Adolescent Attachment to Parents and Peers
Andrea L. Barrocas
The Emory Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life
Working Paper No. 50
Attachment bonds exist in relationships across the lifespan. Adolescence may be
a particularly crucial period for attachment relations. As relationships with parents shift
and those with peers gain importance, patterns of attachment may change as well. There
is a huge gap in the attachment literature on the utilization of mother, father and peers
attachment figures, specifically how attachment to parents relates to that with peers and,
importantly, how adolescents are attached to their fathers as compared to their mothers.
This study explores these patterns of attachment in adolescence. Twenty-four racially
diverse, mostly middle class adolescents’ (grades eight and ten), mothers’ and fathers’
attachment was measured using the Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment (IPPA)
questionnaire. Overall, adolescents rated attachment to mother and father similarly,
suggesting generalization of attachment representations, but they rated attachment to
peers, especially on the communication dimension, higher than to parents, suggesting a
rise in the importance of peers. Implications of these findings for adolescent attachment
relationships are discussed.
Adolescent Attachment to Parents and Peers
Adolescence is a major transitional period in a person’s life. With the onset of
puberty come not only physical changes, but also many other important changes. For
example, the social world of an adolescent changes to become more peer focused than
before. However, parents do not disappear from the daily life of an adolescent.
Therefore, a major task of adolescence is to figure out which people can help satisfy what
need. Attachment theory may be helpful in understanding some of the patterns that exist
across the transition to adolescence. Specifically, this project will use attachment theory
to understand the relationships that adolescents have with their mother, father and peers.
Attachment theory originated as an explanation of the bond that exists between an
infant and the primary caregiver, typically the mother (Bowlby, 1988). This bond not
only is important for general well being (e.g. Kreppner & Ullrich, 1998) but also
functions as a template for all relationships across the lifespan (e.g. Waters, Merrick,
Treboux, Crowell, & Albershein, 2000). As early as infancy, children can mentally
represent their attachment figures and construct ideas and expectations for relationships
with both these original figures and others. Bowlby called this the internal working
model of attachment.
Attachment in infancy is conceptualized as distinct but integrated behaviors that
are exhibited by the infant in response to the caregiver’s behaviors. There are three
attachment related behaviorsi that define how attachment is seen across the lifespan:
proximity seeking (proximity maintenance), separation protest, and secure base (Hazan &
Shaver, 1987; Segrin & Flora, 2005). Proximity seeking describes the physical closeness
of infants to their caregiver. Separation protest refers to the unwillingness to separate
from the caregiver, which is translated through behaviors such as crying. When an
attachment figure is a child’s secure base, he or she is utilized as a foundation from which
to explore the environment and seek out non-attachment related pursuits. Related to the
secure base phenomenon is the idea of an attachment figure being a safe haven because
of representations of the attachment bond. Representing an attachment figure as a safe
haven, consequently, means that the infant goes to the caregiver when distressed or in
need of comfort or support, thus using the attachment figure as a secure base.
Individual Differences. Early attachment theorist Mary Ainsworth explained
attachment behaviors in infancy as an organizational construct, one that relies on the
quality of the primary caregiver’s (typically the mother) response to the infant’s
behaviors that then influence the infant’s responses and interactions (see Sroufe &
Waters, 1997). Differences in reactions and interactions lead to individual differences in
the infant’s security. For example, mothers who respond in a sensitive manner to their
infants have infants who think they will be taken care of (for more on this topic see
Karen, 1994). More specifically, in mother-infant interactions of this type, the infant
learns that the mother is a steady and secure person to go to for comfort. In other words,
the mother is perceived as a secure base for the infant. Therefore, it was thought that
there would be differences in how infants respond to and process caregivers’ behaviors,
and that infants would show differences in their own behaviors as well.
Ainsworth developed a way to measure individual differences in a testing
situation called the Strange Situation. In the Strage Situation, the infant and mother
interact, generally in some form of play, and the infant is allowed to explore the
surroundings (for more detail see Sroufe & Waters, 1997). The mother then leaves the
room and the infant is alone. At this point, in most cases, a non-familiar adult enters.
Following this, there is a reunion of mother and infant. Observing each point of change
in the Strange Situation can help explain the security of the infant involved by looking at
the levels of stress and comfort that the infant and mother exhibit.
Children are classified in threeii categories according to their behaviors during
reunion episodes: secure, anxious-avoidant and anxious-ambivalent. A secure infant
seeks comfort from the caregiver because of representations that the caregiver has been
and can be used as a secure base, and explores the environment with ease (Hazan &
Shaver, 1994). An anxious-avoidant infant does not show distress during the separation
and upon reunion with the caregiver avoids contact due to conflicting representations of
the caregiver (Hazan & Shaver, 1994; Waters, Hamilton, & Weinfield, 2000). An
anxious-ambivalent infant seeks the comfort of the caregiver, yet is not soothed upon
reunion (Hazan & Shaver, 1994).
Stability of Attachment Over Time. Attachment researchers have examined
attachment beyond infancy. Rather than looking at attachment behaviors, however,
researchers have looked at attachment representations. It is thought is that one creates
mental representations of how to interact with others, termed the internal working model
of attachment, based on previous attachment related relationships and interactions.
Bowlby (1988) believed that starting in infancy a child internalizes patterns of relating to
people, generally the parents, and forms an idea of how to relate to others based on these
representations. Through early interactions with caregivers, children internalize and
organize their understanding of relationships (Laursen & Collins, 2004). Each
attachment relationship shapes the child’s mental schema and leads to the development of
expectations for future relationships and interactions.
A basic tenet of attachment theory is that it is stable over time, however research
yields mixed findings. Longitudinal studies (e.g. Hamilton, 2000; Walters, Hamilton, &
Weinfield, 2000) measured both infant attachment security status using the Strange
Situation and later attachment in adulthood. Researchers found strong retention rates in
classification of attachment. In other words, for most individuals there was continuity of
attachment; however, instability and change in attachment classification for those who
did change were explained by significant life events. There was very little change in
classification occurring for those who did not have significant life events (e.g.
Easterbrooks, 1989; Hamilton, 2000; Walters et al., 2000). Thompson (2000) argues that
security of attachment will remain stable only if other aspects of life that are related to
attachment remain stable across transitions. He states, specifically, that if quality of
parental care is stable and development of solid self-concept and self-esteem occur, one is
likely to remain securely attached to others.
On the other hand, yet still supporting Thompson’s argument, some researchers
found that attachment is not stable. For example, Lewis, Feirin, and Rosenthal (2000)
found no relationship between attachment security status in infancy and adolescence. In
the study, classification changed for about half of the participants. In addition, divorce
was a huge mediating factor for change in attachment status, showing that the internal
working model of attachment can be changed due to attachment related experiences.
