the child, something that they know they can always depend on. Children and parents bond from the moment they are born, and some would argue even while the child is in the womb. So the better prepared the parents are to have secure attachments with their child, the better chance this will give the child to process their emotions in a healthier manner.

  • Brooklynn

    April 22nd, 2012 at 4:24 AM

    What i don’t understand is why some kids are able to overcome that shyness and why for some it paralyzes their social skills and for others they are able to outgrow the shyness and don’t have any resulting problems. I guess even though this is a pretty good predictor for whether they will develop depression there is still no real way to say why they would experienence this kind of shyness and anxiety to begin with.

  • Penny

    April 23rd, 2012 at 4:14 AM

    I can’t think of anything more important for any child than to have a secure and loving relationship with his or her parents. This not only adds to their sense of security in the world, but also to their self esteem and confidence. Everything that we give our children is something that they will take with them into their lives, and this is one of the best lessons that they can learn.

  • jose

    April 24th, 2012 at 4:17 AM

    These are attachments that have to be established from birth.
    Not something that at 15 the parents can look around and think that they need to be doing more.
    Byt then for the most part the traits have been established and the journey toward depression and other related mental health issues could be clearly defined for the teen.
    Parents, I know this has been said time and time again, but we have to give more of ourselves to our children than we have been.
    They deserve so much more than the life that so many have been set up for.


    April 24th, 2012 at 11:43 PM

    I’m not really surprised to read this…The first bond and interaction a child has is with the parents and that sets the tone for future relationships and interactions…A weak parent-child connection is bound to have effects on future connections as well…

    Also this is another reason why parents need to be so very careful when it comes to young children’s handling.

  • Christine

    August 27th, 2013 at 7:46 AM

    That’s why I want my daughter someday to talk to me. This is also to prevent depressions in the future. I want to make that she is comfortable sharing her problems when she gets older.

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