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Emotional Autonomy and Parenting Style

By: M. Husni Mubarak, S. Psi

In the article “Emotional autonomy versus susceptibility to peer pressure: a case study of

Hongkong adolescent students” Kwok-wai Chan and Siu-mui Chan quoted from Holmbeck

(1994) that adolescent is “a critical period of development that characterized by a host of

biological, psychological, and social role changes”.( Holmbeck, 1994, p. 1 in the article).

They further took definition from other researchers such as: Steinberg (1990), Steinberg

and Steinberg (1986), Stewart et.al (2003), Zimmer-Gembeck and Collins (2003), that

adolescents are individuals who are confused in identifying themselves and they initiate to seek

support from other figures especially those who have similar characteristics with them outside

their parents. This condition cause them need acceptance from their friends or other new friends.

The connectedness to their friends may be not always positive but it will be worrying

when they are offered by their peer to do negative behaviors which violate the social norms and

values such as: sexual debut or sexual abuse and vandalism. If they reject that offer may be they

will think they are not included any more in the peer group and will considered enemy.

The fact of the problem has actually happened all in every part of the world including in

south East Asian nations.

In Hongkong parents are so frustrated how to deal with their children that are more

resistant to them and parents feel that authoritarian parenting style as they did successfully in the

past has now failed to solve the problems particularly adolescents.

Many studies about emotional autonomy and peer pressure has been done in western

societies especially North America. However those studies are considered not convincing for

Asian people because of different culture. So, this research is design to study the emotional

autonomy of Hongkong Chinese adolescent students, their susceptibility to peer demands and

their connections. The result of the research hopefully would be a beneficial input for teachers

and parents to understand the autonomy development of adolescents and a guidance that will be

used by both adolescents and their parents.

As cited from Zimmer-Gembeck and Collins (2003) the authors said that emotional

autonomy is defined as “a sense of individuation from parents and relinquishing dependence on

them, and implies changing conceptions of, and relations with parents”. ( Zimmer-Gembeck and

Collins, 2003, p. 2 in the article). This variable was measured using the Emotional Autonomy

Scale (EAS) which was developed by Steinberg and Silverberg (1986).

From the study done by Steinberg and Silverberg (1986) found that emotional

independence from parents and independence from peer demanding are negatively correlated. It

means the more emotionally independent an early adolescent felt from parents, the less likely

they feel self-reliant when facing demands from their peers. In addition, Steinberg and Silverberg

(1986) found adolescent girls are more independent than boys and more assertive to their friends

in relation to deviant activities or normal situations.

In terms of susceptibility to peer pressure, taken from Berndt (1979), Stainberg and

Silverberg (1986) the writer of the article noted that when adolescents are becoming independent

from their mother and father, they are highly accepting to peer demand related to affectionate

matters and regular activities. Generally, the tendency of following what their friends offer or
pressure is more crucial within the period of early and middle adolescence than the period of pre-

adolescence or during late adolescence.

This research applied a questionnaire consisting of two instruments that was given to a

sample of 550 adolescent students at the secondary level. The first scale, the emotional autonomy

scale (EAS) that developed by Steinberg and Silverberg (1986), was to measure emotional

autonomy while the second scale which was developed by Kim and Koh (2003), was to measure

susceptibility of peer pressure. The participants were also asked to give demographic data.

The research result showed:

1. That emotional autonomy of Hong Kong adolescents was recognized by the increased

age, starting from 12 years old. The more an individual’s age increasing the more he or she

becomes more emotionally independent. There is no significant difference in emotional

autonomy between genders but there was between grade level and age of students.

2. The Hong Kong adolescent students' were not tending toward peer persuasion both

male and female students but there is significant difference in response to peer offer in terms of

age and grade level of students

3. Hong Kong adolescents' emotional autonomy was negatively related to their tendency

to peer pressure. They were found to be emotionally independent but they were not tending

toward peer pressure. Compared to their counterparts in the western countries, Hong Kong

adolescents may be more powerful to be assertive with peer pressure.

The research done by Kwok-wai Chan and Siu-mui Chan has given me a lot of new

understanding and opinions.

As a south-east Asian person I see the research result cannot be avoided from local

culture. Anyhow, culture can greatly influence on the emotional autonomy of an individual and

on her or his susceptibility to peer pressures. What makes me interested is what had been found

by Steinberg and Silverberg (1986) that adolescent girls in western countries are more

autonomous than boys and more assertive toward peer pressure both in doing deviant social

activities and behaving in neutral situation.

Another interest thing is, emotional autonomy is positively correlated with susceptibility

to peer pressures for western adolescent. While in some Asian countries both girls and boys are

not more autonomous than each other and their susceptibility compared with counterparts from

western countries, Asian people like in Hong Kong may be more able to resist peer pressures.