Thompson’s (2000) argument supports these findings because of his belief that security
can remain stable if there is stability in relationships and quality of care, but intervening
occurrences that change these factors can cause security to shift. These findings suggest
that new experience builds upon previous experiences to create flexible representations of
how relationships are expected to be.
Stability of Attachment Across Caregivers. A related issue is the concordance of
attachment, defined as the stability of attachment between attachment figures (i.e.
mother, father, peer, sibling). Research on the concordance of children’s’ attachment to
mother and father focuses primarily on relationships during infancy. Such studies show
mixed findings. Several point toward strong concordance between attachment to mother
and father (e.g. Easterbrooks, 1989) and others suggest that the mother-infant and father-
infant attachment relationships are independent (Main & Weston, 1981). Easterbrooks
(1989) found a rate of 70% concordance between the attachment relationships that 20
month-old infants had with their mothers and fathers, which strongly supports the notion
of concordance. One explanation for the strong rate of concordance is that parents who
are more similar in childrearing approaches, such as sensitivity and availability, will have
children who are attached similarly to both parents.
More importantly, in an analysis of 11 studies of attachment that measure
classification with Ainsworth’s Strange Situation, Fox, Kimmerly, and Schafer (1991)
found overall support for concordance of attachment to mother and father; those infants
who were securely attached to their mother were more likely to be securely attached to
their father (the same patterns were found for insecurity). These findings suggest that
children do internalize representations of relationships and attachments and form
expectations for other close relationships. On the other hand, some of the studies
examined suggested a lack of concordance of attachment between caregivers (Fox,
Kimmerly, & Shafer, 1991). For example, Main and Weston (1981) found that mother-
infant and father-infant attachment were not dependent on one another. They argue that
all relationships are different. Although mother-infant and father-infant relationships do
interact with one another, mothers and fathers each have specific ways of raising and
relating to their children. To date, concordance has only been examined in infancy and
early childhood, leaving concordance of attachment in adolescence as yet unexplored.
Because of the developmental changes that occur in adolescence, this period seems to be
one in which it is important to look at how attachment to each figure is related.
Adolescence is a period of significant cognitive, social and behavioral transitions.
Cognitively, there are huge gains in reasoning and perspective taking skills, as well as
acquisition of better emotional understanding. Socially, peer relationships become much
more important than before. Physically, puberty begins, sparking hormonal and physical
changes. The developmental changes that occur in early adolescence are related to one
another. Importantly, they impact the desire for a more independent and autonomous life
that comes with adolescence. It is during this stage that an individual develops a more
mature sense of identity (Erikson, 1968) because of such advances in behavioral, social
and cognitive realms (Habermas & Bluck, 2000). For example, abstract thinking allows
for new thoughts related to identity (e.g. “Who am I?” “What do I like?” “Who do I strive
to be?”), which is one of the main transitions to adolescence; however, it is questionable
how much this affects the parent-child relationship in adolescence (Collins & Repinsky,
1994). These social developments have the most significant implications for adolescent
attachment, although the biological and cognitive changes are important as well.
Parent-Adolescent Interactions. The greatest markers of developmental changes
in the self in adolescence are seen through independence, autonomy and detachment from
caregivers (Erikson, 1968; Ryan & Lynch, 1989). Ryan and Lynch (1989) found that
adolescents strive for more autonomy and individuation from parents than before period
of development and there is a higher level of detachment from parents. Collins and
Repinsky (1994) note that the amount of physical time that parents and their children
spend together decreases during adolescence as well. Although there is obvious physical
distancing from parents, adolescents still show a desire for high levels of support from
them (Furman & Buhrmester, 1992; Noller, 1994). Representations of interactions with
parents may, then, provide a support base for adolescents.
Hill, Fonagy, Safier, and Sargent (2003) state that communication in the family
must be, in the words of Segrin and Flora (2005), synchronized and reciprocal for optimal
attachments between family members. Family Systems Theory states that there are
smaller dyadic interactions that are separate from one another, but that also function
within the larger family unit (Caffery & Erdman, 2000; Hill, Fonagy, Safier, & Sargent,
2003; Kreppner, 2002; Segrin & Flora, 2005). Accordingly, as adolescents develop and
begin to search for autonomy and independence, there must be a response to this change
by the family as a whole. Noller (1994) notes that families with adolescents are
constantly and increasingly renegotiating family roles that are buffered by open and
flexible communication. In addition, Allen and Land (1999) speak of the ongoing
renegotiation that occurs in terms of family goals. They argue that an adolescent with
secure attachment would be part of a system where goals are constantly re-set and the
family members’ needs would be in sync one another.
Adolescent Relationships with Mothers Versus Fathers. Doherty and Beaton
(2004) explore the importance of looking at mother-child and father-child relationships
both separate from one another and as dyads that interact in a system, since each
relationship has different qualities that may impact later outcomes. As shown with the
research on concordance, children can sometimes have differing attachments to mothers
and fathers. In addition, children start to experience their relationships with their mothers
and fathers in differing ways. Observing parent-infant interactions while playing, Leaper
(2000) found that play with mother and father differed, according to both gender of
parent and of child. This suggests that each parent contributes differently to children’s
development and, importantly, points toward the differing influence that parents have on
social outcomes, sparking interest in exploring mothers and fathers impact on children’s
Adolescents have been brought up spending more time with, and engage in more
open sharing of emotion, with mothers than with fathers (Laursen & Collins, 2004).
Paterson, Field, and Pryor (1994) supported earlier research that points toward the
importance of mothers for attachment related outcomes in adolescence. Specifically,
adolescents reported higher levels of the quality of affect toward their mothers than
fathers (e.g. Youniss & Smollar, 1985). Leiberman, Doyle, and Markiewicz (1999) also
found that perceived maternal availability is important across the transition from
childhood to adolescence, and the quality of the mother-adolescent relationship is
strongly linked to attachment security as well (Allen et al., 2003). Allen and colleagues
found that maternal behaviors, such as support and attunement, predicted security in the
mother-adolescent relationship. Additionally, they found that 9th and 10th graders who
were more securely attached were better able to intellectually and emotionally use their
strong relationship with their mother as a base for exploration and autonomy.
More recent research has shown that older children differ in their utilization of
mother and father as well as the quality of affect toward mother and father. For example,
Hunter and Youniss (1982) and Paterson, Field, and Pryor (1994) found that adolescents
rely on mothers for support more than their fathers. This might be because of
expectations about the roles of their mother and father that have become ingrained in the
adolescent. Consequently, a child’s mother and father are two different people who
interact with and influence their children in distinctive ways.
