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The Vicissitudes of Autonomy in Early Adolescence Author(s): Laurence Steinberg and Susan B.

Silverberg Reviewed work(s): Source: Child Development, Vol. 57, No. 4 (Aug., 1986), pp. 841-851 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development Stable URL: . Accessed: 17/07/2012 01:02
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The Vicissitudes of Autonomy in Early Adolescence

Laurence Steinberg and Susan B. Silverberg
Universityof Wisconsin-Madison and SILVERBERG,SUSAN The Vicissitudes of Autonomy in Early AdolesB. STEINBERG, LAURENCE, cence. CHILD DEVELOPMENT, 57, 841-851. A sample of 865 10-16-year-oldsfrom a range of 1986, socioeconomic backgroundscompleted a questionnairebatteryconcerning3 aspects of autonomy: emotional autonomy in relationshipswith parents,resistance to peer pressure,and the subjective sense of self-reliance. The observed patternsof relations among the measures cast doubt on the notion thatautonomyis a unidimensionaltraitmanifestedsimilarlyacrossa varietyof situations.For most boys and girls, the transitionfromchildhood into adolescence is markedmore by a tradingof and dependency on parents for dependency on peers, ratherthan straightforward unidimensional growth in autonomy. Moreover, contraryto long-standingnotions about the greater salience of autonomy to adolescent males than to females, girls score higher than boys on all 3 measures of autonomyat all age levels. Although the development of autonomy has been a long-standing and central concern to both empiricists and theoreticians interested in psychosocial development during the early adolescent years, empirical investigations of autonomy-related phenomena during the second decade of life have been largely atheoretical and conceptually cloudy in nature (Hill & Holmbeck, 1986; Hill & Steinberg, 1976). Part of the problem stems from multiple uses of the term "autonomy" in the literature on adolescent psychosocial development. At one time or another, adolescent "autonomy" has been operationalized in terms of a growing sense of detachment from parents (e.g., Freud, 1958); the outcome of individuation (e.g., Blos, 1979); resistance to peer or parental pressure (e.g., Berndt, 1979; Brittain, 1963; Devereux, 1970); a subjective sense of independence, especially with regard to parental control and family decision making (e.g., Douvan & Adelson, 1966; Elder, 1963; Kandel & Lesser, 1972); selfreported confidence in decision making and self-governance (e.g., Greenberger, 1984); and the use of principled, or independent, reasoning in moral, political, and social problem solving (e.g., Adelson, 1972; Kohlberg & Gilligan, 1972; Lewis, 1981).

The length and diversity of the operationalizations listed above suggest that autonomy is probably more appropriately conceptualized as a chapter heading, under which a variety of putatively related phenomena might be grouped, than as a unidimensional aspect of adolescent psychosocial development (see also Hill & Steinberg, 1976). We use the phrase "putatively related" because, although individual studies of various autonomy-relevant phenomena have indicated that early adolescence is likely to be an important time for development in this psychosocial domain, investigators have not examined whether, or how, these phenomena are linked. We do not know whether age differences and age changes in different aspects of autonomy follow similar developmental patterns. Nor do we know, for instance, whether individuals who are individuated from their parents are more resistant than their less individuated age-mates to peer pressure or whether resistance to peer pressure is positively correlated with subjective feelings of self-reliance. It is difficult to derive clear hypotheses concerning interrelations among various aspects of autonomy during adolescence be-

The work described herein has been conducted during the first author's tenure as a faculty scholar under the William T. Grant Foundation's Program in the Mental Health of Children and is supported as well by a grant to the first author from the Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin. We are grateful to the administrators, teachers, and students of the Madison Unified School District and to our able staff of data collectors. We also thank Diana Baumrind and three anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Portions of this paper were presented at the biennial meetings of the Society for Research in Child Development, Toronto, April 25-28, 1985, and at the meetings of the American Psychological Association, Los Angeles, August 24-27, 1985. Address correspondence to the first author, Child and Family Studies, 1430 Linden Drive, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706. [Child Development, 1986, 57, 841-851. ? 1986 by the Society for Researchin Child Development,Inc. All rightsreserved.0009-3920/86/5704-0003$01.00]


