2011. Vol.2, No.4, 291-299
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2011.24046
Adolescents’ Subtypes of Attachment Security with Fathers and
Mothers and Self-Perceptions of Socioemotional Adjustment
School of Education Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv, Israel.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Received February 22nd, 2011; revised April 3rd, 2011; accepted May 13th, 2011.
The study examined adolescents’ secure attachment with both versus one parent, for deeper understanding of
adolescents’ perceptions of their socioemotional adjustment. Specifically, the current study aimed to identify
different attachment profiles with father and mother among 203 adolescents aged 15 - 17 years and to examine
whether these profiles associated differently with their self-rated peer-network loneliness and peer-dyadic lone-
liness, positive and negative affect, and internalizing behavior problems. Descriptive statistics demonstrated that
more adolescents were classified as securely attached to mothers than to fathers. No significant associations
emerged between adolescents’ sex and attachment classification distributions with mothers or fathers. Using
k-means clustering methods, four distinct clusters emerged: secure attachment to both parents/to neither/to only
father/to only mother. Tukey HSD and Scheffe procedures validated the attachment clusters, revealing signifi-
cant inter-cluster differences on all of the adolescents’ socioemotional measures. The current results also high-
lighted that the group of adolescents who felt securely attached to both parents was least vulnerable to experi-
encing socioemotional difficulties. In addition, secure attachment only to one’s mother and not to one’s father
did not seem to act as a protective factor for these adolescents, with the exception of protection from peer-dyadic
loneliness. Discussion focused on understanding the possible contribution of parent-adolescent secure attach-
ment among these subgroups of typically developing adolescents.
Keywords: Attachment, Fathers, Socioemotional, Behavior Problems, Affect
Research studies on the adolescent developmental period
have indicated a sharp increase in vulnerability, morbidity, and
mortality related to a wide range of emotional, social, and be-
havioral problems (Dahl, 2004; Lee & Hankin, 2009; Muris,
Meesters, & Van den Berg, 2003). Data from these studies
revealed an inverted U-shape curve depicting adolescents’ ex-
ternalizing problems (e.g., aggression and delinquency), with
prevalence peaking during the middle adolescent years and then
declining (Lee & Hankin, 2009; Steinberg & Morris, 2001).
Conversely, the prevalence rate for internalizing problems (e.g.,
depression, anxiety) showed an increase during adolescence
that continued into adulthood (Lee & Hankin, 2009; Steinbeg &
Morris, 2001). In exploring this marked increase in socioemo-
tional difficulties, various theoretical approaches emphasized
variables such as hormonal changes at puberty, the emergence
of new cognitive abilities and coping mechanisms, the preva-
lence and nature of stressful life events, and the quality of close
relationships and patterns of attachment with significant others
(Dahl, 2004; Jackson & Goossens, 2006; Larson, 2000;
Steinberg & Morris, 2001).
Based on studies emphasizing attachment theory as a highly
relevant and well-validated framework for explaining individ-
ual variations in adjustment across the lifespan (Grossmann,
Grossmann, & Waters, 2006; Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007),
adolescents’ attachment to mothers and fathers served as the
focus of the current study to examine socioemotional adjust-
ment during the adolescent period. Adolescent-father attach-
ment relationships received equal emphasis in the present study
in light of the recent upsurge of interest in fathers’ important
role for their children’s development and later adjustment
(Marsiglio, Amato, Day, & Lamb, 2000; Parke, 2004), as well
as based on findings highlighting possible differences in
younger children’s attachments to the mother and father (see
Grossmann et al.’s 2002 review).
Adolescents’ Attachment Relationships with Father
Briefly, attachment theory pinpoints the role of social inter-
actions in socioemotional and behavioral development (Bowlby,
1973, 1982/1969). In their first year, infants develop specific
and enduring relationships with primary caretakers (Ainsworth
& Wittig, 1969; Bowlby, 1973, 1982/1969). Their strong pur-
suit of proximity to caregivers is the overt manifestation of the
attachment behavioral system—an inborn system designed to
restore or maintain proximity to supportive others in times of
need. Bowlby (1973) assumed that infants internalize their
interactions with significant others into “internal working mod-
els”—mental representations of significant others and the self.
These result in unique attachment styles, that is, stable patterns
of cognitions and behaviors that become manifested in later
interpersonal close relationships as well as in intrapersonal
organization. Thus, many studies suggested the links between
children’s attachment style and socioemotional adjustment,
indicating that securely attached children show greater emo-
tional regulation, sociability, and psychological well-being than
children with an insecure avoidant or anxious style (see
Grossmann et al.’s 2006 review).