As shown, it is obvious that a strong bond exists between mothers and
adolescents, however the importance that the father plays in the child’s life should not be
overlooked. Recent research suggests that fathers also are significant attachment figures
for adolescents (e.g. Williams & Kelly, 2005). It has been shown that the father-
adolescent relationship is related to several attachment constructs; specifically, warmth,
closeness and availability (Cabrrera, Tamis-LeMonda, Bradley, Hofferth, & Lamb,
2000), and attachment to father significantly predicts friendship conflict for adolescents
(Lieberman, Doyle, & Markiewicz, 1999).
Adolescent-father attachment impacts adolescent adjustment in a different way
than does mother-adolescent attachment. Williams and Kelly (2005) compared both
mother-adolescent and father-adolescent relationships, finding that although there were
more secure mother-adolescent attachment relationships, the father-adolescent attachment
relationship was related to adolescents’ behavioral problems. Specifically, more paternal
involvement in the parenting process was related to more security of attachment. This
suggests that fathers do play an important role for attachment related outcomes for
adolescents. It is unquestionably important to study adolescent attachments to the fathers
as well as to their mothers.
Considering the importance of the reciprocal nature of the parent-adolescent
attachment bond, to date, there is not much research on how mothers and fathers are
attached to their adolescents. There is information about how adolescents are attached to
their parents, as well as how members of the family impact one another, however the way
parents are attached to their adolescents is an almost overlooked topic. Dekovic and
Buist (2005) have just recently found a relationship between parental ratings of their
attachment relationships with their children. It is important to explore this further, and
especially, to extend this idea by looking at the patterns among the consistency of
attachment between members of the same family.
Throughout development, children create emotional bonds with not only their
parents, but with other individuals as well. Parent-child relationships impact social
development, such as the creation of peer relationships. Hazan and Shaver (1994) state
that children must create bonds with other available figures and, as development
progresses, peers become extremely important attachment figures. These new peer
relationships, however, look different than those with parents (e.g. Freeman & Brown,
2001; Nickerson & Nagle, 2005). For example, adolescents begin to spend less time with
parents and much more time with their peers (Collins & Repinsky, 1994). Kerns (1994)
argues that the forming of closer peer bonds allows adolescents to explore independence
from parents. Additionally, Nickerson and Nagle (2005) found that adolescents go to
their peers in times of need (proximity seeking behaviors) more than before entering this
Importantly, peer relationships exist in different settings outside the family. Thus,
the relationships that children have with friends allow for furthering of social
development (Savin-Williams & Berndt, 1990). Examining the quality of friendships in
adolescence, Savin-Williams and Berndt (1990) stated that both positive qualities of peer
relationships, such as trust and support, and negative qualities, such as jealousy and
resentment, help with development in social and personal realms. Many researchers have
studied correlates of positive friendships and have found relations to self-esteem (e.g.
Greenberg, Siegel, & Leitch, 1983) and lower levels of loneliness (Savin-Williams &
Berndt, 1990). Additionally, Weimer, Kerns, and Oldenberg (2004) found a relationship
between positive friendship qualities in a best-friend dyad and security of each partner in
the dyad, suggesting that those dyads with more security are made up of friends who feel
better about not only the friendship but themselves as well. Better communication
between dyad partners was also related to more security in the dyad, supporting the
importance of communication for attachment as mentioned before, (Weimer, Kerns, and
As adolescents seek autonomy and independence from their parents, they turn to
peers more than before (Nickerson & Nagle, 2005). Furman and Buhrmester (1992)
looked at important changes in peer relationships across the transition from childhood to
adolescence. Most importantly, they found that support-seeking needs are fulfilled less
by parents and more by peers as childhood ends and adolescence begins. Youniss and
Smollar (1985) state that this change in utilization of peers might occur because having
high-quality friendships serves to fulfill the social needs that emerge in adolescence.
This does not undermine the importance of the parent-adolescent relationship, but points
toward a gain in importance and influence of peer relationships for positive development.
Related to this, parental understanding and flexibility are related to adolescents’
friendship satisfaction and general well-being (Sillars, Koerner, & Fitzpatrick, 2005),
which supports the argument that flexibility is among the most important aspects of the
relationships, as it is extremely important for communication (Laursen & Collins, 2004).
Relationship Between Parent and Peer Attachment
Peers are central to adolescent development and social life. Because adolescents
experience close bonds with peers, it is imperative to look at adolescent-peer attachments
in conjunction to those with parents. Easterbrooks and Lamb (1979) found a relationship
between mother-infant attachment (using Ainsworth’s Strange Situation) and peer
competence at the same point in infancy by observing dyads. In another early study,
Waters, Wippman, and Sroufe (1979) found that attachment in infancy was related to
peer interaction at age three and a half. Specifically, competence in the peer group was
predicted by attachment status, suggesting that security of attachment to parents impacts
child-peer relationships. Furthermore, Furman, Simon, Shaffer, and Bouchey (2002)
found that, based on Bowlby’s previous work, working models of friendships in late
adolescence were related to those with parents and romantic partners. Considering these
findings and the developmental trends that occur across the transition to adolescence, it
seems as if, at this point, there would be a relationship between adolescent attachment to
parents and to peers. Interestingly, Furman, Simon, Shaffer, and Bouchy also found
significant differences in the attachment security status of adolescents to their parents and
peers. For example, some adolescents who were classified as dismissing with their
parents were classified as secure with their peers. One explanation for this was that at
this point in development, some adolescents may not feel that their parents are responsive
in times of need, and therefore seek this comfort from friends instead (Furman, Simon,
Shaffer, & Bouchey, 2002).
While attachment theory says that a person has a style of interacting with others,
it is important to note that mother-child and father-child relationships are discrete.
Children experience each of their different relationships uniquely and are influenced
differently by their mothers and fathers. As previously existing relationships continue to
be important for development of new relationships in adolescence, it becomes apparent
that adolescents start to differentiate among relationships with parents and with peers
(Collins & Repinsky, 1994). Montemayor and Gregg (1994) speak of identity
development in adolescence and its connection to interpersonal relationships; they note
that as identity develops, adolescents sees that people they relate to see them in different
ways. Thus, in early adolescence one begins to fully understand relationships are
distinct. As noted before, Williams and Kelly (2005) also found differences in adolescent
attachment to mother and to father. Therefore, it is important to examine attachment
relationships as different from one another.
Interestingly, Freeman and Brown (2001) conducted a study looking at the
relationship between attachment style and choice of attachment figure in adolescence.
They found that, in general, parents and peers were nominated quantitatively equally,
however there were nomination differences based on attachment status. Those
adolescents who were more secure nominated their mother more, and those who were
more insecure were more likely to nominate their peers.