Child Development
a psychological attribute, one might argue that autonomy in the home may not have anything to do with autonomy in the peer group. Berndt (1979), for example, whose studies of autonomy focus on susceptibility to social influence, argues that the social worlds of the family and peer group are more or less isolated from one another during early adolescence and that conformity to one source of influence is largely unrelated to conformity to the other. This perspective can be characterized as the "two social worlds" view. Accordingly, one would hypothesize that measures of autonomy that concern family relationships will be uncorrelated with measures of autonomy that concern peer relationships. Feelings of self-reliance may be correlated with autonomy vis-a-vis parents or with autonomy vis-avis peers, depending on the importance that the individual adolescent places on the peer group or the family as a context for selfevaluation. Finally, there is a theoretical vantage point that, although not explicitly psychoanalytic in origin, leads to the same prediction, namely, that early adolescent autonomy in relation to parents is negatively related to autonomy in relation to peers and to feelings of self-reliance. This view, which might be best characterized as an "authoritative control" perspective, suggests that early adolescents, especially in contemporary America, are likely to be susceptible to peer influence in the absence of parental controls against it (Baumrind, 1978; Bronfenbrenner, 1967; Dornbusch et al., 1985; Patterson & Southamer-Loeber, 1984). Although the hypotheses concerning interrelations among different aspects of autonomy that are generated from this perspective are similar to those from psychoanalytic perspectives, the mechanisms assumed to underlie the interrelations are quite different. Psychoanalytic theorists view dependence on peers as the inevitable "flip side" of autonomy from parents. Writers who advocate authoritative control, in contrast, view dependence on peers not as inevitable but as an outcome of faulty socialization, the result of excessively permissive or excessively strict parenting. These writers argue that too much autonomy from parents too early in adolescence may both reflect and further exacerbate problems in the development of internalized controls. As a consequence, early autonomy from parents may undermine feelings of self-reliance and place the adolescent in a position of dangerous susceptibility to peer pressure, especially in the domain of antisocial activity. In a recent analysis, for example, Dornbusch et al. (1985) report that the

cause different theories have focused on quite different autonomy-related phenomena. Nevertheless, it seems reasonable to suggest that the psychoanalytic view of adolescent autonomy (both orthodox and neoanalytic views) leads to the prediction that, at least in early adolescence, autonomy from parents and autonomy from peers should be negatively correlated. This inverse relation stems from the notion that a concomitant of the young person's developing autonomy from his or her parents is, in its early stages, a rush toward dependency on peers. Although the adolescent may have become detached (the orthodox view) or individuated (the contemporary view) from his or her parents, this transformation occurs before the young person has developed the internal wherewithal to be able to function autonomously. Indeed, a temporary period of disengagement from parental ties, accompanied by an overzealous orientation toward the peer group, is seen as a normal and healthy part of ego development during the early adolescent period. In the psychoanalytic framework, genuine autonomous functioning does not develop until late adolescence and coincides with the development of a coherent sense of identity (Blos, 1962). It is more difficult to characterize social learning and social-cognitive perspectives on autonomy in adolescence. Much depends on whether autonomy is conceived as a psychological attribute of the young person or a characteristic of the adolescent's relations with others (see also Grotevant & Cooper, in press). To the extent that one views autonomy as a psychological attribute, one would hypothesize compatibility between autonomy vis-a-vis parents and autonomy vis-a-vis peers, since the development or socialization that takes place as a result of experiences in one setting ought to generalize to the others (e.g., Loevinger, 1976). From this point of view-the cross-situational disposition view -one should be able to speak about "autonomous" youngsters without being more specific about whom they are autonomous in relation to. For instance, one might argue that adolescents who develop the capacity to function autonomously in relation to their parents have developed a generalizable "capacity" or ability that will manifest itself in peer relations as well as in family relations. These adolescents, as well, would be expected to describe themselves as self-reliant. Alternatively, if one conceives of autonomy as an aspect of a relationship, rather than

