Attachment Parenting Our Teens

08 August 2011 Categories: Attachment parenting, unschooling

Laurie and her 17 year old son, Brycen

Laurie and her 17 year old son, Brycen

So many Attachment Parents start out so passionate about giving very young children the best start possible in life- Moms birth naturally, spare their sons the trauma of circumcision (MGM) by keeping them intact, breastfeed for at least three years or longer, carry their babies at all times, cosleep for several years and they ideally are gentle and nurturing to their young ones as the children begin to assert their wants and express upset emotions.

Sadly, however, something happens between the ages of seven and 12 in far too many families who started out as “attachment”-minded families: Moms and dads stop parenting for attachment and connection and start letting the mainstream lifestyle creep in. This often translates into sending children to school to suffer with all of its toxic elements, passively allowing children to become saturated and enslaved by the media, consumerism, pop culture and peer culture… And most tragically, moms pull away emotionally and physically from their older children.

If children as young as ages seven to 12 are being slowly absorbed into the mainstream cultural ideals of consuming and “individuating”, where does that leave our teenaged children? Very lost and disconnected, for sure!

Even in the Attachment Parenting (AP) community, writings about adolescent children have a negative and anti-attachment twinge to them- Most writings about parenting teens advise that teens should be  “individuating” from their parents and parents should be “pulling back” and “letting go” of their adolescent children. Due to years of “letting go”, parents of teens seem to passively assume that the disconnected behavior of their teens is “natural” and they oblige- They pull away and let go of their child even more.

My beautiful 17 year old son, Brycen is a free spirited, self-directed child who revels in the freedom of unschooling. His expression of his individualism is unique, evolving and all his own creation. He is busy with endless creative pursuits, music, community activities and flexible work of his choosing. He can sometimes be gone for days with back-to-back plans with friends. He knows that if he wanted to travel, or manifest an opportunity in his life I would stand behind him in doing it. Brycen is truly a free child!

The most important essence of his life, however, is that he and I are deeply and closely connected. The parent-child attachment security and his needs are just as much my priority now as they were when he was little. Physically, emotionally, spiritually and creatively, I have not “backed off”, “stepped back” or “let go”. I have not relaxed my protection of him, diluted my delight in him or weakened my nurturance of him. Instead, as if he was little, I have remained a loving, nurturing, affectionate, compassionate, protecting, delighted, supportive and passionate Mom to my son through out his adolescence. In doing so, I have set him free to grow holistically.

What is your emotional reaction to this? Do you feel happiness, warmth and a sense of bliss? Or do you feel uncomfortable, anxious or defensive- A desire to  give me your contrary “opinion”?

Our society seems to feel very uncomfortable about parent-teen closeness, especially mom and son closeness. These are deep cultural wounds in the collective unconscious that continue to be part of our culture. Tragically, as a result of this harmful emotionally-charged bias, boys are often cast off physically and emotionally by their moms by their eighth or ninth year of life- a decade before they can handle such a disconnect! Teens who are disconnected from their parents are often stuck in a dynamic with their parents of push and pull, love and hate, compliance and rebellion, clinginess and aggression, being controlled and being pushed away.

Let’s return to nature for a moment. I stated in an earlier blog post, “Nature’s intent is the only parenting advice we truly need. Our parenting challenges, concerns and choices can become so simple if we consider, ‘What is nature’s intent for a child’s holistic development?’ Nature is our reference manual, our guide to mammalian and human needs.”

Our closest mammalian relative, a primate called the bonobo, is a great example of mother-adolescent relationships in the wild.  In bonobos, the mother is intensely affectionate to her young well into adolescence. The daughter stays with the mother for seven years, at which time she leaves her mother and joins a neighboring tribe of bonobos. The son, however, remains dependent upon his mother for ten years and as an adult will be joined by his mate to live with his mother for life.

What about humans? In the Yequana tribe of South America documented by Jean Liedloff in The Continuum Concept, adolescents and young adults remain interdependent with their parents until they marry. There is no teenage rebellion, no “individuating”, no mutual disrespect, no parental pushing away, “letting go”, “backing off” or “casting out of the nest”, even once the teen reaches adulthood. In fact, if an unmarried young adult’s parents pass away, another family in the tribe will “adopt” the young adult into their family until that adult marries. Parent-child affection, physical nurturance (especially during a time of injury or illness), support and protection continues in many peaceful, nonviolent tribal societies well into young adulthood, until the adult child marries.