In a study using an early self-report attachment measure, Nickerson and Nagle
(2005) found that attachment to parents and peers differed not only from one another but
also across the adolescent transition. It can be strongly suggested that attachment to
parents changes in some manner across this transition because communication and trust
with parents decreased during these shifts (from fourth to sixth to eighth grade) in
adolescence (Nickerson & Nagle, 2005). Additionally, Nickerson and Nagle found a
change in the amount of reported proximity seeking and safe haven fulfillment with
peers, such that, as mentioned several times before, adolescents tend to seek out friends
when needed instead of their parents. Although some qualities of the parent-adolescent
attachment relationship decrease while other qualities of the adolescent-peer attachment
relationship increase, parents still are utilized as important attachment-figures. On the
other hand, both Nickerson and Nagle and Kerns, Klepac, and Cole (1996) found that use
of parents to fulfill secure base needs did not change across this transition, which
suggests that as adolescents explore new relationship realms, parents still remain an
important base for security.
Nickerson and Nagle (2005) state that there are two views in explaining
attachment to parents and peers. One view is that secure attachment in the parent-child
relationship might allow for felt security in other relationships. On the other hand,
insecure attachment in the parent-child relationships might foster the desire to find
security elsewhere. Currently, the majority of research on peer attachment in adolescence
examines the relationship between attachment and well-being. Few studies examine how
adolescents are attached to their mother, father and peers and the relationship that exists
between these different attachments.
Dimensions of Attachment
The concept of a secure base seems to exist across all stages in development
(Armsden & Greenberg, 1987; Caffery & Erdman, 2000). Especially in adolescence,
when exploration and autonomy from parents in both a physical and a psychological
manner marks the adolescent transition, the presence and availability of attachment
figures is crucial (e.g. Allen & Land, 1999). Therefore, the behaviors of attachment used
to describe infant attachments should be related to attachment in adolescence. Hazan and
Shaver (1994) state that in adult romantic relationships, the most important aspect of the
relationship that relates to attachment is for each person to act as a “reliable haven of
safety.” In adolescence, this idea translates to the support, warmth and comfort that
attachment figures can provide. Separation protest is another behavioral aspect of very
early attachments that translates to adolescence. For example, because of cognitive
gains, a more complex understanding of separation will have implications for attachment
relationships when faced with more permanent separations, such as death.
According to Armsden and Greenberg (1987) there are three underlying
constructs of attachment that exist: communication, trust and alienation. The majority of
research pertaining to these three constructs focuses on communication and the
relationship between communication and attachment. Little research exists that examines
the relationship between both trust and attachment and alienation and communication.
Communication. Bidirectional communication among parents and children has
been the focus of the majority of research in this area. More specifically, Segrin and
Flora (2005) argue that reciprocity, defined as mutual communication exchanges that are
knowingly available, and synchrony, defined as communication that occurs in a
harmonious fashion, are aspects of communication that help create strong emotional
bonds between parents and children in infancy. Moreover, these strong parent-child
relationship exchanges are important throughout life.
In infancy, children seek proximity and comfort when they sense danger.
Adolescents seek proximity and comfort in the form of advice when they feel it is needed
(Hazan & Shaver, 1994; Schneider & Younger, 1996). Therefore, communication may
be extremely important in adolescence. During adolescence, the parent-child relationship
depends on closeness, which is established and sustained from earlier stages, and conflict,
which helps the adolescent distance, in a psychological sense, from the parents (Laursen
& Collins, 2004). Additionally, openness between parents and adolescents is related to
having a “positive emotional climate” (Arnold, Pratt, & Hicks, 2004). More open
communication allows for understanding during a time of such important transition and
changes, specifically in terms of acceptance of the new needs and desires adolescents
face (Sillars, Koerner, & Fitzpatrick, 2005).
The ability of parents and children to communicate with one another is related to
security of attachment. For example, attachment security is related to better
connectedness of communication in the mother-child relationship (Freitag, Belsky,
Grossmann, Grossmann, & Scheuerer-English, 1996). Freitag, Belsky, Grossmann,
Grossmann, and Scheuerer-English (1996) investigated the connection between
attachment and communication across infancy and middle childhood. They conducted a
cross cultural study that paralleled previous ones conducted in the United States, finding
an organization in the parent-child relationship that is related to both attachment and
communication. Additionally, the authors refer to Bowlby’s work on the “partnership”
relationship that exists between parent and child. The present study will examine the role
that both the father-child and the mother-child relationships play in adolescent attachment
because these relationships co-exist in the family.
The study conducted by Freitag and colleagues (1996) looked at infancy through
middle childhood, leaving adolescence unexplored, as with much of the research.
Communication between parents and children changes as the child passes through
different developmental stages (Arnold, Pratt & Hicks, 2004; Laursen & Collins, 2004).
Laursen and Collins (2004) speak of communication trends in families, mentioning that
specifically in adolescence, the family unit functions based on prior interactions and
communication patterns, but its members are able to re-evaluate and adapt their
communication to allow for the adolescent’s changes. Since Freitag and colleagues show
the connection between attachment security and communication across infancy and
middle childhood, and it is known that families that communicate better are better able to
deal with developmental transitions, it seems as if these communication patterns should
persist across the transition to adolescence as well. This suggests that the better the
communication between parents and children in adolescence, the more a sense of felt
security should exist across developmental transitions. Beginning in infancy, parent-
child communication creates a foundation for communication with others across the
lifespan (Bowlby, 1988; Segrin & Flora, 2005).
Kreppner and Ullrich (1998) studied communication across the transition from
childhood to adolescence. They found that after grouping adolescents into different
attachment style categories (secure, habitual, and ambivalent), differences in
communication existed within the family unit. Specifically, secure adolescents showed
less “silence” in their communication with parents than the other groups, and the secure
group also showed higher levels of expressed closeness with mothers. Kreppner and
Ullrich also found differences in adolescent communication with mother and father.
Interestingly, those adolescents in the secure group exhibited more distant behavior from
fathers, and higher levels of expressed closeness with fathers was seen with the habitual
and ambivalent groups. The secure group, however, displayed both “very high” and
“very low” expression of closeness with their fathers. Therefore, more variation in
communication may lead an adolescent to be able to adjust levels of communication as
needed; specifically, since one of the major developmental shifts in adolescence is that of
autonomy and individuation, being able to shift the amount of closeness and distance is
Trust. The second dimension of trust can be defined as the secure feelings and
beliefs that another person will fulfill certain needs (Armsden & Greenberg, 1987). Trust
is a product of strong relationships, specifically those in which relationship partners feel
that they can depend upon one another (Collins & Repinsky, 1994). Furthermore, trust is
one component of a strong relationship between children and their attachment figures, as
it is seen that children build trust in relationships by learning that others are consistently
there for them. The secure base phenomenon emphasizes the knowledge of availability
of the attachment figure in times of need. In other words, a representation of the ability
to trust the attachment figure exists because of positive past situations related to trust.
Noller (1994) also states that trustworthiness, as well as closeness, is an extremely
important quality of relationships.