Attachment relationships continue to influence interpersonal
and psychosocial functioning beyond early and middle child-
hood (Engels, Finkenauer, Dkovic’, & Meeus, 2001; Mayseless
& Scharf, 2007). Adolescents’ attachment behaviors emerge in
different ways compared to earlier ages, such as more explor-
ative behaviors and less dependency on parents; however, re-
search studies clearly show the substantial associations between
adolescents’ attachment organization and various adjustment
and maladjustment measures such as depression, anxiety, be-
havior problems, and self-esteem (Irons & Gilbert, 2005; Lee &
Hankin, 2009; Muris et al., 2003; Song, Thompson, & Ferrer,
2009). Furthermore, studies have also highlighted that adoles-
cents’ developmental tasks such as autonomy and exploration
are easily established in the context of close, enduring relation-
ships with parents (Allen & Land, 1999; Steinberg & Morris,
Adolescents’ patterns of attachment with fathers have been
less studied, but the existing research regarding the role of fa-
ther-child attachment relationships for younger children’s func-
tioning has yielded inconsistent findings. For example, mixed
results emerged regarding the link between secure attachment
with fathers and children’s positive interactions with peers in
middle childhood (see Parke et al., 2004 for a review).
Grossman et al. (2002) noted that children’s attachment rela-
tions with father and mother derive from different sets of early
social experiences. Mothers often act as a secure base in times
of distress; fathers often act as a challenging but reassuring play
partner. Several studies on middle childhood supported these
assumptions and also pinpointed the unique role of children’s
attachment to their fathers (Lamb, 2002; Lieberman, Doyle &
Markiewicz, 1999; Verschueren & Marcoen, 2005). As re-
ported by Verschueren and Marcoen (2005), secure attachment
with the mother may best predict a child’s functioning in inti-
mate small groups or dyadic interactions, whereas secure at-
tachment with the father may best predict peer acceptance in
the larger social network.
Further, research on sex differences in attachment patterns
also revealed inconsistent findings calling for further investiga-
tion. On the one hand, attachment theory argued that attach-
ment relations do not vary as a function of children’s sex
(Bowlby, 1973, 1982/1969). Similarly, studies among adults
revealed no consistent sex differences using either interviews
(i.e., Adult Attachment Interview) or self-report questionnaires
(see Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007 for a review). On the other
hand, research reported that father-daughter relations may
change considerably in early adolescence, becoming emotion-
ally distant and flat (see Lieberman et al., 1999 for a review).
Together, these findings raise important questions calling for
exploration. Do adolescents hold constructed separate repre-
sentations of their attachment relationships with each parent or
one overall generalized representation? Will sex differences
emerge in these adolescents' relationship patterns? Will adoles-
cents classified as securely attached to both parents manifest
fewer socioemotional difficulties compared to adolescents clas-
sified as securely attached to only one parent? How might these
different profiles associate with adolescents’ socioemotional
and behavioral measures? Who among these different profiles
might be more vulnerable to socioemotional problems?
Adolescents’ So c i oemoti onal Adjustment
The present examination of adolescents’ socioemotional ad-
justment included three socioemotional and behavioral aspects:
positive/negative affect, peer-network or peer-dyadic loneliness,
and the internalizing behavior syndrome.
Affect. Affect is considered to hold unique importance for
understanding individuals’ mental health and well-being (Clark
& Watson, 1988; Folkman & Moskowitz, 2004). Research
studies demonstrated that over the transition from childhood to
adolescence, individuals experience an increase in negative
emotions, a reduction in positive emotions, and greater emo-
tional lability (Irons & Gilbert, 2005; Larson, 2000; Lee &
Hankin, 2009). Empirical data have also pinpointed links be-
tween adolescents’ frequency of negative emotions and their
externalizing and internalizing behavior problems (Goossens,
2006; Silk, Steinberg, & Morris, 2003).
Loneliness. Loneliness refers to unpleasant experiences oc-
curring when individuals perceive a discrepancy between their
desired and achieved patterns of social networks (Peplau &
Perlman, 1982). This measure may be considered as a global
indicator of one’s dissatisfaction from the quality and/or the
quantity of one’s social interrelations (Asher, Parkhurst, Hymel,
& Williams, 1990). Feelings of loneliness are perceived by the
attachment framework as a form of separation distress that
stems from a failure to meet basic attachment needs (Weiss,
1973). Previous research reported an association between chil-
dren’s high levels of loneliness and a variety of unpleasant
emotions and perceptions of unfulfilled relational needs such as
a lack of support, companionship, and affection (Asher &
Paquette, 2003; Asher et al., 1990). Similarly, large numbers of
studies also indicated that feelings of loneliness in childhood
are associated with later maladjustment problems such as de-
pression, suicide, poor self-concept, and psychosomatic prob-
lems (Chen et al., 2004; Hoza, Bukowski, & Beery, 2000;
Richaud de Minzi, 2006).
Of particular importance is the broad agreement that the
loneliness experience is particularly prevalent in the adolescent
developmental period (see Goossens, 2006 for a review). For
example, Brennan (1982) found that high percentages of ado-
lescents, ages 12 to 18 years, reported high levels of loneliness.
