Autonomy parents and other adults. During adolescence, the

is a multifaceted consruct and has usually been measured in terms of emotional
and behavioural autonomy. Autonomy refers to an individual’s ability to think,
feel and make decisions and to act on her or his own (Chirkov et al 2003). Crittenden (1990) has
defined autonomy as “capacity for taking responsibility for one’s own
behaviour, making decisions regarding one’s own life and maintaining supportive
relationships. Autonomy is a crucial developmental task of adolescence, mainly
because it is closely linked to individuation and identity formation, which are
indispensible as an adolescent gradually transforms into an adult (Steinberg
& Silverberg 1986, Ryan & Lynch 1989). Zimmer-Gembeck and Collins
(2003) emphasised autonomy as the freedom to make choices, to pursue goals, and
to control one’s own behaviour.


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Emotional autonomy is defined as the process, through which
“adolescents relinquish childish dependencies on their parents and change their
conceptions of their parents” (Steinberg & Silverberg 1986). Emotional
autonomy involves increase in adolescents’ personal sense of his or her
independence, especially in relation to caretakers and parental figures
(William et al 2006). Behavioral
autonomy refers to the degree to which adolescents show responsibility for
their actions and regulate their own behavior and attitudes (Douvon &
Adelson 1966). On the other hand, social-cognitive autonomy refers to
adolescents’ abilities to discuss and reconcile conflicts, express themselves,
and appreciate differing perspectives from their own (Youniss 1980).

Steinberg and Silverberg (1986) further theorized that
individuation required emotional autonomy from parents. The renouncing of emotional
dependence on parents or emotional detachment was considered necessary.

Emotional autonomy during adolescence

Eisenberg (1969) stated that adolescence may be defined as a
critical period of human development manifested at the biological,
psychological and social levels of interaction, but marking the end of
childhood and setting the foundations of maturity. One of the major
developmental tasks of adolescence is to achieve emotional independence from
parents and other adults. During adolescence, the task of development of
autonomy is inevitable. It implies that the adolescents are capable of managing
themselves on their own without the constant support from their parents, making
their own decisions and solving their own problems (Parra & Oliva 2009).
Blos (1979) conceptualized the process of individuation as the construction of
one’s sense of self as competent and autonomous, both in terms of self-determination
and separateness from one’s parents. That is self reliance was believed to
replace dependence on parents. The development of emotional autonomy is not
primarily an intra-physical transformation in which the adolescent comes to see
him or herself as more grown up, but an interpersonal transformation, in which
patterns of interaction between the adolescent and parents shift through a
process of mutual (if not always willing) renegotiation. At the end of this
transformation process are three interrelated outcomes: a changed adolescent,
who now views him- or herself in a different light; a changed parent, who now
views his or her child (and perhaps him-or herself) in a different light; and a
changed parent-child relationship, which is likely to be somewhat more
egalitarian (William et al 2006).

Researchers of adolescent psychology mutually disagree about the
link between emotional autonomy and detachment from parental ties. In one camp,
there are several psychoanalytic theorists, who have proposed that the
development of healthy autonomy is encouraged through the adolescent detachment
from family ties, a process that involves both reductions in emotional
dependency and the relinquishing of early childhood concepts of parents as
omnipotent protectors (Bloom 1980; Hoffman 1984). These writers have argued
that some detachment from parental ties is necessary for the adolescent to
develop a healthy sense of self. However, Ryan and Lynch (1989) challenged the
findings given by Lamborn and Steinberg (1993) and concluded that the more
emotional autonomy teenagers or young adults express, the less connected or
secure they feel within family, the less they experience their parents as
conveying love and understanding and the less they report willing to draw upon
parental resources.