According to Savin-Williams and Berndt (1990) one of the major qualities of a
strong peer relationship is trust. Additionally, Hazan and Shaver (1994) argue that,
during adolescence, peer attachments begin with such proximity seeking behaviors. No
matter whom the attachment figure is, adolescents want to feel that they are close to, and
can trust, those with whom they have relationships (Noller, 1994).
Alienation. The third dimension of attachment, alienation, is closely related to
avoidance and rejection, two constructs that are very important to security of attachment.
When one senses that the attachment figure is not available, attachment becomes less
secure, possibly based on feelings of alienation. Surprisingly, given the importance of
the alienation dimension, no research on the relationship between alienation and
attachment exists. It is therefore important to explore the relationship that feelings of
alienation have to attachment.
Attachment theory emphasizes the importance of the emotional bonds in
relationships. It has been shown that parents play an important role as attachment figures
for their children. Taking into account the developmental changes that occur in
adolescence, it also has been found that parent and adolescent roles change as adolescents
strive for more autonomy and individuation (Segrin & Flora, 2005). Most importantly,
secure adolescents have been found to be more able to explore their environment and
achieve more independence (Lauren & Collins, 2004). It also has been shown that as
children transition through adolescence, peers become important figures as well as
parents. Some of the research reviewed (e.g. Nickerson & Nagle, 2005) suggests a
smooth transition into the larger social world of adolescence when there is security within
the parent-child relationship, which then is related to more security in relationships that
follow the adolescent outside of the home. There are, however, inconsistencies in the
literature as to the patterns in attachment across different attachment figures (e.g. Lewis,
Ferin & Rosenthal, 2000; Main & Weston, 1981), giving merit to the present study.
Attachment theorists examine attachment behaviors and representations across the
lifespan. Most of the attachment literature, however, focuses on infancy (e.g. Fox,
Kimmerly, & Schafer, 1991; Easterbrooks, 1989), childhood (e.g. Kerns, Klepac, & Cole,
1996) and adulthood (e.g. Hazan & Zeifman, 1999), with much less research examining
attachment in adolescence. Nonetheless, adolescence marks a significant period of
transition. Therefore it is important to examine attachment during such an important
period as well. Research that examines adolescence typically concerns continuity of
attachment from infancy (e.g. Sfroufe & Waters, 1977) or attachment to the mother only
(e.g. Allen et al., 2003). There is even less research on adolescent attachment to fathers
The first objective of the present study will explore the patterns of adolescent
attachment to their mothers, fathers and peers. Since almost no studies of attachment in
adolescence look at how relationships with all three figures relate to one another, this
study is among the first to do so. Considering the lack of research and understanding of
this interaction, specific hypotheses are not projected. The second objective is to
examine similarities within mother and adolescent ratings of one another and father and
adolescent ratings of one another. Again, because this is a new topic among attachment
researchers, this study will explore relations without projecting specific hypotheses.
This study is part of a larger project, which examines family narratives and
adolescent identity. Only those methods related to the present project will be discussed.
Twenty-four families with either an 8th grade or a 10th grade adolescent
participated in the study. Families were recruited through various sources such as
schools and religious groups (e.g. church), as well as with fliers that were dispersed to
both participating families and around a university. To be included in the study, families
had to have two parents living in the home, either biological parents, step parents, or
adoptive parents. Most families had other children living in the household as well.
Families typically had between one and four total children living in the household.
Thirteen families identified themselves as Caucasian, 10 as African American, and one as
Hispanic. Nineteen families were described as traditional (both biological parents living
in the home) and three as blended (one biological parent and one non-biological parent
living in the home). Out of the 24 families, two adolescents were adopted (both in
infancy). Ten adolescents were female (mean age 14.6) and 14 were male (mean age
14.5). At the time of the study, ten adolescents were in 8th grade (mean age 13.4) and 14
were in 10th grade (mean age 15.4). All parents gave signed consent and all adolescents
gave signed assent as approved by the Emory University Institutional Review Board. For
participating in the study, families were compensated $50, and adolescents were given
two movie tickets and a $25 gift certificate.
A female researcher visited the family’s home on two separate occasions. During
the visit, several narratives were collected from the mother and adolescent as part of the
larger study. In addition, questionnaire packets were left for both the mother and
adolescent to complete separately. Another questionnaire packet was left for the father to
complete as well. The researcher briefly explained the questionnaires. Participants were
asked to complete all questionnaires, although they were told that questions may be
skipped if there is any reason to do so, although this was not encouraged. Typically
within two weeks, the same researcher returned to the home and collected the
Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment-Revised (IPPA: Armsden & Greenberg,
1987). Each adolescent was asked to complete the IPPA, a self-report questionnaire that
includes 25 items that were designed to measure adolescent attachment to parent
(mother), adolescent attachment to parent (father) and adolescent attachment to friends
(peers). The measure assesses both positive and negative affective and cognitive
dimensions related to attachment. As discussed in the introduction, the three dimensions
used to measure attachment are communication, trust and alienation. The communication
dimension is measured with 10 items. For example: “If my mother/father/friends knows
something is bothering me, he/she asks me.” The trust dimension is measured with nine
items. For example: “My mother/father/friends respects my feelings.” The alienation
dimension is measured with six items. For example: “I don’t get much attention from my
mother/father/friends.” The adolescent is asked to complete each set of questions in
relation to their mother, their father and their peers. Questions are answered on a 5-point
Likert scale, ranging from “Almost Never or Never True” to “Almost Always or Always
Using two samples of adolescents, ages ranging from 16 to 20, Armsden and
Greenberg (1987) found good internal reliability for the IPPA, with Chronbach’s
alphas .87 for mother attachment, .89 for father attachment and .92 for peer attachment.
A three-week test-retest reliability of .93 for parent attachment and .86 for peer
attachment was also found (Armsden & Greenberg, 1987).
The IPPA also has good construct validity. It has been found to be related to
other measures, such as the Family Self-Concept (r = 0.78 with parent attachment; r =
0.28 with peer attachment) and Social Self-Concept (r = 0.46 with parent attachment; r =
0.57 with peer attachment) subscales of the Tennessee Self-Concept Scale and to several
subscales of the Family Environmental Scale (FES) (Armsden and Greenberg, 1987).
Specifically, parent attachment was positively related to Cohesion (r = 0.56),
Expressiveness (r = 0.52) and Organization (r = 0.38), and was negatively related to
Conflict (r = -0.36) and Control (r = -0.20) (Armsden & Greenberg, 1987).