Moreover, adolescents at 17 years of age reported higher levels
of loneliness than college students at age 19 (Mahon, 1983;
Schults & Moor, 1988). Data from previous studies also pin-
pointed a decreasing age trend in adolescents’ loneliness, where
early adolescents (13 years) showed higher loneliness levels
than mid-to-late adolescents (age 15 and 20 years).
Internalizing behavior problems. Research has suggested
that maladaptive functioning in childhood and adolescence falls
into two categories of disorders: internalizing and externalizing
(Achenbach, 1991; Achenbach & Dumenci, 2001). The current
study focused only on adolescents’ perceptions of their inter-
nalizing behavior problems like depression, anxiety, and social
withdrawal, which were shown to increase in prevalence during
adolescence and continue to increase into adulthood (Lee &
Hankin, 2009; Steinberg & Morris, 2001). Externalizing mal-
adjustment, which includes hyperactivity, aggression, and anti-
social disorders, is beyond the scope of this study.
The Current Study
This study aimed to further explore the links between ado-
lescents’ attachment relationships with both parents versus one
parent and adolescents’ perceptions of three socioemotional
adjustment measures: affect, loneliness, and internalizing be-
M. AL-YAGON 293
havior problems. Specifically, this study aimed to identify sub-
groups of adolescents in the 10th and 11th grades with different
individual profiles of attachment classifications with father and
mother and both parents, and to examine the possible role of
these patterns of close relationships for explaining adolescents'
socioemotional characteristics, hypothesizing:
1) Four profiles of adolescents’ attachment classifications
were expected: secure attachment to both parents, insecure
attachment to both parents, secure attachment to father and
insecure attachment to mother, and secure attachment to mother
and insecure attachment to father. 2) The different profiles were
also expected to associate differently with adolescents’ so-
cioemotional measures as follows: a) adolescents classified as
securely attached to both parents will report lower levels of
socioemotional difficulties compared to adolescents classified
as securely attached to only one parent and b) adolescents clas-
sified as insecurely attached to both parents will report higher
levels of socioemotional difficulties compared to adolescents
classified as securely attached to one parents. Sex differences
regarding adolescents’ attachment relationships with fathers
and mothers were also explored, without predicting a specific
direction of findings due to prior mixed findings regarding sex
differences in attachment relations (Lieberman et al., 1999;
Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007).
Participants comprised 203 typically developing adolescents
(119 girls, 84 boys) sampled from 10 different classrooms in
two public high schools in an urban area of central Israel: 102
tenth graders and 101 eleventh graders. The two schools were
recommended by the Ministry of Education as similar in struc-
ture and orientation, and as serving a similar population in
terms of SES (middle-class). Adolescents’ reports of paren-
tal marital status yielded 181 married couples (89%) and 22
Approximately 10% of the children in each classroom had
been formally diagnosed with disabilities such as learning dis-
abilities and/or attention deficit-hyperactive disorder and were
therefore excluded from this sample. Initial analyses examining
age effects revealed no significant differences between the two
grade levels on the study variables; therefore, all further analy-
ses related to the two grade levels as one group.
Four self-report measures were completed by adolescents.
This selection of self-reports rather than assessments by sig-
nificant others (parents, teachers, peers) corresponds with prior
studies emphasizing the higher reliability found for children's
and adolescents’ self-reports when measuring internalizing
characteristics and perceptions of close relationships (Lynch &
Cicchetti, 1997; Ronen, 1997).
Attachment Security Style (Kerns, Klepac, & Cole, 1996).
Prior studies of adolescents’ attachment used various self-report
measures like the Experiences in Close Relationships Scale
(Brennan, Clark, & Shaver, 1998), Attachment Interview for
Childhood and Adolescence (Ammaniti, Van IJzendoorn, Sper-
anza, & Tambelli, 2000), or the Attachment Questionnaire
(Hazan & Shaver, 1987). However, these global measures did
not assess adolescents’ specific relations with each parental
attachment figure. In line with previous valid outcomes for the
Attachment Security Style scale (Kerns et al., 1996) in early
adolescents (Lieberman et al., 1999), its 15-item Hebrew adap-
tation (Granot & Maysless, 2001) was utilized here to assess
adolescents’ perceptions of attachment security with each par-
ent. The scale was administered twice, once about mothers and
once about fathers, using Harter’s (1982) 4-point “Some
kids …other kids” format. After reading a dual statement like
“Some adolescents find it easy to trust their mom/dad BUT
other kids are not sure if they can trust their mom/dad,” ado-
lesencts chose which statement was more characteristic of them,
and then indicated if the statement was really true for them or
sort of true for them. Scores for each parent ranged from 15 to
60, with a categorical cut-off point of 45 distinguishing secure
from insecure child-parent attachment (Kerns et al., 1996).