degree of autonomy granted to adolescents by their parents is significantly and positively related to the adolescents' involvement in deviant activity. While their study did not assess emotional autonomy per se, one could argue that early or excessive emotional freedom from parental influence could have the same adverse impact as early or excessive behavioral freedom. The present investigation examines the development of, and interrelations among, several types of autonomy during the transition from childhood into adolescence. Previous studies have indicated that early adolescence is an important time for transformations in family and peer relations (Hartup, 1983; Youniss & Smollar, 1985), in susceptibility to social influence (Berndt, 1979), and in selfconceptions (Harter, 1983)-all of which have important implications for the development of autonomy. The focus of our investigation is on three aspects of autonomy that have long and sturdy roots in the literature on adolescent psychosocial development and that heretofore have not been investigated simultaneously: emotional autonomy in relationships with parents, resistance to peer pressure, and the subjective sense of self-reliance. We turn now to a brief discussion of each of these dimensions of autonomy. The development of emotional autonomy during early adolescence is most often discussed within a psychoanalytic or neoanalytic framework. Most recently, Blos (1979) has suggested that the development of emotional autonomy can be best understood in terms of the process of "individuation"; rather than detach from his or her parents, the adolescent relinquishes childish dependencies on, and conceptualizations of, them. Blos's ideas have not, to our knowledge, been operationalized in studies of nonclinical populations of young adolescents; consequently, we do not know whether the development of emotional autonomy in early adolescence follows a course like this. (However, see White, Speisman, & Costos, 1983, for a discussion of transformations in family relations during late adolescence.) The study of susceptibility to peer pressure has a far more extensive history in the exempirical literature on adolescence-so tensive, in fact, that a review of these studies is beyond the scope of this article (see Hill & Holmbeck, 1986, for a review). In general, susceptibility to peer influence is higher during early and middle adolescence than during preadolescence or during later adolescence.

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This curvilinear pattern is especially apparent when the behavior in question is antisocial (e.g., cheating, stealing, or trespassing; see Berndt, 1979). The operationalization of autonomy in terms of subjective feelings of self-reliance or self-governance is common in the personological literature (where it often appears under such labels as independence, locus of control, or assertiveness), but its use is not as pervasive as one might think in the study of psychosocial development. One researcher who has examined this aspect of adolescent autonomy is Greenberger (Greenberger, 1984; Greenberger & Sorenson, 1974), who has used the rubric "psychosocial maturity." "Self-reliance" is one aspect of psychosocial maturity, according to Greenberger, and is composed of (1) an absence of excessive dependency on others, (2) a sense of control over one's life, and (3) initiative (Greenberger & Sorensen, 1974, p. 343). In some ways, these three components correspond, respectively, to independence, internal locus of control, and assertiveness. Studies of the development of self-reliance, operationalized in this fashion, indicate that this aspect of autonomy increases steadily as youngsters move from the preadolescent to the late adolescent years (Greenberger, 1982, 1984). In the present investigation, emotional autonomy vis-A-vis parents, susceptibility to peer pressure, and subjective feelings of selfreliance were studied simultaneously in a large, heterogeneous sample of fifth through ninth graders. The study has several focuses. First, descriptive information is presented on the development of emotional autonomy as assessed with a new measure derived directly from Blos's writings on individuation. Second, age differences were examined in the three aspects of autonomy mentioned for the sample as a whole and in relation to sex and social class. Finally, and most important, the study examines interrelations among emotional autonomy, susceptibility to peer pressure, and subjective feelings of self-reliance.

Subjects The sample consisted of 865 adolescents enrolled in grades 5 (N = 209), 6 (N = 215), 8 (N = 231), and 9 (N = 210) of the Madison (Wisconsin) Unified School District. Fifth graders were attending elementary school; sixth and eighth graders, middle school; and ninth graders, high school. Participating schools were selected in order to provide a


Child Development
psychosocial development. Of interest in the present report are the measures of emotional autonomy, susceptibility to peer pressure, and subjective sense of self-reliance.

representative cross section of the city's population of adolescents in this age range. Subsequent comparisons between the demographic characteristics of the study sample and that of the district's student population as a whole indicated that the sample is representative of the district population. Within schools, classrooms were randomly selected, and letters describing the study were sent to the parents of all students enrolled (1,038 youngsters). Only 43 youngsters (4%) declined to take part in the study or did not have their parents' permission to participate. In addition, 113 youngsters (11%) were absent from school on the day of questionnaire administration, and 16 youngsters' questionnaires (2%) were discarded owing to a large number of incomplete or suspect responses. The final sample of 865 adolescents represents 83% of the total population of youngsters whose participation was sought and 94% of the youngsters who were present in school when questionnaires were administered. The sample is evenly divided by sex, predominantly white (86%), and from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, as determined by parental occupation. (Occupations ranged from positions in unskilled labor to positions in professional, technical, and managerial fields.) For purposes of the analyses, socioeconomic status was treated as a three-level variable, with 41% of the youngsters' families classified as blue-collar (service, unskilled labor, and skilled labor occupations), 38% as white-collar (sales, clerical, and managerial occupations), and 21% as professional/technical (professional and technical occupations). At the time of the survey, approximately two-thirds of the youngsters were residing with both natural parents, one-fifth with their mother, and one-tenth with their mother and stepfather. The youngsters ranged in age from 10 to 16, with average ages across grades as follows: fifth (10-5), sixth (11-6),