In addition to asking adolescents to complete the IPPA for their relationships with
their mother, father and peers, each parent was asked to complete the related version of
the same questionnaire to allow for exploration of parent’s attachment to their
adolescents. Johnson, Ketring and Abshire (2003) revised the original IPPA to be used
for this purpose. This questionnaire consists of 10 questions for the communication
dimension, seven for the trust dimension and 5 for the alienation dimension. Several
items were re-written in order to allow parents to answer the question based on their
relationship with their children. For example, the original question, “I tell my
mother/father/friends about my problems and troubles,” was changed to, “I talk to my
child about my difficulties.” Additionally, several items were deleted from the original
version, such as, “My mother/father/friends doesn’t understand what I’m going through
theses days,” and several additions were made, such as, “I am constantly yelling and
fighting with my child.” Reliability for the different dimensions were between alpha = .
72 and alpha = .95 (Johnson, Ketring & Abshire, 2003). The revised version of the IPPA
was also correlated with other measures looking at variables related to attachment
(Johnson, Ketring & Abshire, 2003).
Each dimension of the IPPA (trust, communication and alienation) yields a
separate score, and is scored separately. Several questions on the trust and
communication dimensions and the whole alienation dimension are reverse scored.
Answers to questions for each dimension are then added together. If a question is
skipped, the mean of the answered questions is then added as the score for the skipped
question. All three dimensions are also totaled to create a total attachment score
dimension. The mean for each dimension is computed and used for analyses.
Because several fathers were not available to complete the IPPA, any analyses
that include father ratings of attachment to adolescent were only conducted with scores
from 19 families.iii
Results are discussed in two sections. The first section examines how male and
female adolescents rate their attachment to parents and peers as well as how mothers and
fathers rate their attachment to their adolescents. The second part examines the relations
among attachment ratings that address the specific objectives of the study.
Differences among attachment ratings
Table 1 displays the mean ratings (and standard deviations) adolescents gave on
each dimension to mother, father and peers. To look at the differences between
adolescent ratings of mother, father and peers on all dimensions, a 2 (grade) X 2 (gender)
X 3 (person) X 4 (dimension) Mixed-Model Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) was
conducted with grade and gender as between subject factors and person and dimension as
within subject factors. There was a main effect of person (F(2,40) = 7.56, p < .01) and a
main effect of dimension (F(3,60) = 9.13, p < .001), as well as a person by dimension
interaction (F(6,120) = 8.282, p < .001). No other main effects or interactions reached
significance. Therefore, 2 (grade) X 2 (gender) X 3 (person) ANOVAs were conducted
for each dimension separately. There were no main effects or interactions on the trust
dimension. There was, however, a main effect of person on the communication
dimension (F(2, 40) = 17.10, p < .001), the alienation dimension (F(2, 40) = 18.59, p < .
001), and the total attachment score (F(2, 40) = 475.39, p < .001).
In order to examine the main effects for the communication, alienation and the
total attachment score dimensions, follow-up paired-sample t-test comparing ratings of
pairs of attachment figures (see Table 1) were conducted. On the communication
dimension, there was a significant difference between adolescent ratings of fathers and
peers (t(23) = -6.40, p < .001), mothers and peers (t(23) = -3.75, p < .001) and mothers
and fathers (t(23) = 2.27, p < .05). Peers were rated higher than both fathers and mothers,
and mothers were rated higher than fathers. On the alienation dimension there was a
significant difference between adolescent ratings of mothers and fathers (t(23) = 2.85, p <
.01) and fathers and peers (t(23) = -2.78, p < .05), such that both mothers and peers were
rated higher than fathers. On the total attachment score, there was a significant difference
between adolescent ratings of fathers and peers (t(23) = -4.35, p < .001) and mothers and
fathers (t(23) = 2.66, p < .05). There was also a trend for adolescent ratings of mothers
and peers (t(23) = -1.94, p < .10) on the total attachment score. Peers were rated higher
than both fathers and mothers, and mothers were rated higher than fathers.
An additional question was whether adolescents, as a group, had higher or lower
ratings on attachment dimensions than did mothers or fathers. In order to examine the
consistency of ratings of attachment dimensions of attachment between adolescent and
mother and adolescent and father pairs, a 2 (grade) X 2 (gender) X 2 (person) ANOVA
was conducted for each dimension. There were no differences on any of the dimensions
of attachment between adolescent ratings of mother and mother ratings of adolescent (see
Table 2). Additionally, there were no differences on the communication dimension
between adolescent ratings of father and father ratings of adolescent (see Table 2). There
was a three-way interaction between person, gender and grade on the trust dimension
(F(1,15) = 7.42, p < .05) and total attachment score (F(1,15) = 5.09, p < .05) dimensions
between adolescent ratings of father and father ratings of adolescent. On the alienation
dimension, there was a trend between adolescent ratings of father and father ratings of
adolescent (F(1,15) = 3.69, p < .10), such that fathers rated their adolescents higher than
adolescents rated their fathers. To explore the three-way interactions on the trust and
total attachment score dimensions, because the frequencies were low, interaction was
graphed instead of conducting a follow-up t-test (see Figures 1 and 2). The 8th grade boys
rated fathers higher than their fathers rated them on both the trust and total attachment
score dimensions. The 8th grade girls rated fathers higher than their fathers rated them on
both the trust and total attachment score dimensions.
Relations among attachment relationships
In order to examine individual differences among the attachment dimensions,
Pearson’s r correlations were conducted. Table 3 displays the correlations among
adolescent ratings of mother, father and peers. There were significant positive relations
between adolescent ratings of mother and father on the trust, communication, alienation
and total attachment score dimensions. There was also a significant positive correlation
between adolescent ratings of father and peers for the communication dimension,
however there were no significant relations between adolescent ratings of father and
peers on the other dimensions, nor on any of the dimensions for adolescent ratings of
mother and peers.
Table 4 displays the similarity of adolescent and mother ratings of one another
and father and adolescent ratings of one another. There was a significant positive
correlation between adolescent and mother ratings of one another for the trust dimension
as well as the total attachment score. There was a positive correlation approaching
significance between adolescent and father ratings of one another for the communication
dimension. All other dimensions for both pairs were not significantly related.
As an exploratory analysis, the concordance between mother and father ratings of
adolescents was examined and is displayed in Table 5. There was a significant positive
correlation between mother and father ratings of adolescents for the trust and alienation
dimensions. The communication dimension and the total attachment score were not
The present study examined patterns of attachment during adolescence. Because
adolescence is such a crucial point in development, especially as it is related to social
transitions, it is imperative that we understand how attachment looks in adolescence.
Specifically, patterns in adolescent attachment to mothers, fathers and peers were
explored, and the similarity between parent and adolescent ratings of attachment to one
another was examined. Findings and interpretations for each of these questions will be
discussed, as well as limitations of the study and implications for future research
Adolescents showed different levels of attachment to different figures.