Higher scores reflected more secure relations. The current
Cronbach alphas were .85 for child-mother scale and .90 for
Peer-Network Loneliness and Peer-Dyadic Loneliness
Scale (PNDLS; Hoza et al., 2000). This 16-item scale assessed
two subscales of loneliness using Harter’s (1982) 4-point
“Some kids …other kids” format. Peer-network loneliness
comprised 8 items such as “Some kids hardly ever feel accepted
by others their age—but—other kids feel accepted by others
their age most of the time”. The peer-dyadic loneliness com-
prised 8 items such as “Some kids don’t have a friend that they
can talk to about important things—But—others kids do have a
friend that they can talk to about important things”. In the cur-
rent study, the Cronbach alphas were .85 for the Peer-network
loneliness subscale and .86 for the peer-dyadic loneliness sub-
Affect Scale (Moos, Cronkite, Billings, & Finney, 1987). For
this 28-item two-factor scale (Hebrew adaptation—Margalit &
Ankonina, 1991), participants rated the extent to which each
item described their affect in the last month, on a 5-point scale
ranging from Not at all (1) to Very much (5). The 14-item posi-
tive affect factor included a positive affect subscale and a
self-confidence subscale (e.g., “energetic,” “happy;”). The 14-
item negative affect factor included a negative affect subscale
and a global depression subscale (“feel guilty,” “worried;”). In
the current study, the Cronbach alphas were .84 for the positive
affect subscale and .88 for the negative affect subscale.
“Internalizing Syndrome” Scales from the Standardized
YSR—Youth Self-Report Version for Age 11-18 (Achenbach,
1991). This standardized instrument comprised 112 items ad-
dressing emotional and behavioral problems among youth (He-
brew adaptation; Zilber, Auerbach, & Lerner, 1994) on a
3-point scale ranging from Not true (0) to Very/Often true (2).
Achenbach’s (1991) principal components analyses yielded
eight narrow-band syndrome scales and two broad-band syn-
drome scales (i.e., “internalizing syndrome” and “externalizing
syndrome”). The present study used the broad-band “internal-
izing syndrome” scale, referring to 30 internalizing behaviors
(e.g., “rather be alone” or “nervous”), with a Cronbach alpha
After obtaining parental consent and approval from the Is-
raeli Ministry of Education, one member of the research team
(comprising graduate students in education counseling) entered
each classroom. At the start of the session, the team member
distributed a set of four questionnaires (attachment, loneliness,
affect, and internalizing syndrome behavioral subscale) to each
adolescent present in class. Before asking adolescents to com-
plete the questionnaire packet, the team member read sample
items aloud from each scale to ensure adolescents’ understand-
ing. During the session, as adolescents individually completed
the scales, the team member provided additional help to ado-
lescents per need. To maintain adolescents’ privacy, teachers
were not present in class during data collection. Questionnaires
completed by adolescents with disabilities (i.e., approximately
10% in each classroom) were excluded from the current sam-
Two analyses were conducted before the cluster analysis. To
investigate the prevalence of adolescents’ attachment classifi-
cations with fathers and mothers, adolescents were assigned
either a secure or insecure classification for their adoles-
cent-mother attachment and their adolescent-father attachment,
in line with the categorical cutoff score (of 45) on the
self-reported attachment scale (Kerns et al., 1996). The current
results showed that whereas 72% of these adolescents were
classified as securely attached to their mothers, only 61% were
classified as securely attached to their fathers. That is, 39% of
these adolescents were classified as insecurely attached to their
fathers, but only 28% were classified as insecurely attached to
Second, further chi-square tests were conducted to examine
adolescents’ sex differences regarding the prevalence of ado-
lescents’ attachment classifications with fathers and mothers.
No significant associations emerged between sex and attach-
ment classification distributions with mothers or fathers, indi-
cating that girls and boys reported a similar prevalence of at-
tachment classifications with each parent. Therefore, all further
analyses related to the boys and girls as one group. Likewise, as
mentioned above, all further analyses related to the two grade
levels as one group.
This section presents analyses that were designed to examine
the nature of the interrelations among identified attachment
profiles of adolescents and the possible associations of these
profiles to adolescents’ socioemotional difficulties.
Subgroups with different profile s. To identify subgroups of
adolescents with different individual profiles, k-means cluster
analysis was performed with two individual factors: adoles-
cents’ attachment style classification (secure/insecure) with
father and with mother. As suggested by prior studies, the
k-means iterative method makes multiple passes through the
data, assigning units to the cluster with the nearest vector or set
of means for the two variables, which is called the cluster cen-
ter or centroid (Hammett, Kleeck, & Huberty, 2003). The final
cluster solution revealed four distinct profiles. Cluster A (n =
15; 7.4% of sample) comprised adolescents classified as se-
curely attached to father and insecurely attached to mother.
