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More PsychNotes: Parenting

Secure Attachment to Parents Improves College Adjustment
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

A teenager's ability to adjust to college may begin in early childhood and is moderately influenced by the relationship with the parent. An analysis of over 150 research studies shows that college students who have a secure attachment style with parents have a greater level of adjustment to being away at college (Mattanah, et al., 2011).

Secure attachment refers to the ability to trust that caregivers are available to them and they can depend upon them when needed. Keep in mind, however, that dependency of children is often confused with attachment. Dependency refers to an excessive need for parental involvement and is considered insecure attachment due to the unhealthy nature of the relationship.

college student
Developmental theory indicates two points in life where children work on the issue of separation for the parents. The first point is around age two and the other is the late teens when children are leaving home for college. The success of separation during the college years is often dependent upon what children have learned previously in the earlier stage of development.

At age two children are beginning to explore the world. However, their success is based upon secure attachment to the parent. If the child has learned that the parent is emotionally and physically available, they use the parent as a home base. For example, if a child is placed in a room full of toys with the parent sitting in a corner of that room, the child with a secure attachment will explore the room but will keep an eye on the parent and occasionally return to the parent. A child with insecure attachment may instead fearfully cling to the parent.

Some of the causes of insecure attachment include physical or emotional neglect, inconsistency of primary caregivers (numerous babysitters), separation from primary caregiver, or traumatic experiences.

The college student with a secure attachment is able be independent while knowing the parent is available, if needed. Such a college student is less likely to be involved in destructive activities while away, is more likely to be engaged socially, and is able to maintain good study habits and grades.

Mattanah, J.F., Lopez, F.G., Govern, J.M. (2011). The Contributions of Parental Attachment Bonds to College Student Development and Adjustment: A Meta-Analytic Review. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 58, 565–596. DOI: 10.1037/a0024635

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