Teens’ Attachment Styles Influenced by Parental Support in Infancy

Attachment issues affect many areas of adults’ lives. People who have insecure attachment may be worried that they will be abandoned, hurt, or betrayed by those close to them. Individuals with secure attachments, on the other hand, may feel a strong sense of allegiance to and from those in their lives and function within that security. People with insecure attachments may have difficulty making and keeping adaptive relationships and may struggle with anxiety when faced with relationship challenges. Therefore, understanding attachment evolution is critical to helping those with attachment problems. Attachment bonds develop early in life and are nurtured throughout adolescence. Although there is much evidence demonstrating the effects of parental support and warmth on attachment, less is known about how this type of interaction in infancy affects adolescent attachment.

Marielle D. Beijersbergen, of the Centre for Child and Family Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, sought to explore this effect in a recent study. She evaluated 125 adopted children and their mothers when the children were 12 months old using the Strange Situation Procedure. The children were not assessed again until they were 14. At that time, the participants completed the Adult Attachment Interview. Beijersbergen found that in adolescence, secure children received more sensitive support from their mothers than insecure teens. The teens who received this adaptive type of support at 12 months had a continuity of secure attachment, whereas those who did not receive maternal support at 12 months were able to develop secure attachment if their mothers became more supportive over time.

This study did not examine attachment or support at any intervals between 1 and 14 years, thus limiting the continuity of the findings. But because it involved adopted children and not biological children, the results eliminate any direct effect of genetic disposition or temperament in the sample studied. “Across childhood and adolescence, attachment processes remain interwoven with the quality of parental sensitive support,” Beijersbergen said. Beijersbergen believes that the development of attachment bonds is based on the sensitivity of support from the mother in particular, and this contributes to the overall well-being of the child in adolescence and beyond.

Beijersbergen, Marielle D., Femmie Juffer, Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg, and Marinus H. Van IJzendoorn. Remaining or becoming secure: Parental sensitive support predicts attachment continuity from infancy to adolescence in a longitudinal adoption study. Developmental Psychology 48.5 (2012): 1277-282. Print.

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  • Martin

    September 21st, 2012 at 3:35 PM

    But the kids who are the most insecure who need the most support from their parents!!

  • Javon Young

    September 21st, 2012 at 5:47 PM

    I know that all the science says that we remember things in our sub conscious even when our conscious minds can’t recall the experience. Regardless of that I still have a hard time believing that interactions that we had or did not have with our mothers when we were so young could still affect us now. I can see how that could be important wehn we get old enough to actually remember but those things that happen to us as infants, I just think that we are more resilient than that to let that stay with us into adulthood.

  • Tammy

    September 26th, 2012 at 3:08 AM

    I disagree with you. I think the issue is not resilience but learning and development. There are bonds and ties that are constantly being created in the brain as the infant’s body develops and grows and they are greatly affected by the environment. If something is not learned at the right time when a certain area of the brain is more active than usual then it could be very difficult to catch up with that later on. It’s like building a house. You need to put the walls before you can seal it with the roof.

  • s danes

    September 22nd, 2012 at 5:08 AM

    @ Martin- I think that the point is that the kids who received less attention and attachment boding with their moms when they were younger are the ones who are growing up to be less secure, and the hypothesis goes that a reason for this is that they did not receive the warmth and burturing when they were babies

  • Audrey

    September 22nd, 2012 at 9:46 AM

    @ Javon Young: That is the miracle of life isn’t it? There is just so many complex processes happening inside of us that it is not hard to believe how this works.Its like all of that is held in a memory that is not directly accessible to us but does indeed play a role in our development.Its something like opaque memory.It is present but cannot be accessed easily but its presence does dictate a few things for sure!

  • Hopeful

    September 22nd, 2012 at 10:36 AM

    At least there is some hope out there- this shows that even if the bonding is not there when the children are small, it can still be achieved if the mothers and Fathers (we hope!) decide to get involved later on. no matter what has happened when the children are young there is still a chance that there can be some improvements made even if their involvement occurs later rather than soomer.

  • vaughan

    September 22nd, 2012 at 11:43 PM

    teenage is an important phase and can be the age where things can either be great or go bad, and also determine a lot of things that will remain with the individual for the rest of their lives.and relationship and attachment issues in this phase can set the individual up for difficult relationships forever.

    to all those parents complaining about a lack of sense in their teenage kids and those parents who never seem to tire talking about how your teen just cannot handle such things – may be it is time to look into yourself and see how you may have played a role in all this!

  • alec

    September 23rd, 2012 at 12:57 PM

    there’s always those insecure individuals,isn’t it? they will go great lengths just to find some reason to be insecure and no amount of assurance is sufficient for them.it is not only a negative trait to posses but can also be a huge emotional drain to those around them and related to them. been in that position before where somebody else’s insecurities almost turned my life into a living hell and never again I decided.insecure people,please,stay away from me!

  • Nik

    September 24th, 2012 at 4:04 AM

    It is curious that only adopted children were studied. I would like to make the case that it could also be beneficial to study attachment among mothers and their biological children as well.

    Taking into consideration only adopted children does open the door to viewing just how well this portion of the population will adapt attachments to their moms who are not biologically related. But it would also be good to know how these attachment skills affect true mothers and children as well, so that all of this could be compared and viewed as what overall happens when any child and mother relationship does not happen and reach its fruition.

  • WQ

    September 24th, 2012 at 12:30 PM

    Attachment and security are just so important for an infant.And if it is lacking at such an important juncture I am not surprised it can cause problems later on.After all,a lot of brain development happens in the first five years of one’s life so it is imperative that parents take especially good care of an infant until that age so as to prevent any negative psychological effects.

  • donald

    September 24th, 2012 at 11:59 PM

    do we have any data on whether children in a home with both parents derive more benefit due to the different and more attachment and support provided by two parents as compared to one?there are so many single parent households out there and I would hate to see that many of those kids are missing out on important developmental aspects in their growing up years.

  • Lizzie

    September 25th, 2012 at 7:33 AM

    Really hate to be the one to say this but this is just one more reason why we HAVE to put an end to this wave of teenagers having babies.

    They are not ready for the responsibilities and intimacies that being a good parent requires and they are for the most part falling down on that job.

  • Meg

    September 26th, 2012 at 5:46 AM

    Thank you Tammy for being a voice of reason here!

    I find that too many times people just say, oh well they did not get that early on so let’s give it to them now.
    So not the same thing!

    A human is like a home, great analogy by the way. You have to start first with the critical foundation and then work your way up. You don’t put in all of the furniture and treatments and then later on go back and try to build around that. No, you have to start from the very beginning with the basics and work your way up. Without that firm foundation in life then you will be far more likely to crumble and fall later on than you would have been had you been given something that was very solid from the beginning.

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