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Parental inconsistency is associated with anxious-ambivalent attachment. These children view themselves as unable to sustain the interest and care of others. However, they view others as able to provide support if their attention can be secured and sustained. Anxious-ambivalent children are vigilant about the whereabouts and responsiveness of their parents and display heightened overtures of need to provoke parental responsiveness.
Their preoccupation with the availability of their parents inhibits appropriate exploration of their environment. Evidence of the impact of parental attachment on early to middle childhood development is indisputable and immense.
Attachment has been shown to influence almost every aspect of early childhood development, from neurocognitive development to social-behavioural competence 42 , Importantly, research demonstrates that the quality of attachment varies according to the nature of parent-child interactions, ruling out the notion that it is determined entirely by dispositional qualities of the infant and young child Studies also show that while early attachment exerts substantial influence over later development, attachment status can change as a function of deterioration and stress in the parent-child relationship or improvements in the relationship 46 , The rapid neurological, cognitive and social changes of adolescence create a social-cognitive dilemma for youth: the integration of new and diverse experiences in relation to the world and oneself.
Adolescence also presents an attachment dilemma, that is, maintaining connection with parents while exploring new social roles away from the family and developing attachment relationships with peers and romantic partners Of great importance is the fact that the successful transition of adolescence is not achieved through detachment from parents 48 , In fact, healthy transition to autonomy and adulthood is facilitated by secure attachment and emotional connectedness with parents In a nutshell, research shows that attachment security in adolescence exerts precisely the same effect on development as it does in early childhood: a secure base fosters exploration and the development of cognitive, social and emotional competence Studies of nonclinical samples 52 , 53 show that securely attached adolescents are less likely to engage in excessive drinking, drug use and risky sexual behaviour.
Among females, attachment security is related to lower rates of teenage pregnancy Securely attached adolescents also suffer fewer mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, inattention, thought problems, conduct disorder, delinquency and aggression 52 , 54 — Attachment security in female adolescents is related to fewer weight-related concerns 57 and less frequent eating disorders Attachment security in adolescence also predicts more constructive coping skills 53 , 59 and significant gains in social skills from 16 to 18 years of age Securely attached adolescents manage the transition to high school more successfully, enjoy more positive relationships and experience less conflict with family and peers than do insecurely attached adolescents 61 — Findings from clinical samples are consistent with those from normative samples: insecure attachment is associated with suicidality 64 , drug use 65 , and aggressive and delinquent behaviour 66 , Secure attachment is clearly important to healthy adolescent adjustment.
The question is: what do adolescents need from their parents to sustain healthy attachment? Research suggests that the attachment function of parents changes in some ways, but remains stable in others For example, while young children require close proximity and physical availability of parents to provide comfort when they are distressed, adolescents do not need the same degree of proximity and can derive comfort from knowing their parents are supportive even when they are not present.
However, parental sensitivity and attunement continue to be essential in maintaining attachment security during adolescence, especially in the domain of autonomy needs Conflict itself is not a sign of poor relationship quality, because it will unquestionably arise in healthy relationships as parents exert appropriate levels of behavioural control over their adolescents, negotiating increasing responsibility as competence develops Maintaining relatedness is captured by specific parent-adolescent behaviours during disagreements, including confidently stating one's own opinion, and validating and showing empathy for the other person's point of view In summary, while the presence of conflict in the parent-adolescent relationship is normal, how the parent-adolescent dyad negotiates conflicts and sustains their relationship is diagnostic.
Adolescents who feel understood by their parents and trust their commitment to the relationship, even in the face of conflict, confidently move forward toward early adulthood. These securely attached adolescents do not avoid conflict, exploration and individuation, nor do they prematurely push to independence without the support of their parents.
It is critical that the myth of adolescent detachment be dispelled.
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Many parents feel they have little or no influence in their adolescent's life and they bemoan the fact that their child's fate rests outside their hands. Parents require solid information on the profound neurocognitive, social and emotional changes that occur during adolescence and the importance of their continued sensitivity and attunement to their child's needs during this time.
Limiting children's screen time linked to better cognition - BBC News
They need to know what to expect in their relationship with their child, and how best to manage the transition of adolescence. Many parents experience the increase in parent-child conflict that occurs during adolescence as a personal rejection of the relationship and their importance to their child. This perception is mistaken, although entirely understandable in light of the conflict and communication difficulties that often occur between parents and their teenage children. Helping parents to reframe the meaning of conflict as an opportunity to build their relationship with their adolescent child can be of great assistance to parents.
Many parents of adolescents require indepth support to develop the skills that are necessary to support their children through adolescence. A number of therapeutic interventions have evolved from attachment theory, although the majority of these focus on families with younger children or on marital relationships Fortunately, therapeutic interventions are emerging for families with adolescent children, and many show considerable promise in reducing risk behaviour in adolescents 12 , 72 , Parental interventions that focus on attachment and the development of sensitivity, attunement and conflict negotiation can be particularly beneficial Changing the myth of adolescent detachment, however, requires efforts that extend beyond the mental health system.
Public health initiatives that encourage parents to stay connected with their adolescents would help to change the general impression that parents and society hold about adolescent disinterest and rebellion. Support within the educational system, emphasizing the continued importance of attachment to parents and other adults during adolescence, would also be beneficial. In summary, evidence clearly points to the continued importance of adolescent-parent attachment as a determinant of health during this development phase and beyond. It is essential for mental health and other health and education professionals to be knowledgeable about adolescent development and the value of adolescent-parent attachment.
Shifting our assumptions about adolescence as a period of detachment and rebellion to a view that better fits the reality of this developmental period and stresses the importance of staying connected is well overdue. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.
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Health Behaviour in School-aged Children in Canada: Focus on Relationships
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