Factors that affect
Emotional Autonomy and Individuation

Emotional autonomy is
a relational construct and therefore it is difficult to assess its significance
and sequelae without making reference to the object and the persons from whom
the adolescent is becoming autonomous. Adaptiveness to emotional autonomy is
affected by various moderating and mediating variables. A moderator variable is
one that affects a relation between two variables. Moderators interact with an
antecedent variable in such a way as to have an impact upon the level of the
consequent variable. A mediator variable, unlike a moderator, falls in the
causal pathway between two variables, such that “the independent variable
causes the mediator which then causes the outcome” (Shadish & Sweeny 1991).

Various personal as
well as contextual attributes serve as moderating and mediating variables in
the development of emotional autonomy. Parents that provide both regulation and
opportunities for psychological autonomy provide a structure in which a growing
child can acquire actual competencies, a sense of personal efficacy for
acquiring new competencies, and a sense of personal autonomy. Parents that
promote healthy connectedness ensure the development of relatedness, as well as
providing an emotional climate in which children will feel comfortable
exploring their world to acquire necessary competencies. In essence, the
outcomes of the process of individuation depend in large measure on the nature
of the parent-adolescent relationship undergoing transformation (McElhaney
& Allen 2001). LoCoco et al
(2000) reported that a high emotional autonomy would be a consequence of an
unsatisfactory family relationship, characterized by low support and confidence
in the bond established with their parents and therefore related to a whole set
of indexes resulting from poor adolescent adjustment and therefore negative
connection between family relationships quality and emotional autonomy.
However, Parra and Oliva (2009) were of the opinion that adolescent boys and
girls need to keep positive relationships with others, especially with their
mothers and fathers while developing themselves as autonomous individuals.
Autonomy is seen as a self-reliance agency that develops optimally in the
context of supportive relationships with parents. The adolescent’s
developmental task is therefore both to exercise his or her self-reliance and
to maintain the relations with parents as a source of support and guidance.
Ryan and Lynch (1989) investigated the relation between self-reliance in school
and dependence on parents on 606 early adolescents. They found that adolescents
who were more willing to rely on parents were also more autonomous in school.

Theory and research has indicated that as children become less
dependent on their parents, cognitively more advanced, and develop a greater
need for collaborative relationships, they increasingly turn to their friends
for emotional support and experience more intimacy in their friendships (Berndt
2004). Peers provide a more realistic model for developing skills and attitudes
and help adolescents form attitudes and values. Peer group also provides a
medium to test their values derived from their parents. Peers offer emotional
security in terms of similarity in thoughts, problems and ideas. Banerjee et al (2011) revealed bidirectional relationships between
social understanding and peer relations during childhood. Parents directly
structure and select their children’s peer contacts, and parents indirectly
influence norms and beliefs about appropriate social behavior and the
relationship models based on attachment experiences. Changes, however, may
occur during adolescence as young people become increasingly dependent on their
friends and less dependent on their parents for emotional support (Crosnoe
& Needham 2004). There is also an increased awareness of the role of
friendship in personal growth and social development as well as a more
realistic outlook towards friendship as Cook et al (2007) found that peer attributes in the school domain affect
individual performance outcomes, while peer attribute in social behaviour
affect individual social behaviour.


of adolescents implies that they can manage themselves on their own without the
constant support from their parents, making their own decisions and solving
their own problems (Parra & Oliva 2009). Therefore, a warm, supportive
adolescent-parent relationship provides an ideal context in which to develop autonomy.
Indeed, a temporary period of disengagement from parental ties, accompanied by
an overzealous orientation towards the peer group, is seen as a normal and
healthy part of ego development during the early adolescent period. More
specifically, friendship patterns characterized by support and sharing of
thoughts, feelings, and behavior represent a positive social context where
adolescents can strengthen their self-confidence, expectations for the future,
and social competence (Rabaglietti et al
2007). Friendship seems to be the relational experience that, through support
and social comparison, provides adolescents with an opportunity to learn new
social definitions, to build and/or strengthen their social capabilities, and
to experiment with their own identity and different social roles and therefore
is a significant variable that mediates emotional autonomy of an adolescent