Role of Family in Adolescent Problem Behaviors

Another factor, emotional autonomy, defined as the development of mature, balanced, and realistic perceptions of parents as well as acceptin

As a New York psychologist, I am familiar with Lamborn and Steinberg’s (1993) study of self-report questionnaires from approximately 10,000 adolescents ages 14-18 assessing levels of emotional autonomy, perceived parent support, and measures of psychosocial development, internal distress, behavioral problems, and academic competence.  Adolescents high on measures of autonomy and support were classified as individuated, those low on both measures classified as ambivalent, those high on autonomy but low on support classified as detached, and those low on autonomy but high on support classified as connected.

NYC therapists should know that findings showed that emotional autonomy and relationship support interact to affect these variables of adolescent functioning.  Individuated adolescents were the highest in ratings of psychosocial development and academic competence, illustrating that both autonomy and support are important for positive development.  However, these same adolescents were also higher in behavior problems and internal distress than connected adolescents.  This may be a function of the process of becoming more emotionally autonomous, as this process can be stressful, resulting in more negative feelings such as anxiety or depression. 

In addition, individuated adolescents were higher in less serious problem behaviors of school deviance, drug and alcohol use, and peer conformity, but not in serious antisocial behaviors.  This may be a function of autonomous adolescents having more interaction with peers and engaging in more limit-testing with parents during this period.  It is difficult for NYC therapists to predict whether these negative effects are long-term or if the effects are artifacts of the process will diminish with age. 

When considering the interaction between emotional autonomy and parental support, it is important for a New York psychologist to consider that even the scales used are somewhat confounded (Lamborn and Steinberg, 1993).  An NYC therapist should know that measures of autonomy, such as doing things differently from one’s parents, have different meanings depending on the level of support within the relationship.  In addition, NYC therapists should be aware that all measures within this study relied on adolescent perceptions of their behaviors and relationships with parents.  Parental perceptions and independent observations may yield different ratings of autonomy and parental support for these same adolescents. 

Lastly, New York psychologists should consider that gender differences in the level of emotional autonomy and resulting psychosocial development found in Lamborn and Steinberg’s study (1993) may point to some differences in cultural norms between the genders.  More autonomy was found in females, but female autonomy was also associated with more negative outcomes than male autonomy.  This may be resulting from cultural influences or biases expecting females to remain dependent on parents longer, and these influences may be stronger for certain ethnic backgrounds.  This is an area that could be further explored by New York psychologists to better understand the relationship between emotional autonomy, parental support, and cultural expectations for autonomy with female adolescents. 

Written by Dr. Cortney Weissglass as part of Clinical Research Project submitted to the Faculty of the American School of Professional Psychology of Argosy University, Washington, DC Campus, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology. Dissertation chair: Ann Womack, PhD and Member: Jennifer McEwan, PhD. August, 2010.

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Resource Box: As a licensed New York psychologist, Dr. Weissglass will be offering psychological services to clients of all backgrounds, including children and adolescents.  In September of 2012, Dr. Weissglass will be a licensed NYC therapist  and will be providing therapy and testing services to clients experiencing a wide range of issues.