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What Causes Teens to Turn from Parents to Peers?

October 30, 2015
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We love this TED Talk by neuropsychiatrist Daniel Siegel, an expert on teen brain development and its implications for effective parenting and educating.




As humans, we are uniquely wired to find one or two core figures to whom we attach as children. We attach to people who meet our needs for safety, soothing, and security, and who really “see” us – that is, see not just our behaviors but the underlying emotions. Often, if we are lucky, these figures are our parents in infancy and childhood.

At first, attachment research was very focused on babies and their attachment needs. As the research has progressed, we have come to understand that, in fact, people have attachment needs throughout the lifespan – it’s just a shift in who we attach to and the ways we demonstrate this attachment.

In an evolutionary sense, having a secure attachment figure was a matter of life or death – if a young child or infant did not have a secure parental figure to take care of its needs, it would die. The same is true in adolescence – historically, if a primate did not find a peer group to belong to, it would perish.

Through this lens, we are able to understand that it is both natural for teens to turn away from their original attachment figures and towards their peers (readying themselves to launch from their family of origin). When we understand the evolutionary importance of becoming a member of a peer group, we can begin to understand why teens place such importance on fitting in and making friends. While adults may scoff at the idea that having the latest pair of shoes is a matter of life or death, to a teen, it may really feel that way! It also explains why at times teens even abandon their moral compass in order to fit in – the need is just that strong.

An attachment lens is one way to understand substance misuse and abuse. For teens struggling to find acceptance in their peer group or family, they may turn to substances as a primary attachment figure – the friend that accepts them, soothes them, and is always there for them. We at Sandstone believe it is imperative to help teens learn not to just stop using substances, but also to build positive relationships with family members and members of the community. While the family is no longer the primary focus of attachment for teenagers, having a secure base in the family system also helps ease them through the transition of learning to form healthy and secure attachments among peers, which is part of the reason we believe so strongly in the family component of recovery.

It’s important to remember that although adolescence includes many challenges, it’s an incredible and unique time in which the foundation is being laid for the years to come. The better we can understand the unique challenges and opportunities of adolescence, the better we can support our teens!

About Sandstone Care

Sandstone Care is a Denver, Colorado-based treatment program for young adults and adolescents struggling with substance abuse and co-occurring disorders. Sandstone Care offers a full continuum of outpatient care including Extended Care, Day Treatment, Intensive Outpatient, and General Outpatient Programs for young adults (ages 18-30) and adolescents (ages 13-18). Sandstone Care believes that successful outcomes are achieved through a systemic, evidence-based approach that addresses the entire individual as well as their environment – this means providing academic & vocational support to help individuals achieve their goals and discover their strengths, family participation to educate and support the entire family system, psychiatric and dietitian evaluations and support to promote a healthy mind and body, as well as community-based activities along with the more traditional evidence-based group and individual therapy. If you or a loved one needs additional support, call our confidential line, at 888-850-1890 or fill out the form on our website, and our admissions team will be able to answer any questions as well as guide you and your loved ones toward the path of long-lasting recovery. For more information, visit sandstonecare.com.

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