Causes Of Reactive Attachment Disorder In Teens: How To Deal With It?

Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is a rare but serious condition that affects a child’s ability to form meaningful attachments with their primary caregivers. While RAD is usually diagnosed in infancy or early childhood, symptoms can persist into the teen years. Teens with RAD often display emotional withdrawal, poor social skills, and other behavioral issues that can significantly impact their development. 

In this article, we will examine reactive attachment disorder in teenagers – understanding the causes, signs, and symptoms, and exploring effective strategies for managing RAD in teens. Proper treatment and intervention during the adolescent years can help set teens with RAD on a path to healthier relationships and improved quality of life.

Understanding Reactive Attachment Disorder in Teens

Reactive attachment disorder develops when a child fails to receive adequate nurturing and responsive care from a primary caregiver before age 5. Neglect, frequent changes in caregivers, or abuse can interfere with a child’s ability to form a secure attachment with their caretaker. 

Reactive Attachment Disorder In Teens

While many children “outgrow” RAD symptoms, some continue to experience difficulties into adolescence and beyond. Teens with RAD often have a distrust of others along with an inability to properly interpret social cues. They may act out with anger and aggression or become withdrawn. Other common symptoms in teens include:

– Avoiding physical contact or resisting affection

– Indiscriminately seeking attention and affection from strangers

– Difficulty building friendships and relationships 

– Attachment to physical belongings rather than people

– Lying, stealing, or hoarding

– Poor impulse control

– Risky sexual behaviors

Substance abuse

Teens with RAD struggle to regulate their emotions and behaviors. They have learned adaptive patterns to protect themselves in infancy that are now maladaptive in adolescence. These teens often experience academic problems, conflicts with parents, and legal troubles. Getting an accurate diagnosis is key to accessing effective treatment.

Also Check: OCD In Teens: Symptoms, Signs, And How To Treat It

Causes Of Reactive Attachment Disorder In Teens  

There are several potential causes of RAD in teens:

  • Neglect: Persistent disregard for a child’s basic physical and emotional needs can interfere with the normal development of secure attachments. Teens who experienced early childhood neglect are at risk.
  • Frequent changes in caregivers: Multiple changes in primary caregivers, such as in foster care situations, prevents the child from forming stable attachments to responsible adults. 
  • Abuse: Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse from attachment figures leads to confusion and mistrust in teens. They withdraw emotionally for self-protection.
  • Domestic violence: Witnessing violence or aggression between parents can make children feel the world is unsafe and relationships are dangerous.  
  • Institutionalization: Children raised in orphanages or other impersonal institutions into late childhood are more likely to display attachment issues in their teen years.
  • Genetics: Some studies indicate that RAD may have genetic roots, putting children of parents with disorders like schizophrenia or alcoholism at increased risk.

No one sign is to blame for RAD in teens. Often it is a combination of environmental and biological factors that interfere with the normal development of trust and attachments.

How To Deal With Reactive Attachment Disorder In Teens?

Deal With Reactive Attachment Disorder In Teens

While living with and caring for a teenager with RAD can be challenging, the teen years provide opportunities to offer support, see improvement, and work toward a positive outcome. Here are some tips for dealing with teens with reactive attachment disorder:

  • Seek professional treatment: A therapist who specializes in attachment issues can work with both parent and teen to establish trust. Therapy provides tools for managing RAD symptoms.
  • Learn about trauma-informed parenting: Parenting a teen with RAD requires empathy, consistency, and understanding. Trauma-informed parenting techniques help regulate a teen whose emotions may flare up suddenly.
  • Work on relationship skills: Teens with RAD benefit from direct instruction on building healthy friendships and relationships. Social skills training in individual or group therapy can help.
  • Find opportunities to bond: Caregivers should seek quality time to connect with the teen through shared interests and trust-building activities. Physical contact may be resisted at first but can help over time.
  • Set clear boundaries: Rules and structure create a sense of safety for teens with RAD. However, consequences for violations should be logical rather than punitive or abandoning.
  • Get support: Joining a support group, counseling, or parenting classes reduces feelings of isolation and improves skills for parenting a child with challenging behaviors.
  • Avoid power struggles: Arguments or physical aggression should not be reinforced by overreacting. Stay calm and talk through issues when emotions are stable.

Overall, dealing with a teen with reactive attachment disorder requires patience, education, and professional support. While RAD is a serious condition, the teen years present opportunities for growth, learning, and healing old wounds through therapeutic intervention.

Read More: Self-Harm In Adolescence: Everything You Need To Know!


Reactive attachment disorder is an uncommon but complicated condition affecting a child’s ability to form healthy attachments with caregivers. While often diagnosed in early childhood, RAD can persist into the adolescent years causing significant issues.

Teens with reactive attachment disorder struggle to relate to others and regulate their emotions and behaviors. However, with professional treatment and informed parenting techniques focused on trust, bonding, and relationship skills, teens with RAD can overcome early childhood trauma. Therapeutic interventions provide hope that teens can develop empathy, resilience, and the ability to have meaningful relationships well into adulthood.


Q: What are the first signs of reactive attachment disorder in teens?

A: Some early signs of RAD in teens include avoiding eye contact, resisting affection, indifference toward caregivers, poor impulse control, stealing or lying, academic struggles, and inability to make friends.

Q: Can reactive attachment disorder be cured? 

A: While RAD cannot be cured, the symptoms can be managed successfully, especially when caught early. Ongoing therapy and supportive home life provide teens with the tools to form meaningful attachments and relate better to others long-term.

Q: Why do teens with reactive attachment disorder lie?

A: Lying tends to be a self-protective trait in teens with RAD. They often lie to cover up wrongdoings, secure attention, or escape consequences. Building trust and consistency at home can help reduce lying behaviors.

Q: How can you discipline a teen with reactive attachment disorder?

A: Positive reinforcement and setting clear boundaries work best. Harsh physical or verbal punishment can make behaviors worse. Logical consequences delivered with empathy are more effective than punitive methods.

Q: Is reactive attachment disorder a lifelong condition?

A: Many children who receive treatment before age 5 overcome symptoms of RAD by adolescence when raised in a stable home. However, without early intervention, RAD can persist throughout life and into adulthood. Ongoing therapy helps teens and adults manage residual symptoms.

About the Author

Nicole Carter is a dedicated and passionate nutritionist, committed to helping individuals achieve their health and wellness goals through the power of proper nutrition. With a Bachelor's degree in Nutritional Science and years of practical experience.

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