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Strengthening Attachment to Allow Teens Choice and Responsibility without Dangerous Behavior

By Josie Hatch, BS, Health & Wellness Coordinator & Ashley Yaugher, PhD, Health & Wellness Faculty 
Parents Standing Behind Teen Daughter

Adolescence marks an exciting time full of growth and change in a child’s life, but even with their growing desire for independence, they still need support and guidance from their parents. We know that the adolescent brain continues developing well into the mid-20's, with the parts of the brain that help with things like risk assessment, impulse control, and decision-making being the last to develop (Casey et al., 2008). On the other hand, the emotional, sensory, and reward-seeking parts develop first (Casey et al., 2008), making it natural for teens to have a strong urge to seek out new and exciting experiences without always thinking through the consequences (Konrad et al., 2013).

As a result of this brain development, some parenting strategies that work for younger children no longer work for teens (Yeager et al., 2018). Even though parents may not want to let go, attempting to manipulate or control their teens will push them away and undermine their need for closeness and autonomy (Scharf & Goldner, 2018). Luckily, teens who have secure emotional attachments with their parents are less likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors and have better social skills and coping strategies (Moretti & Peled, 2004). No matter your teen’s age, it’s not too late to implement some strategies for improving your parenting skills and relationships. Start to strengthen attachment with your teens today with the following tips:

  1. Set firm limits and rules: Being emotionally close with your teen does not mean you can’t have rules and boundaries. In fact, children will feel safer in a relationship when they know there are high expectations, as well as love and trust (Gottman & DeClaire, 1997). Don’t be afraid to let them know what types of behaviors you do not approve of, but help them feel that they can feel safe asking for help if they mess up.
  2. Show your teen the same respect you expect: When teens sense a threat to their growing autonomy through adults’ attempts to control them, they tend to shut down and refuse to cooperate (Divecha, 2017). Make sure to talk openly with your teens, listen to their perspective, and respect their opinions and budding personality.
  3. Support them in safe exploration: You can support your teens in activities that give them the thrilling experiences they seek with activities like rock climbing, mountain biking, amusement park rides, or other pro-social activities that utilize their talents while pushing them a little outside their comfort zone. Safe exploration can benefit youth by increasing their confidence and helping them develop independence (Kelley et al., 2006).
  4. Don’t take their choices personally: When your teen opts to make choices that you wouldn’t make yourself, it can cause a lot of emotions, ranging from hurt to frustration to outright anger. However, being able to regulate your own emotions will not only preserve your relationship with your teen, but also set a good example for them on the importance of coping with emotions (Hajal & Paley, 2020).

As you look for resources to be the best parent you can be, remember that you don’t have to do it alone. If you are concerned about your teen’s safety, looking for help from school administrators, teachers, counselors, family members, or other community resources can be helpful. Healthy relationships with strong attachments to positive role models is key. These healthy attachments provide teens with positive examples, safety, encouragement, access to resources, and new experiences that focus on safely gaining independence and responsibility (Davis & McQuillin, 2021). Start strengthening attachments with teens today with these tips and the following resources.

Additional Resources:


Casey, B. J., Getz, S., & Galvan, A. (2008). The adolescent brain. Developmental review, 28(1), 62-77.

Davis AL, McQuillin SD. (2021). Supporting autonomy in youth mentoring relationships. J Community Psychol. 2022 Jan;50(1):329-347. doi: 10.1002/jcop.22567. Epub 2021 Mar 30. PMID: 33786867.

Divecha, D. (2017). Teenagers might have a problem with respect but it's not the one our think. Developmental Science. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from https://www.developmentalscience.com/blog/2017/11/29/teenagers-might-have-a-problem-with-respect-but-its-not-the-one-you-think

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The "what" and "why" of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227-268. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15327965PLI1104_01

Gottman, J. M., & DeClaire, J. (1997). The heart of parenting: How to raise an emotionally intelligent child. Bloomsbury.

Hajal, N. J., & Paley, B. (2020). Parental emotion and emotion regulation: A critical target of study for research and intervention to promote child emotion socialization. Developmental Psychology, 56(3), 403.

Kelley, A. E., Schochet, T., & Landry, C. F. (2004). Risk taking and novelty seeking in adolescence: Introduction to part I. In R. E. Dahl & L. P. Spear (Eds.), Adolescent brain development: Vulnerabilities and opportunities. (Vol. 1021, pp. 27–32). New York Academy of Sciences.

Konrad K, Firk C, Uhlhaas PJ. Brain development during adolescence: neuroscientific insights into this developmental period. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2013 Jun;110(25):425-31. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2013.0425. Epub 2013 Jun 21. PMID: 23840287; PMCID: PMC3705203.

Moretti MM, Peled M. Adolescent-parent attachment: Bonds that support healthy development. Paediatr Child Health. 2004 Oct;9(8):551-555. doi: 10.1093/pch/9.8.551. PMID: 19680483; PMCID: PMC2724162.

Scharf, M., & Goldner, L. (2018). “If our really love me, our will do/be…”: Parental psychological control and its Implications for children's adjustment. Developmental Review, 49, 16-30.

Yeager, D. S., Dahl, R. E., & Dweck, C. S. (2018). Why interventions to influence adolescent behavior often fail but could succeed. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(1), 101-122.