Specifically, peers were rated higher than mothers, and both peers and mothers were
rated higher than fathers on both the communication dimension and the total attachment
score. Mother and peers, rated equally on the alienation dimension, were both rated
higher than fathers. Schneider and Younger (1996) and Hazan and Shaver (1994) find
that adolescents seek comfort from people who are most accessible. Supporting the
argument by Collins and Repinsky (2004), at this point in development, mothers may be
those in the family who are most easily accessible to satisfy these needs. As previously
found by Paterson, Field, and Pryor (2004), adolescents tend to rely on their mothers
more than their fathers when in need of comfort and support. Therefore, present findings
suggest that mothers may be more accessible to adolescents than fathers inside the home,
an explanation for fathers being rated lowest. It may be that because adolescents feel less
alienated from their mothers than their fathers, they rate their communication higher and
feel more secure attachment to their mothers as well.
Additionally, in general mothers and adolescents rated one another similarly,
whereas fathers and adolescents did not. In other words, mothers and adolescents both
reported similar levels of ratings of attachment to one another, whereas fathers reported
higher levels of ratings of attachment to their adolescents than their adolescents did to
them. This suggests that fathers perceive their relationships as stronger than how
adolescents perceive the relationship, but that adolescents and mothers perceive the
strength of their relationships similarly. Interestingly, adolescents are more open with
their mothers than their fathers on an emotional level (Larusen & Collins, 2004). It may
be that, because of the level of availability in the mother-adolescent relationship,
adolescents feel more comfort and support from their mother. Fathers, on the other hand,
may be less available to satisfy their adolescents’ needs, yet receive a certain comfort and
support from their adolescents.
Importantly, peers were rated highest for several dimensions, supporting previous
research on the topic (Furman & Buhrmester, 1992; Nickerson & Nagle, 2005). Amount
of time spent with peers increases across adolescence (Collins & Repinsky, 1994). As
with mothers verses fathers, peers may be more readily available for satisfying needs of
comfort and support. The present findings, therefore, support Hazan and Shaver’s (1994)
argument that children create stronger bonds with those who are available attachment
figures, which also may explain why peers tended to be rated highest. These findings fit
with existing knowledge of adolescent development. As adolescents seek autonomy from
the family their peer relationships gain importance. On the other hand, adolescents
continue to desire support from their parents (Freeman & Brown, 2001). Therefore, an
explanation of the present findings, integrating that adolescents rate both peers and
mothers high, is that adolescents develop more social needs, which lead them to seek out
peers for comfort, but still need support from a strong home base.
Regarding adolescent ratings of attachment between mothers and fathers, findings
suggest that there is concordance on how adolescents feel about their relationship with
their mother and their father. Overall, adolescent ratings of mothers and fathers were
related on all dimensions, such that those adolescents who are rating attachment to their
mothers high are also rating attachment to their fathers high on the trust, communication
and alienation dimensions as well as on the total attachment score. The strong relation
between adolescent ratings of mothers and fathers suggests that adolescents generalize
across parental relationships and may view parents as a “unit.” This idea supports the
basic tenet of attachment theory. The internal working model of attachment originally
presented by Bowlby (1969) suggests that relationships with attachment figures are
represented mentally, based on past experiences, and that these ideas and expectations
may then mold into a general style of attachment. Additionally, several researchers have
found high concordance rates between infant attachment to their mother and father
(Easterbrooks, 1989; Fox, Kimmerly, & Schafer, 1991). Although this study is not
longitudinal, when taking into account the research on concordance in infancy, findings
of concordance suggest that children mentally represent relationships with their parents
based on earlier points in the relationships. In other words, this study suggests that
Bowlby was correct; that there is, in fact, an internal working model of attachment. At a
minimum, however, this study supports the notion that, at this point in development,
adolescents are able to generalize attachment across their relationships with both parents.
Surprisingly, however, this study did not find relations among adolescents
attachment to parents and peers. As reviewed, previous studies (e.g. Easterbrooks &
Lamb, 1979; Waters, Wippman, & Sroufe, 1979) have found relationships between
attachment to mother and peers in infancy and childhood. Additionally, Laible, Carlo,
and Roesch (2004) found a relationship between attachment to parents and peers using
the IPPA. The study by Laible and colleagues suggests that adolescent’s representations
of their relationships are generalized across those with parents and peers, an important
developmental milestone socially. The study by Laible and colleagues, however, used an
older sample (mean age 18.6 years), which might suggest that the younger sample in the
present study has already generalized across parental relationships but not yet across all
relationships, such as those with peers.
Interestingly, another study by Laible and colleagues (2000), conducted with a
sample of 16 year olds, showed similar findings to the present study in terms of
correlations among attachment to parents and peers. Again, it may be that at this point in
development, adolescents are just beginning to generalize across attachment figures.
Research on friendships shows that across adolescence, peers are sought out in times of
need more than before. As found in this study, peers do gain importance in adolescence,
shown by findings that, in general, adolescents are rating attachment to their peers
highest. It may be that early adolescents are using their peers to satisfy certain needs that
are different than those that they seek out their parents for. Since adolescence is a time
for identity development (Erikson, 1968), adolescents typically strive for more autonomy
from their parents and more inclusion and acceptance into social realms. Therefore,
during this transition, adolescents may not yet be able to generalize across all
relationships, but do rely on several different relationships for comfort and support.
Future research should attempt to find what variables allow for the generalizing of
attachment across figures and when, exactly, this occurs.
An additional question addressed in the study was the similarity between
adolescent and parental ratings of attachment of one another. When comparing
adolescents’ ratings of their mothers with mothers’ ratings of their adolescents, mothers
and adolescents rated one another similarly on the trust dimension as well as the total
attachment score. In comparing similarities in how adolescents rated their fathers and
how fathers rated their adolescents, fathers and adolescents rated one another similarly on
the communication dimension. Laursen and Collins (2004) argue that more time is spent
with mothers than with fathers and, more importantly, that there is more sharing of
emotions with mothers as well. Other researchers have also found relations between
quality of the mother-adolescent relationship and attachment security (Allen et al., 2003),
and perceived maternal availability (Leiberman, Doyle, & Markiewicz, 1999). In these
stronger, higher-quality relationships, there may also be higher levels of trust between
mothers and their adolescents. Additionally, Benoit and Parker (1994) have found that
secure mothers tend to have secure children. Therefore, it may be that mothers who are
available, specifically emotionally, are those who have children who perceive them to be
this way, as well as feel as if their children are able to satisfy some of their emotional
Fathers and adolescents perceived one another similarly on the communication
dimension. Possible reasons for this finding are not immediately apparent, particularly
given the findings that fathers and adolescents, generally, are not rating their relationships
the same. Drawing upon findings by Kreppner and Ullrich (1998) that variability in
communication among fathers and adolescents is related to security of attachment, it may
be that communication within the father-adolescent pair helps foster a better relationship.
