Reactive Attachment Disorder: It’s More Than Being a “Typical Teenager”

reactive Attachment Disorder
If you’ve ever taken an introductory psychology course in high school or college, or have read a bit on self-help and relationships, then you’ve probably heard of attachment styles.

Attachment styles are different ways of relating to others that have been fostered in childhood. For instance, if your parents were sometimes unavailable and neglectful, then it’s easy as an adult to have a dismissive-avoidant or anxious-preoccupied attachment style. In both the attachment styles, as adults, individuals struggle with experiencing healthy and fulfilling relationships or what is known as secure attachment.

This article will focus on an attachment style that has been classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a disorder: Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). This article will focus on how it affects troubled teens and specifically, troubled boys and young men.

What Exactly is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)?

RAD is when a child or teen has experienced traumatic events, especially emotional neglect. Because young children and teenagers' brains are developing, they are more likely to have issues stem from having experienced trauma. This includes things like RAD, a disorder in which a troubled teen is unable to experience secure attachment in their relationships.

With RAD, a teenager’s brain has been stunted in childhood, so some of their behavior and emotional reactions are more similar to a child’s than a teen’s or a young adult’s. That’s because, as was mentioned, traumatic events make it difficult for the brain to fully develop in a healthy way.

3 Signs of A Troubled Boy or Teenager

Some symptoms of RAD may appear to be “normal” teenage behavior, but it’s actually a sign of a troubled and hurting teen. Here are signs of RAD that you should keep an eye out for.

#1: Teens with RAD seek greater control in relationships

When a teen has experienced traumatic events in their childhood, they may have a stronger desire for control than you see in regular teens. This desire comes from having lost a sense of control over their lives and wanting to regain control again.
It also stems from fear of and intolerance to uncertainty, since these teens might see uncertainty as a threat rather than an opportunity to explore and discover things. So as you can tell, this is more than a teen who’s just afraid of changes.

#2: Teens with RAD struggle with secure attachment

Teens with RAD constantly need things to go their way in order for a relationship to work. For example, if things or situations aren’t to their liking, then they may choose to withdraw or isolate themselves from others. For a teen with this disorder, it’s a huge task to fully trust in others and to know that they will be there for them.

#3: Teens with RAD will look to their peers for support

Rather than spending time with their families and seeking comfort from them, a teen with RAD will spend a lot of time trying to seek support from their peers. Hence, a sign of RAD in your teen may be having a large group of friends that your teen feels like they need to constantly be with.

You might be thinking, “but isn’t that what all teens do?” The answer is no. Teens with this disorder have a hard time investing in their families and in close blood relationships because of what has happened to them. Hence, security is found in their peers and is not a sign of healthy coping skills.

Help Your Troubled Teenager Move Forward

You can help your troubled boy or teenager move forward in life by talking to them about the trauma that they’ve experienced. Recognizing that your teen’s brain is in fight-or-flight mode can help you see that your teen is working through some difficult things that have happened to them.

You can also help your teen by getting them the professional help that they need. Remember, because trauma is a sensitive topic, it’s best dealt with by a mental health practitioner and in a safe setting like a therapeutic boarding school.

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