Cluster B (n = 108; 53.2% of sample) comprised adolescents
classified as securely attached to both parents. Cluster C (n =
42; 20.7% of sample) comprised adolescents classified as inse-
curely attached to both parents. Cluster D (n = 38; 18.7% of
sample) comprised adolescents classified as securely attached
to mother and insecurely attached to father.
To examine the internal validity of the cluster identification,
a MANOVA was performed with the adolescents’ scores for
attachment with father and attachment with mother as the de-
pendent variables and with the cluster classification as the in-
dependent variable. The MANOVA (using Wilks Lambda)
yielded a significant main effect for the clusters’ identification,
F (6, 396) = 119.30, p < .001, partial Eta squared = .64. As seen
in Table 1, significant intergroup differences emerged for the
four clusters, both on attachment scores with father and with
mother, indicating that the cluster analysis identified four dif-
ferent clusters according to their defining variables.
In addition, χ2 tests yielded non-significant associations be-
tween adolescents’ sex and the four clusters as well as between
adolescents’ grade and the four clusters.
Profiles’ links to adolescents’ adjustment measures. To
examine whether these four different attachment profiles would
link differentially with adolescents’ socioemotional and behav-
ioral adjustment, a MANOVA (using Wilks Lambda) was
conducted with the five adjustment measures as the dependent
variables (positive and negative affect, peer-network and
peer-dyadic loneliness, and internalizing behavior problems),
and with the cluster classification as the independent variable.
The analysis yielded a significant main effect for the clusters’
identification, F (15, 538) = 3.66, p < .001, partial Eta squared
= .09. Univariate ANOVAs revealed significant main effects for
the clusters’ classification for all the adjustment measures (see
Ms, SDs, and F scores in Table 2). The two types of post hoc
Means, standard deviations, and statistical comparison of the four adolescents’ profiles by the two defining variables.
with father only
(N = 15)
with both parents
(N = 108)
with both parents
(N = 42)
with mother only
(N = 38)
F (3, 199) η2 Post hoc
M SD M SD M SD M SD
father 50.06 3.73 52.30 4.03 36.70 5.80 36.90 6.91 148.25* .69 A > C, D
B > C, D
mother 39.46 4.07 52.80 3.94 39.70 4.47 50.70 4.30 130.00* .66
A < B, D
B > A, C, D
C < B, D
*p < .001.
M. AL-YAGON 295
Means, standard deviations, and statistical comparison of the four adolescents’ profiles by adolescents’ interpersonal and intrapersonal measures.
with father only
(N = 15)
with both parents
(N = 108)
with both parents
(N = 42)
with mother only
(N = 38)
F (3, 199) η2 Post hoc
M SD M SD M SD M SD
Negative affect 33.80 11.18 28.0 8.70 35.36 9.14 35.65 12.63 9.35** .12 B < C, D
Positive affect 49.20 7.20 53.11 7.08 46.88 7.57 48.92 7.95 8.57** .11 B > C, D
Peer-network loneliness 13.27 2.65 11.74 3.25 14.80 4.82 13.84 3.69 8.25** .11 B < C, D
Peer-dyadic loneliness 11.33 3.84 10.40 3.25 13.05 4.92 12.21 3.97 5.61** .08 B < C
problems 8.47 7.11 7.54 6.67 14.14 8.56 13.55 9.43 10.63** .14 B < C, D
*p < .01. **p < .001.
analyses examining intergroup differences, Tukey HSD and
Scheffe procedures, both revealed significant differences
among three of the four clusters (B, C and D), on all the ado-
lescents’ measures. With regard to Cluster A, the findings were
at odds with our hypotheses, indicating that adolescents from
Cluster A did not significantly differ from the other groups.
Adolescents’ positive and negative affect. Significant inter-
group differences emerged between three of the four clusters
for adolescents’ self-rated negative affect: Clusters B, C, and D.
An examination of group means indicated that adolescents from
Cluster B (secure attachment with both parents) reported lower
feelings of negative affect than adolescents from Cluster C
(insecure attachment with both parents) and from Cluster D
(secure attachment only with mother) (see Table 2).
Likewise, significant intergroup differences emerged among
the same three clusters (Clusters B, C, and D) for adolescents’
self-rated positive affect. Group means indicated that adoles-
cents from Cluster B (secure attachment with both parents)
reported higher feelings of positive affect than adolescents from
Cluster C (insecure attachment with both parents) and from
Cluster D (secure attachment only with mother) (see Table 2).
Adolescents’ peer-network and peer-dyadic loneliness. Sig-
nificant intergroup differences emerged between Clusters B, C,
and D for adolescents’ self-rated peer-network loneliness.
