Teens who have a secure relationship with their parents show faster development of coping skills than their peers with insecure parental ties, a new study shows.
“This study presents the first evidence that secure individuals seek support and reflect upon possible solutions more frequently and become increasingly competent in dealing with a variety of stressors from early adolescence to young adulthood,” Dr. Inge Seiffge-Krenke of Mainz University in Germany and Wim Beyers of Ghent University in Belgium write.
Less securely attached teens, they found, were more likely to withdraw from their problems and less likely to seek support from others, increasing their risk of depression and other mental and physical health problems.
The researchers looked at three basic coping styles: active coping, in which a person seeks support from others and takes action to solve the problem; internal coping, in which a person thinks about possible solutions; and withdrawal, in which a person basically avoids the problem. A balance between active and internal approaches is considered healthy, while heavy reliance on withdrawal is not.
Seiffge-Krenke and Beyers evaluated the coping strategies and development of 112 girls and boys, from age 14 to 21. At 21, study participants completed the Adult Attachment Interview, a test designed to evaluate how a person feels about his or her past and present attachment experiences, including childhood relationships with parents.
Based on this test, participants were classified as secure, meaning they had a strong, positive, valued parental relationship; dismissing, or denying the influence of parents; or preoccupied, meaning they were vague, confused, angry or preoccupied with the parental relationship.
Fifty percent of the study participants were secure, 38 percent were dismissing, and 12 percent were preoccupied.
Secure teens showed the fastest growth in their use of active and internal coping strategies over the course of the study. While dismissing individuals showed similar development in their internal coping skills, their active coping approaches did not progress.
Preoccupied individuals relied heavily on active coping strategies, but showed little development in this coping style over time.
Insecurely attached teens, meaning those classified as dismissing or preoccupied, were more likely to use the withdrawal approach to cope with stress.
While both active and internal coping strategies are important, relying solely on internal methods and not looking for outside support may be a risk factor for depression and poor health, Seiffge-Krenke and Beyers note.
“Although our findings do not permit cause-effect conclusions to be drawn at this time, they support the idea that an adolescent’s attachment state of mind exerts a determinative influence on how he or she copes with stress in various domains,” the researchers conclude.