Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications

By Jude Cassidy; Phillip R. Shaver | Go to book overview

15
Attachment in Adolescence

JOSEPH P. ALLEN DEBORAH LAND

Adolescent attachment behavior appears at first glance to depart sharply from patterns of attachment behavior seen at earlier ages. Adolescents often appear to be engaged in an active, purposeful flight away from attachment relationships with parents and other parental attachment figures. Attachment bonds to parents are treated by many adolescents more like ties that restrain than like ties that anchor and secure, and a key task of adolescence is to develop autonomy so as no longer to need to rely (as much) on parents’ support when making one’s way through the world (Allen, Hauser, Bell, & O’Connor, 1994; Collins, 1990; Grotevant & Cooper, 1985; Hill & Holmbeck, 1986; Moore, 1987; Steinberg, 1990). Yet research is increasingly showing that adolescent autonomy is most easily established not at the expense of attachment relationships with parents, but against a backdrop of secure relationships that are likely to endure well beyond adolescence (Allen, Hauser, Bell, & O’Connor, 1994; Allen, Hauser, Eickholt, Bell, & O’Connor, 1994; Fraley & Davis, 1997). Rather than being antithetical to the developmental challenge facing adolescents, the attachment system appears to play an integral role in helping adolescents meet this challenge. This is but one example of the variety of ways in which adolescent behavior toward attachment figures may seem conflicted, confused, and contradictory unless it is viewed in the context of the developmental changes of adolescence. This chapter begins with a brief consideration of a number of these changes, and then uses this developmental perspective to consider both the ways that individual differences in attachment organizations are manifested in adolescence and the ways that adolescence fits into theories explaining continuities in attachment processes across the lifespan. Ultimately, the challenges posed to attachment theory by adolescent behavior are seen as useful in clarifying and refining our understanding of the workings of the attachment system across the lifespan.


NORMATIVE DEVELOPMENT
OF THE ATTACHMENT SYSTEM
IN ADOLESCENCE

From an attachment perspective, adolescence is a transitional period. At the onset of this period, the adolescent is beginning to make tremendous efforts to become less dependent on caregiving from primary attachment figures. Little more than half a decade later, in late adolescence, the possibility of becoming an attachment figure to one’s own offspring has fully emerged (Ward & Carlson, 1995). Yet adolescence is not simply the span that bridges these two periods of intense involvement with attachment experiences. Rather, it is a period of profound transformations in specific emotional, cognitive, and behavioral systems, as the adolescent evolves from being a receiver of care from parents to being a potential caregiver.


Cognitive and Emotional
Transformations in Adolescent
Attachment Behavior

A fundamental change from infancy to adulthood is the emergence of a single overarching at

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