Group means indicated that adolescents from Cluster B (secure
attachment with both parents) reported lower feelings of
peer-network loneliness than adolescents from Cluster C (inse-
cure attachment with both parents) and from Cluster D (secure
attachment only with mother) (see Table 2). In contrast, sig-
nificant intergroup differences in peer-dyadic loneliness
emerged only between Clusters B and C. Group means indi-
cated that adolescents from Cluster B (secure attachment with
both parents) reported lower feelings of peer-dyadic loneliness
than adolescents from Cluster C (insecure attachment with both
parents) (see Table 2).
Adolescents’ internalizing behavior problems. Significant
intergroup differences emerged between Clusters B, C, and D
for adolescents’ self-rated internalizing behavior problems.
Group means indicated that adolescents from Cluster B (secure
attachment with both parents) reported a lower level of inter-
nalizing behavior problems compared to adolescents from
Cluster C (insecure attachment with both parents) and from
Cluster D (secure attachment only with mother) (see Table 2).
The current study aimed to further explore the links between
adolescents’ attachment relationships with both parents versus
one parent, to obtain a deeper understanding of socioemotional
adjustment, in this developmental period, when attachment
behaviors may manifest differently than at earlier ages (e.g.,
Allen & Land, 1999; Steinberg, 1990) and when the prevalence
rate for internalizing problems shows an increase (Lee &
Hankin, 2009; Steinberg & Morris, 2001). Overall, the current
findings supported the study hypotheses, emphasized that the
four different profiles of adolescents’ secure attachment rela-
tionships were differentially associated with all of the tested
Two descriptive statistics analyses were conducted before the
cluster analysis. First, these findings yielded a higher preva-
lence of adolescents’ secure attachment with mothers than with
fathers. These results were similar to prior reports on children
of school age (Verschueren & Marcoen, 2005) as well as ado-
lescents (Lieberman et al., 1999; Paterson, Field, & Pryor, 1994;
Youniss & Smollar, 1985). Second, the current finding that
male and female adolescents reported a similar prevalence of
secure attachment with their parents supports the non-signifi-
cant sex differences found recently for children in middle
childhood (Booth-Laforce et al., 2006) and also coincides with
the assumptions underlying attachment theory, suggesting that
attachment security does not vary as a function of children's sex
(Bowlby, 1973, 1982/1969). In contrast, these findings differed
from other studies suggesting that mothers tend to remain emo-
tionally involved with both their sons and daughters during
adolescence, whereas a decrease with age occurs in girls’ per-
ception of closeness and comfort in their relationships with
their fathers (Lieberman et al., 1999; Youniss & Smollar, 1985).
To explore these inconsistent findings more comprehensively,
future studies should investigate the longevity of adolescents’
perceptions of attachment relations with fathers and mothers
Profiles of Adolescents’ Attachment Relations with
Father and Mother
As hypothesized, four distinct profiles of adolescents’ secure
attachment relationships with parents emerged: secure attach-
ment with both parents, with neither parent, with mothers only,
and with fathers only. The largest cluster, comprising 53% of
the sample, comprised adolescents with a secure attachment
classification with both their father and their mother. About
21% of adolescents formed the cluster with an insecure attach-
ment classification with both parents. The remaining two pro-
files exhibited secure attachment with either mothers only (19%)
or fathers only (7%).
Due to the aforementioned paucity of research on the preva-
lence of typically developing adolescents' secure attachment to
one versus both parents, the current sample's distribution into
the four profiles appears to provide important initial informa-
tion. The few existing studies on attachment to both parents
mainly focused on the unique role of secure attachment to each
parent separately (Booth-Laforce et al., 2006; Germeijs & Ver-
schueren, 2009; Lieberman et al., 1999; Margolese, Markiewicz,
& Doyle, 2005; Verschueren & Marcoen, 2005). Thus, the four
specific profiles that emerged here merit further consideration
in future research to help unravel adolescents’ relationships
during this developmental period, when family relations remain
crucial yet show increased parent-adolescent conflicts and
squabbling, which, in turn, may affect feelings of closeness and
the amount of time that adolescents and parents spend together
(Allen, 2008; Steinberg & Morris, 2001).
Moreover, the current results raise an additional important
question: Do the perceived attachment relationships with the
father and the mother become more integrated or more differ-
entiated over the course of adolescence? As suggested by Allen
and Land (1999), during the adolescent period, along with an
augmented ability to differentiate between the qualities of spe-
cific relationships with each parent, adolescents may also de-
velop an integrated strategy of approaching attachment rela-
tionships. Within this context, future research on the integration
and differentiation of adolescents’ perceptions of attachment
with parental figures may do well to include complementary
methods such as interview-based measures.
Profiles’ Links with Adolescents’ Socioemotional
As hypothesized, the present findings indicated that the dif-
ferent profiles of attachment with parents linked significantly
with differences in adolescents’ socioemotional adjustment:
positive/negative affect, peer-network/peer-dyadic loneliness,
and internalizing behavior problems. Overall, the present study
clearly revealed significant group differences between Clusters
B, C, and D concerning all of the adolescents’ socioemotional
measures. However, with regard to Cluster A, the findings were
at odds with our hypotheses, indicating that adolescents who
felt securely attached only with the fathers did not significantly
differ from the other groups, possibly because of the small size
of this group, which consisted of only 15 adolescents.
