Maternal and paternal attachment in high-risk adolescents: Unique and interactive associations with anxiety and depressive symptoms
Anxiety and depressive symptoms are common, comorbid, and consequential for adolescents. Attachment theory suggests that styles of relationships with parents, developed from patterns of interactions over time, contribute to risk for these internalizing symptoms. This may be especially relevant for high-risk, clinically severe adolescents. However, most research focuses primarily on attachment relationships to mothers. Some theoretical perspectives also suggest that attachment to other caregivers (such as fathers) may not only be uniquely important for understanding internalizing symptoms but may also interact with maternal attachment. Therefore, it is important to examine these attachment relationships in tandem. The present study examines associations between attachment and internalizing symptoms in a sample of 1,141 youth (12–20 years old; 54.0% female, 96.5% White) from a multisite residential treatment facility. Youth reported on attachment anxiety and avoidance with both parents, as well as anxiety and depressive symptoms. Response surface analyses were used to examine curvilinear, interactive, and fit effects using a model comparison approach. Overall, for patterns of anxious attachment, the best-fitting models reflected simple additive and linear effects. For avoidant attachment, best-fitting models included interactions and fit patterns, suggesting the meaning of maternal attachment was dependent on paternal and vice versa. After accounting for covariates, however, maternal attachment was the sole predictor in most models except attachment avoidance predicting depressive symptoms. These results have implications for attachment theory and research, and further work untangling these complex effects may inform clinical practice for high-risk adolescents.