Williams and Kelly (2005) also suggest that paternal involvement is related to adolescent
attachment. Additionally, mothers and fathers play with and influence their children
differently (Leaper, 2000). Therefore, relationships with both mothers and fathers are
important during the adolescent transition; however, as the previous research and the
present findings suggest, each relationship has its unique qualities and different impact on
Whereas, findings indicate that relations within the mother-adolescent and father-
adolescent relationships exists on different dimensions, these dimensions are all related to
one another. Many researchers find that communication in the parent-infant and parent-
child relationship is related to infant and child attachment security (e.g. Freitag, Belsky,
Grossmann, Grossmann, & Scheuerer-English, 1996), such that secure relationships tend
to be more communicative, especially in open and emotional ways. Because of the dyadic
nature of communication and trust, and the findings that parental involvement is related
to adolescent attachment (Williams & Kelly, 2005), it is the communication and trust in
the parent-adolescent relationship that allows for adolescents to feel close to their parents
and, just as important, parents to feel close to their adolescents. Finding some similarity
in ratings of attachment to one another in both the mother-adolescent and father-
adolescent relationships suggests these relationships may begin to becoming more
reciprocal, as suggested by other researchers (Laursen & Collins, 2004).
Lastly, there was concordance between mother and father ratings of attachment to
their adolescent. This finding makes sense in terms of Family Systems Theory, which
argues that the family functions as a whole unit as well as separate dyadic units, which all
interact (Kreppner, 2002). The concordance between all three dyadic relationships
(mother-adolescent, father-adolescent and mother-father) indicates that these attachment
relationships are not independent of one another. It may be that through these
interactions, as a whole family as well as separate dyads, comes the creation of a
household “climate.” Other researchers have also argued that families interact as a
whole, creating a family style of interacting (Arnold, Pratt, & Hicks, 2004; Kreppner,
2002). These findings contribute to the importance of furthering research on the whole
family in addition to its separate members and dyads when trying to explain how families
interact and impact one another.
There are several limitations to the present study that warrant attention. First,
although there is a good amount of variability in the demographics of the sample, sample
size is fairly small. Any general conclusions drawn about attachment in adolescence
must be taken with the understanding that the sample size limits the power of findings.
Families also had some knowledge that the overall study was about family relationships;
therefore there may be specific qualities possessed by the families that would lead them
to participate in such a study.
Additionally, the IPPA is a self-report questionnaire and may yield answers that
are biased. There is the possibility that reported answers may reflect a certain level of
social, or even family, desirability. There is some controversy in the literature about
using self-report measures for attachment. Since attachment is thought to be a mental
representation of one’s emotional bonds and past experiences in relationships, it is
thought that the best way to measure attachment is through narratives that tap into the
implicit representations in the mind (for a review different measures of attachment, see
Crowell, Fraley, & Shaver, 1999; Lyddon, Bradford, & Nelson, 1993; Shaver &
Mikulincer, 2004). Unquestionably, though, the IPPA does measure variables that are
related to important aspects of the quality of relationships and, importantly, that are
related to attachment. Lastly, this study does not yield data that speaks toward causality;
therefore only relational conclusions can be drawn.
Nonetheless, this study has shown that there are specific patterns of attachment in
adolescence, however more research is needed to further understand these patterns. By
adolescence, there is the capability to generalize across relationships, however it is still
unclear to what extent this occurs during early adolescence. Adolescents also have
different relationships with each parent, yet these relationships seem to be highly related
to one another in regard to attachment dimensions. It is extremely important to explore
how these relationships work together in a family unit and, just as important, to explore
how relations inside the family impact the adolescent’s extra-familial relationships. The
present study demonstrates the existing complexities of the adolescent period and the
transitions that occur at this time in development, with hopes to spark more curiosity and
exploration about relationships within and outside of the family during adolescence.
Conclusively, parents are obviously still important figures in their adolescents’ lives,
while at the same time peers are important as well. It seems as if in early adolescence,
there is still a strong need for parental support, especially in the form of a good
relationship, which may help adolescents form close bonds with friends as they enter into
a larger social world.
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Table 1. Means (standard deviations) for adolescent ratings of attachment by person and
dimension of attachment.
Ratings by person
Mother Father Peers
Dimensions (range 1-5)
Trust 4.3 (.77) 4.1 (.80) 4.2 (.61)
Communication 3.7 (.78) 3.3 (.91) 4.4 (.57)
Alienation 3.9 (.72) 3.4 (.97) 4.0 (.43)
Total 4.0 (.65) 3.6 (.74) 4.3 (.44)
Table 2. Means (standard deviations) for attachment ratings between mothers and
adolescents and fathers and adolescents by dimension of attachment.
Ratings by person
Adolescent Mother to Adolescent Father to
to Mother Adolescent to Father Adolescent
Dimensions (range 1-5)
Trust 4.3 (.77) 4.2 (.48) 4.1 (.80) 4.1 (.52)
Communication 3.7 (.78) 3.7 (.44) 3.3 (.91) 3.6 (.48)
Alienation 3.9 (.72) 3.9 (.56) 3.4 (.97) 3.9 (.80)
Total 4.0 (.65) 3.9 (.40) 3.6 (.74) 3.9 (.52)
Table 3. Correlations of adolescents ratings of attachment to each person by dimension
Ratings by person
Mother and Father Mother and Peers Father and Peers
Trust .463* .084 .148
Communication .429* .135 .410*
Alienation .505* .261 -.009
Total .492* .139 .270
* p < .05, ** p < .01
Table 4. Correlations of attachment ratings between mother and adolescent and father
and adolescent by dimension of attachment.
Ratings by person
Mother and Adolescent Father and Adolescent
Trust .506* .110
Communication .248 .349+
Alienation .184 .261
Total .488* .179
+ p < .10, * p < .05, ** p < .01
Table 5. Correlations of attachment ratings to adolescent between mother and father by
dimension of attachment.
Ratings by person
Mother and Father
* p < .05, ** p < .01
Figure 1. Means for ratings of attachment between father and adolescent, by grade and
gender of adolescent, for the trust dimension.
Gender and Grade of Adolescent
Value of Ratings
2.5 Adolescent to Father
Father to Adolescent
8th 10th 8th 10th
Figure 2. Means for ratings of attachment between father and adolescent, by grade and
gender of adolescent, for total attachment score.
Gender and Grade of Adolescent
Value of Ratings
2.5 Adolescent to Father
Father to Adolescent
8th 10th 8th 10th
Although I will focus on these three attachment behaviors, it is necessary to note that some researchers believe there are
more than three.
Ainsworth and others consistently found a group of children who were unclassifiable. As a result, a fourth category, the
disorganized/disoriented type, was introduced. Children of this classification show behaviors of both the ambivalent and
avoidant types. I will not be discussing this category.
I ran all analyses using just the 19 families, however results were not different; therefore, to obtain higher power, all
analyses that did not include these father ratings of attachment to adolescent utilized all 24 original families.