For Hong Kong adolescent, emotional autonomy is negatively correlated with

susceptibility to peer pressures. The more an individual have emotional autonomy the least he is

susceptible to peer pressures. This is because they still hold traditional Chinese culture and

because the gender stereo type of females in the Chinese parental expectation that girls should be

gentle and more obedient that finally may cause girls’ score in susceptibility is lower than boys’

score. In my society I also observe like that.

Generally, boys are easier to follow their peer persuasion because there are a lot of

activities that can be done together such as smoking, playing chess, or go hiking. And if they

always stay at home they will be called “girls” by his mates.

Meanwhile, for girls there are too few activities that can facilitate them to get together

and if they do like what adolescent boys do, they will get strong resistance from society members
because all those activities are highly unacceptable. Besides, members of society will judge them

as “naughty girls” or ‘street girls”. This justification will make not only girls who feel shamed

but also their parents, family members, and their relatives.

In Singapore according to Sim and Koh (2003), males were more susceptible to peer

pressure toward misconduct behaviors and in the peer involvement domains.

Although it is not wise to equalize things which are different at least it can make us

understand that a similar thing can be interpreted and expressed differently because of different

region, situation, and also culture. The lessons we can take from this phenomenon as a scientist is

better we think globally and act locally and what can be appropriate for certain local people is

not always universally applied. There has been a lot of culture that must be considered.

Another aspect I will comment about this study is, as parents we should apply parenting

styles accurately because in adolescence period an individual tends to interact with peer more

often, to begin searching for autonomy emotionally and behaviorally, to lessen his or her

dependency on parents, and to conform to peer behaviors to get acceptance. So that, applying a

parenting style which is appropriate to this situation becomes crucial.

The QDSS (2008) on her article published on October 29th, 2008 (I do not know exactly

the name of media) stated three different styles of parenting: authoritarian, permissive, and

assertive. She further explained that parents who apply authoritarian parenting style will have a

heart to make their children being spoiled and dependent on them. They never give an

opportunity to their teenager an atmosphere for self-reliant. They strictly monitor their children

even for the small matters. More seriously, such a type of these parents will always involve
themselves in taking decision for their children. As a result, it will remain the children being

either too dependent on his or her parents or very rebellious.

On the contrary, parents who apply permissive parenting style will absolutely give the

chance for their children to manage their own-self without considering whether they are mature

enough or not. Consequently, the children do not know the boundaries they cannot do to do it.

On the other hands, assertive parenting parents will create the conducive environment for

the better development of their children. They open to communicate with their children. They are

flexible in growing up their children. They never freely give their children to do whatever they

want to do and never strictly forbid their children in realizing their wishes. Parents develop how

they can be attached emotionally to their children. Assertive parents put themselves in the

position where their role is a facilitator not a dictator or ignorant for the growth of their children.

According to me assertive parenting style is the best parenting style that should be

applied in bringing up our children in line with the fast progress of modern era. The research

showed that parents in Hongkong in 2003 complained how to educate their children.

The authoritarian parenting style that was used successfully in the past has now failed to

solve the problems related to this case. In addition, in my regent, parents practiced this parenting

style get resistance from their children. On top of that, their child leaves their home for many

weeks and months to protest his parents’ action on him. Besides, child girls who are over

protected by her parents to intermingle with boys are often found have premarital sexual

intercourse as the form of her resistance to her parents.

In most cases I found at a school where I work as a school counselor many students feel

forced by their parents to study there because their parents were graduates from that school.

Parents do not consider their child’s aptitude, interest, and capability. Consequently, it takes a

long time for a child to adapt himself to a new environment. Finally, that child often, come to

class late, play truant, and develop lack of motivation that finally perform low achievement and

many of them leave a school prematurely.

Likewise permissive parenting style, parents often get physical resistance or even will be

threatened to be killed by their child because of unfulfilling the child’s need such as buying a

new motor cycle or car. Furthermore, children from permissive parents generally failed to

continue their study into the higher level or university. Sadly, after their parents passed away they

cannot be independence in their life. Consequently, in the past they were rich people but now

become the poor.

I see many social phenomena happened in my society and even my country related to

adolescent people such as: premarital sexual intercourse, vandalism, aggressive behavior, etc,

from time to time which are higher and higher, are seemingly caused by wrong parenting style

which is adopted not only by parents, teachers, and society. Parenting style in wider scope can

also be implemented in schools and society because not only parents who educate a child but

also teachers and his society.

Assertive parents can understand their child. They are neither permissive nor

authoritarian. Assertive teachers can facilitate their students to maximize their potentials and

bridge them into their ideals. And assertive society can give a conducive environment for

children to grow well and to contribute to their society. Therefore, assertive parenting style is
optional because it will make your child can develop more healthily and more responsible either

for his own self or for his environment.


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