What is attachment and peer orientation?

From John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth to Harry Harlow, researchers have discovered the importance of having a strong primary attachment figure. Human beings simply do not grow and develop optimally without an attuned and responsive caregiver. We need touch and connection to thrive. Our parents are often our primary attachment figure(s) and they are our introduction to the connection between lifelights. If we are fortunate, we will enjoy strong secondary attachment figures in our lives, and our parents will maintain this special bond that connects us both to them and to Source.

Child development specialist Dr. Gordon Neufeld describes a concept he calls peer orientation. It is something common and normalized in North American society and something I couldn’t put my finger on until I read his description. He explains that often parents take a backseat to peers and peer culture. Many children are immersed in groups of other children their own age for many hours, at young ages, and at ratios that make it impossible for an adult to fully nurture a strong attachment relationship. The result is an attachment void that children fill by turning to each other. Humans will seek to fill the void because attachment is a preeminent drive. The problem is that peers are not developmentally capable of taking on the attachment role. I describe it as parents and other adults being the lighthouses. Children and their peers are in the water and must use the lighthouses to guide them. Peers can support each other, connect to each other, and have lots of fun together in the water, but they must never lose sight of the lighthouse, especially when the waters are rough.

Our job as parents is to introduce our children to the connection between lifelights and Source and to nurture our special lifelight connection to our children throughout their lives. Arguably one of the most important periods of development after infancy to ensure that attachment is strong is adolescence when important changes in the brain occur. In an ideal scenario, children would be able to form strong connections with others but recognize the importance of not orienting themselves to peers and peer culture. This is the ability to differentiate between surface activity and Source connection. As they grow, they will be able to recognize the difference between mind-made stories that pull them to seek attachment connection from peers by doing something on the surface and true attachment which does not require them to do anything. True attachment is a connection at the level of being. The ability to differentiate between surface and Source and connect to others is the cornerstone of well-being and the basis of nurturing psychological resilience.