But what about the American mainstream cultural phenomenon of “Helicopter Parenting” happening to Generation-Y and the “Millennials”? Isn’t attachment parenting adolescents akin to “helicopter parenting”? No doubt people’s fear of the unhealthy parent-child clinginess of “helicopter parenting” is what incites cultural backlash that is even more harmful. The imfamous “Tiger Mother” method, a new label on the old problem of child maltreatment, is one example (which ironically is opposite of how real tigers parent their young).

Both “helicopter parenting” and the “Tiger Mother” method are examples of parenting that is grossly contrary to nature’s intent for children. The children of families that interact in this manner are disconnected and insecurely attached. Such youth are all dependent upon their parents in an unhealthy manner, begging to get basic needs met that have never been met. These ways of raising children are stifling, suffocating, mentally crippling and, in the case of children treated harshly, traumatizing. Children parented in these ways will grow up incompletely, to be holistically wounded, unfulfilled, distressed, empty and stunted. In both of these extremes, children are not allowed to live and learn in freedom and in joy. Their holistic needs are not met and their passions are not guided and nurtured. In these cases, parents live their children’s lives for them, controlling them every step of the way, giving them only a mirage of a relationship and of a life that evaporates when touched. This is not nature’s intent for children. This is youth maltreatment.

Attachment parenting our teens means keeping the parent-child connection and attachment secure and strong all through out childhood from birth until adulthood. The behavior and emotional stability of our teens will reflect the quality of this attachment. Attachment parenting our teens means remaining physically and emotionally affectionate and nurturing, available, compassionate and sensitive. It means allowing them to unschool to keep them free of the toxic, stressful environments of school. It means allowing your teens to direct their own lives, learning, healthy interests and passions, while you support these endeavors as passionately as you did when they were much younger.

Attachment parenting means listening to your teens every day and getting excited about what they are excited about. It means talking openly and honestly with them about things they want to know about such as puberty,  masturbation, sex, sexual orientation issues, moral principles, social justice, world events, life and death, philosophy and spirituality. It means treating teens with respect, dignity, humanity and care, not speaking to them with sarcasm, irritation and disgust. It means understanding the incredible hormonal changes happening to your child that might mean they appear less responsible or helpful than when they were younger- Be sensitive to and celebratory with them of the amazing metamorphosis their bodies and brains are experiencing! It means protecting them online and in the community from sexually explicit media, predatorial adults (men and women), drug addictions, media addictions and sexually dangerous situations through dialogue, discussion and honesty about your feelings and principles.

Attachment parenting means allowing your teen children to unfold as they are, not what you wish for them to be. It means letting go of controlling them, but not letting go of them. It means guiding them in life and cultivating a loving, peaceful interdependent relationship with them, where they feel free to branch out, return, branch out again, return and fly when they are ready. It means holding them in an embrace of unconditional love and emotional support; an attachment bond that will last a lifetime!

This post appeared as an article on The Attached Family, the online journal of Attachment Parenting International



8 Responses to “Attachment Parenting Our Teens”

  1. Lisa von Braun 10 August 2011 at 6:54 pm (PERMALINK)

    Dear Laurie,

    I couldn’t agree with you more. What you are saying is good advice for ALL parents. It is a uniquely American view that children need to shove off and do their own thing in
    their teens and twenties- most other European cultures maintain much closer and continuing relationships to their teens than we do.

    Having raised two birth sons largely as a single parent before I married and we adopted my son from care (now 15) I never wanted to push my sons away from me as they were teens- and they didn’t seem to want to, either. My kids were (and are) given progressively greater responsibility and freedoms as they get older, but the emotional closeness never wavered, and we never had any ugly surprises.

    Both of them took their time acquiring girlfriends and never were interested in drugs and explored alcohol only briefly – today at 23 and 20 they are still this way, (kind of health nuts who love to work out) and they have been very independent at college, taking on leadership roles and both in honors programs. However, both have come to me separately and lamented that so many kids they see at college are emotionally immature or want to party all the time.

    Now my adoptive son is maturing and he too is attracted to healthy activities, is not interested in smoking or partying, and likes to tell me about his day each day. When I was a high school teacher, I used to talk with kids about drug and alcohol use and told them I frankly thought lots of kids do this to serve unmet emotional needs – none of my high school teens ever challenged me on this belief, but listened attentively (even the partyers among them). In fact, over the years many adolescents would privately tell me longingly that they wished they could spend more time with their parents, who were often working and rarely even ate a meal with their kids.

