Reactive Attachment Disorder in Defiant Teens

As kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) become adolescents, the outward issues change, but the root causes are the same: inability to form intimate reciprocal relationships or to empathize, inability to trust, and lack of conscience. These traits may manifest in varying degrees and forms.

Adolescence is a time when even healthy teens are seeking approval of others. The teenager with Reactive Attachment Disorder has a great gaping hole, an intense craving for love and approval, but doesn't believe it can be genuine when it is given. 

Relationships are more like contracts: I give you this if you give me that (e.g., a young female will have sex in order to have the status of having a boyfriend, or a young male will be friendly in order to have privileges of sharing another's games).

The RAD child may steal from her friends or mom or dad in order to get what she wants. The child will lie in order to keep receiving the benefits of a relationship. These characteristics are common in many adolescents, but with Reactive Attachment Disorder, the teenager goes to an extreme. The incidences of crime, drug abuse and early pregnancy are almost universal.

==> Parenting Defiant Teens with RAD

Relationships don't last long. When the time comes to become more intimate, older RAD teens and young adults find it easier to start over with someone else – or if a better option shows itself, they may switch. Rules and restraints often become intolerable as RAD teens and young adults develop individuality. Some teens run away or get arrested. Suicide and self-harm (e.g., cutting) are very common.

Grown-ups with RAD have difficulty maintaining relationships or keeping a job. By their mid-twenties, many have learned enough about social rules to imitate healthy interactions. They know what others should feel in certain circumstances, so they may try to feel that way (or claim to feel it.) 

They know that immoral actions usually bring objectionable outcomes. However, if they think that they can get away with it and still get what they want, they will still do whatever they want. By this time, their talent for manipulative behavior is well refined.

There is basically only one window of opportunity for changing the destructive behavior of an individual with Reactive Attachment Disorder: during adolescence. This is a time when the RAD child may open up and learn to have real relationships, and have the intense craving satisfied.

Parenting a RAD adolescent is very stressful due to the constant manipulation and lying. Just when the parent thinks she is getting through, the teenager will do something to betray her. The challenge is figuring out how to show love and empathy without feeding the child’s desire to engage in manipulative behavior. But nurturing the parent-child relationship over the years often gets the message across that the RAD teen can be loved regardless of how she behaves.

==> Parenting Defiant Teens with RAD

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