Measures Emotional autonomy.-The measure of

emotional autonomy was developed for use in this program of research. Blos's perspective on individuation was used as a guiding theoretical framework to generate a pool of 28 Likert-Scale structured items concerning four components of emotional autonomy: two relatively more cognitive components, perceives tion; and two relatively more affective com-

parents as people and parental deidealizaponents, nondependency on parents and

individuation. Items were presented as declarative statements, and adolescents were asked to indicate their degree of agreement with each item on a four-point scale ranging from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." Half of the items were worded such that a response of "strongly agree" would indicate greater emotional autonomy; the remaining items were worded in the opposite direction.

Items were written consistent with a contemporary perspective on emotional autonperspective that omy during adolescence-a de-emphasizes the storm and stress of adolescent detachment, rebellion, and conflict and focuses instead on the more pacific process of individuation. For example, the "deidealization" items tapped the adolescent's relinquishing of childish perceptions of parental omnipotence rather than the adoption of exceedingly oppositional, critical, or negativistic attitudes toward parents. Similarly, the "nondependency" items were written to capture an absence of childish dependency from parents rather than absolute freedom from parental influence. Exploratory factor analysis using oblique rotation (there was no reason to presume orthogonality) was used to examine the groupings of items, and an analysis of internal consistency was used to select out items that contributed to the measure's unreliability. Ultimately, eight items were discarded, resulting in a measure composed of 20 items with a maximum score of 80 and a minimum score of 20. The internal consistency of the measure, as determined by Cronbach's alpha, is .75. The factor and internal consistency analyses confirmed the theoretically generated components of emotional autonomy used to generate the initial pool of items. Four subscales were constructed corresponding to the categories outlined above: perceives parents

eighth (13-6), and ninth (14-4). Procedure

Data were collected via a questionnaire battery administered to the adolescents in classroom-size groups (generally, 25-30 stuof dents). The questionnaire battery-one several instruments employed in a larger, ongoing program of research on autonomy and family relations during early adolescencecontained a brief demographic questionnaire and several measures designed to provide information on an array of issues related to autonomy, self-management, family and peer relations, after-school activities, and adolescent

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as people (six items, a = .61; parental deidealization (five items, a = .63); nondependency on parents (four items, a = .51); and individuation (five items, a = .60). Measures of internal consistency, of course, do not yield appropriate indicators of reliability when scales are composed of only a handful of items. Nevertheless, that three of the four subscales do have a reliability coefficient exceeding or equal to .60 is encouraging. Unweighted item scale and subscale scores were calculated for each adolescent. The 20 items composing the emotional autonomy scale are presented in the Appendix. sure of resistance to peer pressure was taken from Berndt's (1979) studies of conformity. Berndt's measure presents the respondent with a series of hypothetical dilemmas and asks the youngsters to choose between two courses of action-one suggested by the youngster's "best friends"; the other, what the youngster "really" thinks he or she should do-and indicate how certain, on a six-point scale, the respondent is. Berndt's measure does not pit the influence of parents against that of peers; instead, it pits autonomous decision making against susceptibility to peer influence. For this reason, it is an especially useful means of assessing this aspect of autonomy. Furthermore, because some of the dilemmas concern antisocial behavior (e.g., vandalism, cheating on an exam), whereas others center on neutral issues (e.g., choosing one restaurant over another, choosing between two afternoon activities), it is possible to derive separate indices of resistance to peer pressure in antisocial versus neutral situations. Twenty of the original dilemmas were used: 10 describing antisocial situations and 10 describing neutral situations. Two unweighted item-resistance scores were calculated for each adolescent: resistance to peer pressure in antisocial situations and resistance to peer pressure in neutral situations. self-reliance subscale of the Psychosocial Maturity Inventory (Form D) (Greenberger, Josselson, Knerr, & Knerr, 1974) was used to assess this aspect of autonomy. The selfreliance subscale is composed of 10 items and has been shown to have adequate internal consistency and test-retest reliability (Greenberger & Bond, 1976). A sample item, reverse scored, is, "In a group, I prefer to let other people make the decisions." An unweighted item self-reliance score was calculated for each adolescent.


