Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Using Focus Group in the Development of UNIPA Emotional Autonomy Inventory

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Using Focus Group in the Development of UNIPA Emotional Autonomy Inventory

Article excerpt

Adolescents' Emotional Autonomy from Parents

A relevant tenet in developmental psychology is that adolescents are expected to achieve an autonomous functioning, independent from parents, to become reliant on their internal resources and responsible for their actions and decisions. Within this framework, emotional autonomy reflects the affective side of the largest process by which a young person acquires a more mature identity. It emerges when adolescents are capable to abandon dependence on parents and to individuate from them. Moreover, emotional autonomy implies a shift towards a less idealized conception of parental figures, the development of a more complex consideration of them as people, and the establishment of affective bonds more symmetrical than those characterizing the parental relationship in childhood (Beyers, Gossens, Vansant, & Moors, 2003; Parra, Oliva, & Sànchez-Queija, 2015; Steinberg & Silverberg, 1986; Zimmer-Gembeck & Collins, 2003).

The construct of emotional autonomy has gained interest among researchers because of its importance as a key component of adolescent development, and two main theoretical orientations have informed its study. Some authors with a psychoanalytic background have suggested that a positive process of emotional autonomy occurs when adolescents are able to move away from familial influences and to distance themselves from parents, including the extreme form of disengagement, achieving an emotional separation from them (Blos, 1979; Freud, 1958). Consistently with this perspective, research has shown that an increased independent behaviour and the relinquishing of dependence on parents are positively related to indices of well-being during adolescence, such as better school grades and performances (Chen & Dornbusch, 1998), better adjustment to university environments (Beyers & Goossens, 2003) and higher self-esteem (Steinberg & Silverberg, 1986).

Some other authors have questioned the adaptive meaning of separating from parents (Beyers & Goossens, 1999; Garber & Little, 2001). According to their point of view, a healthy autonomous development can only occur if accompanied by a warm and intimate relationship with nurturing figures, providing love, support and empathic responsiveness to their children while encouraging and promoting an appropriate sense of autonomy, independence and selfregulation (Goossens & Waeben, 1996; Goossens & Van der Heijden, 1998; Grotevant & Cooper, 1986; Hill & Holmbeck, 1986; Ingoglia, Lo Coco, Liga, & Lo Cricchio, 2011; Lo Cricchio, Liga, Ingoglia, & Lo Coco, 2012; Youniss & Smollar, 1985). Research carried out from this perspective have found that highly emotionally autonomous adolescents who also perceive their parents as being supportive are more likely to show positive patterns of adjustment and competence than those with higher levels of autonomy but low levels of connectedness to parents (Fuhrman & Holmbeck, 1995 Ingoglia, Lo Coco, Pace, Zappulla, Liga, & Inguglia, 2004; Lamborn & Steinberg, 1993). However, even in this perspective, results are puzzling and there are studies that have found a different pattern of outcomes identifying teenagers who score high on measures of psychosocial adjustment even if they show low levels of attachment to parents and high levels of emotional autonomy (McClanahan & Holmbeck, 1992).

Much of the above mentioned controversial findings seem to originate from measurement issues (Beyers, et al., 2003; Parra, Oliva, & Sanchez-Queija, 2015). Firstly, the Emotional Autonomy Scale (EAS; Steinberg & Silverberg, 1986) has been one of the most widely used measure of this construct. However, it has been argued (Beyers et al., 2003; Ingoglia, Lo Coco, Liga, & Lo Cricchio, 2011; Ryan & Lynch, 1989; Schmitz & Baer, 2001; Turner, Irwin, Tschann, & Millstein, 1993) that this instrument seems to measure a detachment from parents, rather than a genuine autonomy. …

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