    • Laurie A. Couture 21 August 2011 at 12:02 pm (PERMALINK)


      Thank you for sharing this with me! It is wonderful to hear how well your children are all doing. You and I agree on many things relating to parenting, but I know we do not agree on education matters. As someone who worked for years with children in schools of all grade levels, the public school environment, with all of its side effects and realities, is one variable that can severely disrupt a close parent-child attachment. You are so fortunate that you have been able to keep that bond strong with your oldest children and that with your youngest son the bond is growing, despite the school environment. Awesome job!


  2. Thank you,….this is really worth exploring. I remember the model family my mother envisioned based on her maturity during the depression. Not only did she remain in the home until married, her married sister and brother-in-law were there too. Grandparents were there too. However, growing up in the 60/70s I found this claustrophobic and dashed out of state as fast I as could to avoid that model. I think my baby-boom generation carries that fear with us and so pushed our kids out the door prematurely.

    Now, this period economically, kids are moving back home after college and grandparents are off in Mexico, we have a different model. Scores of kids scared by divorce postpone marriage.

    I am just grateful that the AP approach found expression in our life as a family. The kids are attached to each other as well, having seen the love expressed by parents, it flows into their adult sibling relationships too.

    Lot’s there to think about—thanks!

    • Laurie A. Couture 21 August 2011 at 11:57 am (PERMALINK)


      Thank you for your comment. I can see why you might have been suffocated, knowing a great deal about family dynamics of the previous generations in our culture. I don’t believe that the family model of the 20th century can be at all compared to Attachment Parenting. Although many mothers did tend to “stay home” from the 1940’s-1960’s and there was more focus on inter-generational homes in decades past, those variables in themselves do not equate to AP. The “family values” of the 20th century up until it became less socially acceptable by the 1970’s were flagrantly based on violence towards children. Attachment Parenting is, at its core, meeting the holistic needs of children. Mothers staying home with children but being emotionally disconnected from their children’s attachment needs is not AP. Mothers staying at home while their children are forced into public school is not AP. Fathers working long hours and functioning only as bread winners and lawn-chore machines are not practicing AP. Parents who are “family oriented” but who are punitive, authoritarian, permissive, stand-offish, uninvolved, cold, disconnected and abusive are not practicing AP. Likewise, inter-generational households with punitive, abusive grandparents also do not equal AP. What nature intends is for humans to live in tribal settings, with an inter-generational, tribal focus on children’s developmental needs so that children can grow and learn in freedom, love and joy. Although most of us cannot form true out-in-nature tribes in our society, we can parent for attachment by meeting the needs of our children, responding to them with love and we can unschool or find other child-centered alternatives to public school. We can seek the support of extended family, close friends or intentional communities of other AP/alternative education families.


  3. Joelle O'Bryan 2 September 2011 at 11:21 am (PERMALINK)

    Laurie- I thank you from the bottom of my heart for talking about attachment parenting and teens. My son turns 13 this November and I’d sadly gotten used to attachment parenting materials no longer having much of anything that is relevant for me.

    love & light

  4. kendra 14 September 2011 at 10:59 am (PERMALINK)

    Thanks so much for this, Ive always worked for the attachment parenting aside from the public school option. Ive been a single mother from the start and now shes 10 and while she goes to public school I am there EVERYDAY.. and fully involved in her education. Part of the reason I chose public school is because of the access to things for her special needs.

    My daughters are now extremely close and spend a lot of time together :D thanks for the article I was having a hard time finding anything that was relevant to our age bracket.


  5. Mary 24 January 2013 at 8:09 am (PERMALINK)

    Laurie, This is such an amazing and inspiring post! My oldest son is nearly 13 and to be honest I just keep feeling closer and closer to him. We started out very attachment and really nothing has changed, the relationship has morphed a bit as he has gotten older but I am still in awe of him everyday. He is a amazing person down to his core and I love being with him!

    That being said I also know I need to let him have wings to be truly free. He is going to an unschool retreat in Peru in a couple months for a couple months and although it breaks my heart a little to be away from him I know how much he wants to go so I fully support him. Sometimes it is hard but I agree that it is vital!

    This article should be read by everyone with preteens. I will be sharing it! Thanks!

  6. Karen 11 September 2013 at 12:23 pm (PERMALINK)

    Beautiful and thoughtful post! It is the richness of our nurturing, bonding and attachment that gives teens the faith, confidence and belief in themselves to learn develop their own inner guidance system. This allows them to go out into the world as their truest self. This was true for me and my parents, and I see the same has been true for my teen son and daughter.


Leave a Reply