Age, Sex, and Social Class Differences in Emotional Autonomy
A three-way ANOVA was performed to examine differences in emotional autonomy scores in relation to age (youngsters were grouped by grade), sex, and socioeconomic background. As expected, emotional autonomy is strongly related to age, with scores increasing linearly over the age range studied, particularly between fifth and sixth grades, and between sixth and eighth grades, F(3,713) = 21.32, p < .001. This age difference is evident and statistically significant on three of the four subscales, the one exception

Resistance to peer pressure.-The mea-

being perceives parents as people. That is,

between fifth and ninth grades, there is a linear increase in the degree to which youngsters deidealize their parents, F(3,713) = 15.29, p < .001, relinquish childish dependency on them, F(3,713) = 30.50, p < .001, and feel individuated from them, F(3,713) = 21.96, p < .001, but there is no change in the extent to which youngsters perceive their parents as people outside the parental role. As is the case for the emotional autonomy measure as a whole, age differences between fifth and sixth grades, and between sixth and eighth grades, are far more substantial than are those between eighth and ninth grades. Age differences on the four subscales are presented graphically in Figure 1. In order to permit comparability of the subscales, standard scores are presented. Sex differences in emotional autonomy scores are less strong than the age differences. Most interesting, however, is that, contrary to widespread stereotypes that autonomy is more salient and develops more rapidly among boys than among girls, the present analyses reveal that emotional autonomy during early adolescence is greater among girls
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Subjective sense of self-reliance.--The



FIG. 1.-Age differences in four aspects of emotional autonomy.


Child Development
Age, Sex, and Social Class Differences in Subjective Sense of Self-Reliance
Age, sex, and social class all significantly affect the adolescent's subjective sense of self-reliance. In general, self-reliance scores increase over the age span studied, F(3,677) = 14.15, p < .001, consistent with findings reported by Greenberger (1984); the most substantial increase occurs between sixth and eighth grades. There appear to be minor fluctuations in youngsters' sense of self-reliance during early adolescence, however, with selfreliance scores tending to be lower during sixth grade than during fifth grade, t(380) = 1.92, p = .06. (The curvilinear trend is not significant.) As was the case for the other measures of autonomy used in this study, sex differences in self-reliance favor girls over boys, F(1,677) = 9.22, p < .005. Adolescents' subjective sense of self-reliance is also higher among youngsters from professional families than among their peers from white-collar backgrounds, and higher among these youngsters than among adolescents from blue-collar homes, F(2,677) = 12.59, p < .001. These sex and class differences are identical to those reported by Greenberger (1982). No two- or three-way interactions among the independent variables reached significance. Figure 2 presents age differences in three aspects of autonomy-emotional autonomy vis-at-vis parents, resistance to peer pressure in antisocial situations, and subjective feelings of self-reliance-with group means for each measure presented in terms of standard scores for ease of comparison.'

than among boys. Girls score higher than boys on the overall measure of emotional autonomy, F(1,713) = 6.03, p < .01, and outscore boys on all four emotional autonomy subscales, although the sex difference is significant on only one of the four subscales, deidealization, F(1,713) = 21.14, p < .001. There are no socioeconomic differences in emotional autonomy scores. The ANOVA revealed a few scattered two-way interactions, but they did not form a consistent pattern, and none were of any interpretable significance.

Age, Sex, and Social Class Differences in Resistance to Peer Pressure

The three-way ANOVA examining resistance to peer pressure revealed consistent age and sex differences but, as with emotional autonomy, no effects for social class. The age trends are identical to those reported by Berndt (1979) using the same measure, namely, that resistance to peer pressure declines steadily between fifth and eighth grades and then begins to increase slightly, F(3,677) = 50.03, p < .001, and F(3,677) = 8.00, p < .001, for resistance to peer pressure in antisocial and neutral situations, respectively. The curvilinear trend is significant for resistance to peer pressure in both types of situations, F(1,794) = 11.39, p < .001, and F(1,790) = 5.09, p < .05, for antisocial and neutral situations, respectively. As was the case in Berndt's sample, the magnitude of age differences in resistance to peer pressure is greater when resistance is assessed in antisocial than in neutral situations. The ANOVA also indicated strong sex differences in resistance to peer pressure. Girls are significantly more likely than boys to resist the influence of their friends in both antisocial and neutral situations, F(1,677) = 36.57, p < .001, and F(1,677) = 3.65, p < .01, respectively. Consistent with Berndt's findings, the sex difference in resistance to peer pressure is stronger when assessed in antisocial than in neutral situations. There were no socioeconomic differences in resistance to peer pressure, nor were there any higher-order interactions among the three independent variables. Rephrased to cast these findings in terms of the development of autonomy, then, the data indicate that autonomy in the face of peer pressure declines during early adolescence, especially for boys, and especially when the pressure is to do something wrong.