Affect. As mentioned above, this two-part measure (com-
prising negative and positive affect) is considered important for
understanding individuals’ mental health (Clark & Watson,
1988; Folkman & Moskowitz, 2004). As hypothesized, the
current results indicated that the different profiles held utility in
understanding differences in adolescents’ affect for both sub-
scales. Thus, adolescents who felt securely attached to both
parents seemed less vulnerable to higher negative affect and
lower positive affect, compared to adolescents who only felt
securely attached with their mothers or who felt insecurely
attached with both parents. Interestingly, adolescents who felt
securely attached only with the father did not significantly dif-
fer from adolescents from the other three profiles, regarding
their affective levels.
Other studies have likewise reported on the association be-
tween adolescents’ attachment relationships and affects (e.g.,
Margolese et al., 2005; Wilkinson & Walford, 2001); however,
the current investigation may expand knowledge regarding this
link in two major ways. First, most studies on adolescents’
affect focused on negative affect such as depression and anxiety
(Irons & Gilbert, 2005; Lee & Hankin, 2009; Margolese et al.,
2005); therefore, the current study’s focus on both negative and
positive affect may add a small but growing body of evidence
linking patterns of attachment and emotional experiences in this
developmental period. These results may be particularly im-
portant in light of prior studies that reported an increase of
negative emotions, a reduction of positive emotions, and greater
emotional lability during this developmental phase (Irons &
Gilbert, 2005; Larson, 2000; Lee & Hankin, 2009).
Second, most research on adolescents’ attachment relations
focused on their global representation of attachment patterns
(e.g., Lee & Hankin, 2009; Wilkinson & Walford, 2001),
whereas attachment relations with each specific parental figure
were rarely examined (Margolese et al., 2005). Therefore, the
present results may uniquely pinpoint that adolescents’ inter-
personal relationships with fathers are equally protective as
their relationships with mothers, in understanding adolescents’
negative and positive affect.
Loneliness. The current investigation revealed slightly dif-
ferent results for each of the two types of loneliness examined
simultaneously: peer-network and peer-dyadic loneliness. Ado-
lescents who felt securely attached to both parents reported
lower peer-network loneliness than adolescents who only felt
securely attached with the mother or who felt insecurely at-
tached with both parents. In contrast, adolescents who felt se-
curely attached to both parents only reported lower peer-dyadic
loneliness compared to adolescents who felt insecurely attached
with both parents. In other words, secure attachment with both
parents seemed to play an equally protective role as secure
attachment with only mothers in ameliorating lonely experi-
ences in peer dyads, such as feelings of lacking peer support or
closeness to a peer. Conversely, secure attachment with moth-
ers did not act as a protective factor ameliorating lonely ex-
periences in larger peer networks, such as feelings of being
excluded or rejected by the peer group.
Taken together, these results for loneliness coincide with
prior studies across a wide range of samples that demonstrated
the link between insecure attachment and high loneliness levels
(Al-Yagon, 2007; Al-Yagon & Mikulincer, 2004; Qualter &
Munn, 2002; Weimer, Kerns, & Oldenburg, 2004), although the
constructs of peer-network and peer-dyadic loneliness were less
investigated among adolescents. As argued by attachment the-
ory, individuals’ “internal working models” provide a general
expectation of what relationships are like and guide individuals'
later affects and behaviors in close relationships with signifi-
cant extrafamiliar others (Bowlby, 1973; Waters & Cummings,
2000). This theoretical framework thus sees loneliness as a
form of separation distress that stems from failure to meet basic
attachment needs (Weiss, 1973).
M. AL-YAGON 297
The current findings for loneliness may also uniquely high-
light the possible role of adolescents’ close relationships with
fathers in protecting adolescents from experiencing peer-net-
work loneliness. These results may support previous findings
that suggested that secure attachment relationships with the
mother may best predict a child’s functioning in intimate small
groups or dyadic interactions, whereas secure attachment with
the father may best predict peer acceptance (Verschueren &
Marcoen, 2005). Future research should examine the longevity
of such associations over time and utilize qualitative interview
methods to elaborate on these adolescent’s structured self-re-
Internalizing behavior problems. Consistent with the pre-
sent study hypothesis, significant differences emerged between
profiles for adolescents’ internalizing behavior problems. Thus,
adolescents who did not feel securely attached with either par-
ent evaluated themselves as manifesting significantly more
internalizing maladjustment problems such as preferring to be
alone, refusing to talk, shyness, or fearfulness, compared to
adolescents who felt securely attached with both parents or with
the mother. These outcomes resembled prior ones suggesting
links between youngster’s insecure patterns of attachment and
high levels of internalizing problems (e.g., Greenberg, 1999;
Muris et al., 2003). However, most past research focused on
attachment relations with the mother or global representations
of attachment patterns; hence, the current study may offer some
new knowledge on the possible role of each versus both at-
tachment figures in explaining adolescents’ differences in so-
cioemotional maladjustment problems.
