Young Adolescents' Early Relationship Satisfaction and Motivations for Dating: Links to Attachment to Parents


BACKGROUND: Attachment theory claims that the quality of early attachment relationships influences experiences in later relationships. Indeed, research indicates that positive relationships with parents relate to positive romantic relationship outcomes in mid-adolescence (Roisman et al., 2005), late adolescence (Auslander et al., 2009), and adulthood (Dinero et al., 2008). Further, early insecurity with parents predicts later insecurity with romantic partners (Furman & Collibee, 2018). However, no research has examined how insecurity with parents relates to young adolescents’ romantic relationship satisfaction or to motivations for entering relationships. Early negative dating experiences could contribute to a cascade leading to negative experiences in later relationships, making it essential to examine origins of adolescents’ early dating experiences. STUDY AIMS: We aimed to examine the role of young adolescents’ attachment insecurity with parents in predicting adolescents’ relationship satisfaction and motivations for dating by testing two hypotheses: 1) Attachment avoidance (discomfort with closeness) with mothers and fathers will relate to adolescents’ lower satisfaction in romantic relationships; 2) Attachment avoidance with mothers and fathers will relate to adolescents being motivated to date for external reasons (e.g., “because my friends told me I should date them”) as opposed to internal reasons (e.g., “because I liked spending time with them”). We also explored the role of attachment anxiety (fear of abandonment); however, we had no hypotheses due to the low prevalence of anxiety in previous research with adolescents (Hünefeldt et al., 2013) and in the present sample. METHOD: 8th graders (N = 109, Mage = 13.48) rated their attachment avoidance and anxiety with their mothers and fathers (Relationship Structures Questionnaire; ECR-RS; Fraley et al., 2011) on a 7-pt scale. Adolescents also rated how happy they were in their “most serious relationship” on a 5-pt scale and rated different motivations for entering this relationship on a 7-pt scale (Early Adolescent Romantic Relationships Questionnaire; EARQ; Fitter, 2020). RESULTS: Ordinal logistic and multiple linear regression analyses were conducted in R (R Core Team, 2013). Avoidance with mothers and with fathers (marginally) related to lower odds of adolescents being happy in their relationships (mothers, OR = 0.75, 95% CI [0.57, 0.98], p = .03, fathers, OR = 0.81, 95% CI [0.63, 1.03], p = .09). Avoidance with mothers and with fathers (marginally) related to greater endorsement of deciding to date someone because “my friends told me I should date them” (mothers, ß = 0.25, 95% CI [0.05, 0.44], p = 0.01, fathers, ß = 0.19, 95% CI [-0.01, .040], p = 0.06) and exploratory analyses demonstrated a similar pattern for attachment anxiety (mothers, ß = 0.17, 95% CI [-0.03, 0.37], p = 0.096, fathers, ß = 0.26, 95% CI [0.06, 0.46], p =0.01). DISCUSSION: Results indicate that insecurity with parents relates to young adolescents’ lower romantic relationship satisfaction and greater endorsement of peer-pressure motivating their dating choices. Discussion focuses on possible cascading effects of negative parent-adolescent relationships and the role of dating motivations and poor partner selection in this cascade.