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J Adolesc. 2005 Feb;28(1):89-106.

Separation-individuation revisited: on the interplay of parent-adolescent relations, identity and emotional adjustment in adolescence.

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  • 1Department of Child and Adolescent Studies, Utrecht University, PO Box 80.140, 3508TC Utrecht, The Netherlands.


The objective of this study was to test our alternative interpretation of the separation-individuation hypothesis. This interpretation states that separation from the parents is not a precondition for individuation, but rather separation and individuation are two parallel processes of development during adolescence. We investigated our interpretation in two ways. Firstly, we looked at descriptive age differences in parental support and development of relational and societal identity. Secondly, we investigated the variation with age of the associations between parental support and emotional adjustment, and identity and emotional adjustment. Data of a representative Dutch sample of 2814 adolescents, aged 12-24 were used. In both cases, the findings supported our interpretation of the separation-individuation hypothesis and similar results were found in the descriptive analyses and the structural equation models. Parental support decreased with age, and so too did its association with emotional adjustment. In other words, as adolescents become older, they experience less parental support, while its importance for their emotional adjustment also declines. The opposite pattern was observed with respect to identity development: as adolescents become older, their relational and societal identity commitments develop, and the degree to which these commitments are developed also becomes more important for their emotional adjustment.

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