The impact of parental death during adolescence on separation-individuation process




Elder, Sandra

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Whether or not major changes in family structure during adolescence have positive or negative consequences for adolescents has not been empirically investigated to any extent. The separation-individuation process is considered to be facilitated when adolescents can express themselves in a family context characterized by emotional connectedness (Grotevant & Cooper, 1986). This individuation process is not concerned exclusively with separation or autonomy but rather with the continuing embeddedness of the individual in relationships with others (Karpel, 1976; Youniss, 1983). The impact of parental death on the process of separation-individuation in adolescence was examined in this study. Thirty male and female adolescents, ages 12 to 16 years, from families in which the father had died participated in this study. They were compared with thirty adolescents of comparable age from intact families. The adolescents completed instruments that provided information about development of autonomy (Emotional Autonomy Scale), attachment to mother, father and peers (Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment), and adolescents’ perception of family functioning (Family Functioning in Adolescence Questionnaire). Adolescents from the father-deceased group are more autonomous than the intact group in some of the scales. Males from the father- deceased group scored significantly higher than males from the intact group on the emotional autonomy subscales. Adolescents in the father-deceased families showed similar attachment to fathers and mothers when compared with adolescents from intact families. Adolescents’ perceptions of their family functioning showed similar results for both the father-deceased and intact groups with adolescents who scored high in family functioning being less autonomous. Similarly adolescents from the father-deceased group who were more attached to mothers showed less autonomy according to their scores on the Emotional Autonomy Scale. Adolescents’ attachment to peers was unrelated to their level of autonomy.



Separation-individuation, Adolescence, Parents, death