Conclusions, Limitations, and Directions for Future
In sum, the present study addressed two core questions: (a)
Do adolescents hold constructed separate representations of
their attachment relationships with each parent, or one overall
generalized representation of attachment relationships? and (b)
How, if at all, do adolescents’ specific profiles of close rela-
tions (i.e., secure/insecure attachment to one/both parents) as-
sociate with their socioemotional and behavioral problems?
These questions are of particular interest because their preva-
lence rate shows an increase during adolescence that continues
into adulthood (Lee & Hankin, 2009; Steinberg & Morris,
2001). As hypothesized, four different profiles of adolescents’
secure attachment relationships with parents emerged, and three
of these clusters (B, C, and D) were differentially linked with
all of the adolescents’ socioemotional measures. The findings
for Cluster A (adolescents who felt securely attached only with
the father) were at odds with our hypotheses, probably reflect-
ing the small size of this group.
Unsurprisingly, the group of adolescents who felt securely
attached to both parents (Cluster B) was least vulnerable to
experiencing socioemotional difficulties. Interestingly, secure
attachment only to one's mother and not to one's father (Cluster
D) did not seem to act as a protective factor, with the exception
of protecting this group from peer-dyadic loneliness—a type of
loneliness conjectured as related to early sets of social experi-
ences specific to the mother (Verschueren & Marcoen, 2005).
This pattern of findings highlights the need to further scrutinize
the role of close relations with fathers in the adolescent devel-
Overall, these findings may have several implications, espe-
cially when validated by further research, for designing effec-
tive prevention and intervention concerning socioemotional
difficulties in adolescence. Such designs may focus on enhanc-
ing the quality of parent-adolescent attachment relations, in-
cluding strategies for empowering parents to establish a secure
base for their adolescent offspring such as encouraging col-
laborative rather than coercive parenting strategies, under-
standing the role of conflict in adolescence, and dealing with
youngsters’ emerging need for autonomy (Diamond, Siqueland,
& Diamond, 2003; Moretti & Obsuth, 2009). Further studies
attempting to develop such programs should examine their
effectiveness in buffering adolescents’ socioemotional and
behavioral problems. Considering the important role found for
adolescent-father close relations, such interventions may also
do well to focus on enhancing fathers’ level of involvement,
availability, and support, in order to provide more optimal care
and secure base in this developmental period (Lamb & Billings,
1997; Saloviita, Itälinna, & Leinonen, 2003).
Several limitations in the design and variable selections de-
serve mention. First, conceptual matters merit a word of caution
despite the interesting associations found between adolescents’
attachment classifications and socioemotional measures. Inas-
much as parent-adolescent attachment is set within a broader
context, additional aspects of these relationships should be
considered, such as parenting styles and monitoring levels,
various life stressors and changes, etc. Second, the current data
were gathered at one point in time and did not indicate causality.
Therefore, it is possible that high levels of socioemotional dif-
ficulties underlie adolescents’ perceptions regarding parents as
an insecure base rather than vice versa. Third, the current data
focused exclusively on adolescents’ perceptions, in line with
prior studies emphasizing the higher reliability found for chil-
dren's and adolescents’ self-reports compared to others’ reports,
when measuring internalizing characteristics and perceptions of
close relationships (Lynch & Cicchetti, 1997; Ronen, 1997).
However, it may be assumed that inclusion of additional infor-
mation sources such as parental and peer evaluations, direct
observations, and interviews may provide a more complete
picture. Fourth, the present study categorized the adolescents
into four groups according to the categorical cut-off point of 45
distinguishing secure from insecure child-parent attachment
(Kerns et al., 1996). Within each of these groups, adolescents
may have demonstrated a slight degree of variance regarding
their attachment scores. Thus, future studies would do well to
use additional non-categorical procedures to pinpoint possible
Fifth, the current study utilized Kerns et al.’s (1996)
well-known and well-validated Attachment Security Style scale,
as implemented in many studies on children as well as early
adolescents. However, this scale focuses on a two-part classifi-
cation of attachment, differentiating only secure vs. insecure
styles. To further understand the interrelationships between the
current study’s measures, future research may do well to ex-
amine the possible unique contribution of two insecure attach-
ment subclassifications—insecure avoidant style and insecure
anxious style—in explaining adolescents’ socioemotional ad-
justment and maladjustment functioning. Finally, the present
sample showed a high prevalence of intact families. Therefore,
the current outcomes should be interpreted with caution, to
avoid generalizing the findings to divorced or separated fami-
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