Many teens have a difficult time during adolescence. Although it’s easy to conclude that a teen’s current or recent experience might be playing a role in their mental health, the first few years of life can also influence a teen’s psychological health.
During the first year of life, an infant is working on developing a relationship with their primary caregiver. Infants will attach to parents who are consistent in their care-giving throughout their young one’s early childhood. As children develop they will begin to use the attachment with their caregiver as a secure base from which they will move away to explore their environment. The type of attachment an infant has with their caregiver can lead to an internal models for that child, which he or she will unconsciously use in later relationships.
This is known as Attachment Theory. It describes the special kind of relationship between an infant and their caregiver that can strongly influence a person’s psychological health throughout childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Teens who have secure attachment are well equipped to go out into the world and are able to succeed. Yet, if a secure attachment is not formed, children can have behavioral, academic, social, and/or emotional difficulties in adolescence and in adulthood. Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Bipolar Disorder (BD), Conduct Disorder (CD), or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), for example, tend to display attachment issues.
Fortunately, the relationship a teen has with their parent can change. With enough care, nurturing, acceptance, and love, a parent-teen relationship can gradually become secure – if at one point it wasn’t. However, there can be circumstances during adolescence and earlier in a teen’s childhood that can affect parent-child relationship. For instance:
Separation. If a parent is separated from their teen due to death, divorce, or sickness, a teen may feel that loss greatly, which can then have an affect not only on a teen’s mental health but also on a teen’s trust in others and the world.
Mental Health Issues of Parent. Although a parent might be physically present, a mental illness or another psychological concern might make them unavailable emotionally. This can also be difficult for teens and it might have affected that teen’s ability to bond with that parent earlier in life.
Neglect. Teens who have been neglected have a hard time trusting that their needs are going to be met. This lack of trust can make it hard to form a close relationship.
Emotional Abuse. When a teen has experienced ongoing emotional abuse, there may be a great deal of fear a teen feels with that parent. Emotional abuse and other types of abuse can keep a teen from experiencing safety with a parent.
Unresolved Trauma. Trauma that remains unresolved can get in the way of a teen building and strengthening their relationship with their parent.
As mentioned earlier, there are ways to help improve an insecure attachment bond between parent and child. If one of these above circumstances exists (and if the parent is still alive) any parent-child relationship can get better and become more and more secure. With enough patience, love, acceptance, and empathy, all parent-child relationships can improve.