The relations between self-reliance and the other aspects of autonomy vary as a function of age and sex. Among girls at all ages, feelings of self-reliance are significantly correlated with autonomy vis-A-vis peers. (The correlations between self-reliance and resistance to peer pressure for girls are .29, .20, .27, and .24 for fifth, sixth, eighth, and ninth graders, respectively; all coefficients are significant at or beyond p < .05, two-tailed.) That is, girls who report the strongest feelings of self-reliance also report being the most autonomous in the face of peer pressure. This does not hold true for boys; among males, selfreliance and resistance to peer pressure are unrelated. More curious, perhaps, is the fact that, among both girls and boys, feelings of

Relations among ThreeAspects of Autonomy

'Although not discussed in the article, analyses indicate that family structure (i.e., intact, single-parent, stepfamily) does not moderate the age and sex differences in autonomy scores reported above.

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5 6 8 9



FIG.2.-Age differences in three types of autonomy. self-reliance are negatively related to emotional autonomy vis-A-vis parents, but significantly so only for sixth- and eighth-grade girls (the correlations are -.23 and -.27, respectively). In other words, the more autonomous an early adolescent girl feels from her parents, the less likely she is to report feeling selfreliant. The relation between autonomy vis-A-vis parents and autonomy vis-A-vis peers is especially intriguing. The pattern of correlations indicates that emotional autonomy from parents and autonomy in the face of peer pressure are negatively correlated, r(730) = -.44, p < .001. This pattern holds true for boys (r = -.44) as well as girls (r = -.49) and for youngsters at all grade levels. Simply put, adolescents who are most emotionally autonomous from their parents are least able to remain autonomous in the face of pressure from their friends to engage in antisocial behavior.2 In the preceding analyses, we examined intraindividual relations between emotional autonomy vis-A-vis parents and autonomy as it is reflected in resistance to peer pressure. It is interesting to consider, as well, age trends in the capacity of youngsters to feel autonomous vis-A-vis different agents of socialization when the two measures of autonomy are considered simultaneously. We thus categorized each youngster as either high or low on the emotional autonomy measure according to a median split of the entire sample and then did the same with regard to the peer pressure measure. Youngsters were then grouped into four categories: low emotional autonomy, low peer autonomy; high emotional autonomy, low peer autonomy; low emotional autonomy,

high peer autonomy; and high emotional autonomy, high peer autonomy. By examining the percentages of youngsters falling into each of these categories at the four different the proporgrade levels studied-especially tion of youngsters falling into the high/high category-we can get a better sense of how many youngsters actually demonstrate autonomy across socialization contexts. In some ways, our analyses are similar to those undertaken by Devereux and Bronfenbrenner (e.g., Devereux, 1970), whose research contrasted "autonomous," "chameleon," "parent-oriented," and "peer-oriented" youth on the basis of responses to cross-pressure dilemmas. The results of these analyses, conducted separately for males and females, are shown in Figures 3 and 4. Among males, the proportion of youngsters who score high in both emotional and peer autonomy (i.e., truly autonomous youngsters) drops over the course of early adolescence, from 18% at fifth grade to 12% at ninth grade. The proportion scoring low on both measures (truly nonautonomous youngsters) increases over this same time, from 16% to 21%. More interesting, however, are the changes that occur in the proportion of boys scoring low in emotional autonomy but high in peer autonomy and in the proportion scoring high in emotional autonomy but low in peer autonomy. Cases in the former category-boys who might be described as parent from 56% in fifth grade to oriented-drop 15% in eighth grade (it rises somewhat between eighth and ninth grades). Cases in the 70 56 42 w
o 28

145 6 8 GRADE 0 PARENTORIENTED 0 PEER-ORIENTED FIc. 3.-Proportions of autonomous, nonautonomous, parent-oriented, and peer-oriented adolescent males across four grade levels.

2 Although not discussed in the article, analyses indicate that family structure (i.e., intact, single-parent, stepfamily) does not moderate the relation between emotional autonomy and resistance to peer pressure, either for boys or for girls.


