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How to Recognize and Heal Teen Attachment Disorder

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Firstly, teen attachment issues are common and treatable. When we educate ourselves and reduce the stigma around mental health concerns, we heal our families.

Teen Attachment and Parents

No parent wants to hurt their child. Early life issues can lead to mental health challenges or substance abuse. Sub-optimal parenting means kids sometimes don’t bond with caregivers. Furthermore, that can lead to emotional issues. As a result, teens may have a hard time with relationships.

This understanding is known as attachment theory. According to attachment theory, a strong attachment to a caregiver is critical to development. If that bond doesn’t happen, children suffer from attachment disorder. According to one study, 40 to 50 percent of babies are insecurely attached.

The Four Styles of Attachment

Attachment theory originates with British psychoanalyst John Bowlby. The American developmental psychologist Mary S. Ainsworth developed many of Bowlby’s ideas. She studied the way small children reacted when separated from their parents. In addition, she analyzed how they reacted when parents returned. Consequently, she used this research to categorize children in one of four attachment styles.

Therefore, these four styles of attachment are:

  • Secure: upset when parent leaves, easily soothed upon return
  • Also—Insecure anxious: upset when parent leaves, difficult to soothe when they return
  • And—Insecure avoidant: does not register outward distress when parent leaves, ignores them when they return
  • Insecure disorganized: displays anxious and avoidance characteristics in an unpredictable way

How Parental Behavior Can Create Attachment Disorder

Two types of parental behaviors can result in insecure attachment:

  • Enmeshment: Parents are too involved in the child’s life and the child feels suffocated. In addition, or alternatively, the child takes on the role of the parent. This can leave kids responsible for the parent’s emotional needs.
  • Lack of availability: Parents who are unavailable emotionally or physically, and thus are unable to meet needs. Or, parents only meet the needs part of the time. A parent may be unavailable due to mental health issues.

In addition, a child who is severely neglected or abused can suffer from a serious form of attachment disorder. Therefore, this is called Reactive Attachment Disorder.

Screen Time and Teen Attachment Disorder

Attachment theory has been in the news recently, amid concerns about technology affecting humans. Specifically, regarding their ability to relate to one another. A study of two groups of adolescents aged 14 and 15 showed that more screen time is associated with low attachment to both parents and peers.

“Given the importance of attachment to parents and peers for adolescent health and development, concern about high levels of screen time among adolescents is warranted,” the study authors concluded.

Newport Academy Mental Health Resources Teen Attachment Treatment

Attachment Disorder and Self-Esteem

Poor self-esteem is almost always associated with attachment disorder. A child’s self-worth suffers due to the inability to count on their caregiver as a reliable source of love.

Low self-esteem can create mental health challenges including:

  • Oppositional-defiant disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation.

Teens may manage pain caused by the attachment wound. As a result, they end up with low self-esteem by using unhealthy coping behaviors, such as:

  • Substance use
  • Promiscuity
  • Eating disorders
  • Cutting.

How to Heal Teen Attachment Disorder

To heal attachment disorder, teens need to build self-love. Consequently, this is better than external praise. Therefore, this provides stability. Furthermore, from there, teens can build authentic connections. As a result, relationships are based on mutual trust, safety, and respect.

Teens begin by stopping the self-harming behaviors. As a result of trauma or attachment wounds, they have been using these habits to cope. Hence, once they understand the causes, teens begin to heal. Therefore, they learn and practice new, positive behaviors. Furthermore, this leads to a change in the way they see themselves. They learn that they are worthy of love.

Treatment for attachment disorder can include:

  • Clinical therapy
  • Yoga and meditation
  • Adventure therapy
  • Creative arts therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Mixed martial arts
  • Equine-assisted therapy
  • EMDR.

In conclusion, teens learn to build healthy connections with self and others over time. Therefore, with the right treatment, teens do recover from attachment disorders. In addition, they learn to truly love.   


“Yes, It’s Your Parents’ Fault,” Kate Murphy, The New York Times, Jan. 7, 2017
Personal Relationships 57 1(2):123–142: 61 June 1994
Child Development, Vol. 59, No. 1 (Feb., 1988), pp. 147-156
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2010;164(3):258-262

Photos courtesy of unsplash.