Child Development
jority of young people, however, the development of emotional autonomy during early adolescence is accompanied by increasing susceptibility to the influence of age-mates. Indeed, eighth and ninth graders demonstrate less autonomy in relation to their peers than do younger adolescents-a finding consistent with much previous research indicating that these years represent the developmental zenith of conformity to peer pressure. 6 8 9 GRADE




The data on self-reliance suggest that this aspect of autonomy increases during the early adolescent years but that, like resistance to 0 NONAUTONOMOUS a AUTONOMOUS peer pressure, has its vicissitudes as well. Al0 PEER-ORIENTED ]O PARENT-ORIENTED though ninth graders feel more self-reliant FIc. 4.-Proportions of autonomous, nonau- than fifth graders, there is a drop in subjective tonomous, parent-oriented, and peer-oriented self-reliance between fifth and sixth grades. adolescent females across four grade levels. Whether this fluctuation corresponds to the fluctuations in the self-image often reported in studies of this age group (e.g., Simmons, who might be de- Rosenberg, & Rosenberg, 1973), especially latter category-boys scribed as being peer oriented-increase among youngsters involved in changing from 10% in fifth grade to 50% in eighth grade schools (e.g., Blyth, Simmons, & Carlton(it drops somewhat between eighth and ninth Ford, 1983), is an interesting but, to our grades). knowledge, unanswered question. A similar pattern emerges among feOnly a small proportion of youngsters males. One important exception, however, is evidence cross-situational autonomy during that the proportion of girls scoring high on the early adolescent years. Fifth graders are both measures remains stable over the age essentially "good boys and girls" who for the range studied, at around 25%, whereas the most part resist the influences of their peers to proportion scoring low on both measures in- do "bad" things but whose autonomy in the creases somewhat during the eighth grade but face of peer pressure may be as much a tesessentially remains stable at around 10%. The timony to their connection to (and emotional shift over the age range studied, from a large dependency on) their parents as it is to genproportion of parent-oriented youngsters to a uine independence in the face of pressure to conform. A fair number of sixth graders have large proportion of peer-oriented youngsters observed among the boys, is found among begun to shed this parental orientation but girls as well: the proportion of parent- have replaced it with dependency on peers. oriented youngsters drops from 58% in fifth Eighth graders are the most peer oriented: grade to 17% in eighth grade, whereas the they have achieved a large measure of emoproportion of peer-oriented youngsters rises tional autonomy in their family relationships, from 11% in fifth grade to 45% in eighth but the autonomy does not translate into indegrade. Contingency analyses examining the pendence in the peer group. By ninth grade, proportion of youngsters in each category, by we begin to see a leveling off in the proporgrade, are significant at all grade levels for tion of peer-oriented children. This year may males and females. represent an important turning point in the development of autonomy; it is at this time that youngsters begin to integrate emotional Discussion vis-a-vis their parents with behavFor most boys and girls, the transition autonomy ioral autonomy in the peer group. from childhood into adolescence is marked more by a trading of dependency on parents By all accounts, adolescent girls are more for dependency on peers rather than straight- autonomous than boys. Girls score higher on forward and unidimensional growth in auton- all aspects of emotional autonomy, are more resistant to peer pressure (both in antisocial omy. During this time, youngsters become more emotionally autonomous in relation to and in neutral situations), and describe themtheir parents: They adopt less idealized im- selves as more self-reliant. Among ninth gradages of their parents, relinquish some of their ers, twice as many girls (25%) as boys (12%) childish dependencies on them, and form a score high in autonomy both vis-&-vis parents more individuated sense of self. For the ma- and vis-&-vis peers. In view of long-standing

Steinberg and Silverberg

notions about the greater salience of autonomy to adolescent males than to females, how can we account for these findings? Although one might argue that girls simply are more likely than boys to provide autonomous-sounding answers, such an argument is not compelling. One might reasonably assume that a social desirability bias, greater for girls than for boys, exists in favor of presenting oneself as resisting peer pressure to engage in antisocial activity. Perhaps, by some stretch of the imagination, one could explain away sex differences in subjective feelings of self-reliance. But it does not seem likely, given what we know about sex-role socialization, to suggest that girls would be more likely than boys to describe themselves as independent from, deidealizing of, or separate from their mothers and fathers. Two alternative explanations strike us as more persuasive. One is that girls, in fact, exhibit greater autonomy than boys; our previous notions about the prominence of autonomy as an issue among adolescent boys may be more correct about the salience of autonomy as a psychological concern than about the manifestation of autonomous behavior. Indeed, one can argue that autonomy may be an especially salient concern for adolescent boys, expressed through many types of "quasi-independent" behavior, precisely because boys have so much trouble establishing autonomy in a genuine and real sense. A second possibility is that the notions about sex differences in autonomy were correct 25 years ago, when many of our current views about sex differences in adolescent development were shaped, but that these notions need revision. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, when data were collected for such studies of young people as The Adolescent Society (Coleman, 1961) or The Adolescent Experience (Douvan & Adelson, 1966), it may have been true that girls' concerns revolved around issues of intimacy and boys' around issues of autonomy. But it is time that we reconsidered this proposition: women's roles have changed and so, probably, have the psychological concerns and capabilities of adolescent girls. Indeed, recent research on identity development during adolescence points to similarities rather than differences in the ways in which males and females approach the task of self-definition (Adams & Fitch, 1982; Grotevant & Thorbecke, 1982). There are also important sex differences in the interrelations among different aspects of autonomy during adolescence. For girls,


but not for boys, self-reliance is related to both emotional autonomy and resistance to peer pressure. Girls who describe themselves as self-reliant are relatively autonomous in relation to their peers (i.e., more resistant to peer pressure) but less autonomous in relation to their parents. Unfortunately, owing to the cross-sectional design of this study, it is not possible to say how these three variables are causally related. One possible explanation, consistent with predictions derived from object relations theory (e.g., Chodorow, 1978), is that (a) self-reliance in girls, but not boys, is facilitated by close family relationships, and (b) feelings of self-reliance, so engendered, help "protect" adolescent girls against peer pressure. For boys, on the other hand, healthy self-reliance seems to develop out of family relations that are neither too close nor too distant. The conclusions that one can draw from this study about interrelations among different aspects of autonomy are limited, of course, by the fact that the data were derived from self-report measures. Common method variance may have strengthened some of the observed statistical relations, and studies employing other means of assessment (interview, observation) along with questionnaires should be conducted in order to explore further the interrelations among different autonomy-related phenomena. Furthermore, in the absence of longitudinal data, it would be erroneous to draw conclusions now about causal relations among the different types of autonomy. The present results should therefore be viewed not as definitive but as providing a basis for future systematic study and careful hypothesis testing. These cautions notwithstanding, the findings presented in this report are consistent with psychoanalytic and authoritative control themes about the development of autonomy during adolescence, cast doubt on the notion that autonomy is a unidimensional trait that is manifested similarly across a variety of situations, and call into question the view that the family and the peer group function as two separate "worlds" for the young person. Without information on the causal processes and mediating factors underlying the observed relations, however, it is not possible to determine whether one particular theoretical framework provides a more accurate account than any other. Further research, dealing with individual differences in the development of autonomy as a function of differences in family relationships, would be useful in addressing this issue.


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Appendix Emotional Autonomy Scale3

1. My parents and I agree on everything (-D). 2. I go to my parents for help before trying to solve a problem myself (- N). 3. I have often wondered how my parents act when I'm not around (+ P). 4. Even when my parents and I disagree, my parents are always right (- D). 5. It's better for kids to go to their best friend than to their parents for advice on some things (+ N). 6. When I've done something wrong, I depend on my parents to straighten things out for me

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7. There are some things about me that my parents don't know (+ I). 8. My parents act differently when they are with their own parents from the way they do at home (+ P). 9. My parents know everything there is to know about me (- I). 10. I might be surprised to see how my parents act at a party (+ P). 11. I try to have the same opinions as my parents (- D). 12. When they are at work, my parents act pretty much the same way they do when they are at home (- P). 13. If I was having a problem with one of my friends, I would discuss it with my mother or father before deciding what to do about it (- N). .14. My parents would be surprised to know what I'm like when I'm not with them (+ I). 15. When I become a parent, I'm going to treat my children in exactly the same way that my parents have treated me (- D). 16. My parents probably talk about different things when I am around from what they talk about when I'm not (+ P). 17. There are things that I will do differently from my mother and father when I become a parent (+I). 18. My parents hardly ever make mistakes (-D). 19. I wish my parents would understand who I really am (+ I). 20. My parents act pretty much the same way when they are with their friends as they do when they are at home with me (- P).

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