This study found that the structure of observed parent-adolescent autonomous-relatedness was transformed in an inner-city, ethnic minority, drug abusing sample. Moreover, findings indicated that adolescent autonomous-relatedness was related to adolescent drug use, externalizing, and internalizing behaviors in this sample.
Our analysis of this sample of drug abusing adolescents and their families generally confirmed the theoretical structure of the measure of autonomous-relatedness that had been found for middle-class European American families. However, there were several important differences from previous studies. First, autonomous-relatedness is conceptualized to include three components: Autonomous-Relatedness (AR), Undermining Autonomy (UA), and Undermining Relatedness (UR) (Allen, Hauser, Bell, & O’Connor, 1994
). For both the adolescents and the parents in the current sample, the two types of undermining behaviors were related to the extent that they represented a single construct, referred to here as Undermining Autonomous-Relatedness (UAR). Within the original conceptualization, UA and UR include behaviors that detract from an interaction. For instance, UA is comprised of behaviors such as recanting one’s position, blurring, and pressuring, and has been found to be predictive of concurrent and later levels of hostility (Allen, Hauser, O’Connor et al., 1996
). Likewise, UR is comprised of cutting off another person, distracting behaviors, and hostility, and has been associated with adolescents’ externalizing behaviors (Allen, Hauser, Eickholt et al., 1994
). The collapsing of these two factors into one factor is therefore theoretically plausible, as all the behaviors represent ways to detract from an interaction.
A second important aspect of the resulting nature of autonomous-relatedness in these families deserves consideration. The factor AR is conceptualized to consist of four types of behaviors: reasoning, confidence, validating, and engagement. Prior research utilizing the ARCS has found all four constructs to comprise AR, with behaviors reflecting engagement representing the strongest component. Thus, in other families AR is expressed primarily through positive behaviors such as engagement and validating. For both the parent model and the adolescent model in the current sample, AR was largely defined by behaviors indicative of reasoning and confidence. Family members can express large amounts of reasoning and confidence regardless of whether corresponding behaviors involve negative qualities, positive qualities, or even neutral qualities. Moreover, both the adolescents’ and parents’ AR and UAR were positively correlated, further highlighting the transformed nature of AR. Thus, for both the adolescents and the parents in the current study, AR is expressed primarily through reasoning and self-assertion and is directly related to undermining characteristics.
Autonomous-Relatedness and Undermining Autonomous-Relatedness were positively correlated in the current sample. Allen, Hauser, Bell and O’Connor (1994)
reported that within the validation of the original three-factor model, undermining autonomy and undermining relatedness were not correlated with autonomous-relatedness, but did indicate that there was some evidence of undermining and relatedness behaviors being correlated in other samples (Allen, personal communication). Consideration of the variables comprising the summary scales provides some explanation. As discussed previously, autonomous-relatedness for both the parent data and adolescent data is primarily comprised of the behaviors reasoning and confidence. These two types of behaviors do not necessarily reflect positive traits. Thus, autonomous-relatedness seems to represent something qualitatively different in this sample than was originally conceptualized by the creators of the ARCS. In the current sample autonomous-relatedness is associated with negative indices, thus making its correlation with undermining autonomous-relatedness both feasible and coherent within the context of other study findings.
The transformed nature of the AR factor with this sample provides a critical context for understanding the clinical picture of these families and the subsequent relations among autonomous-relatedness and adolescent symptomatology. For instance, AR is positively associated with adolescents’ externalizing behaviors and levels of family conflict. These findings are contrary to other studies in which aspects of undermining, rather than promoting, autonomous-relatedness were associated with a variety of indices of adolescent maladjustment (Allen, Hauser, Eickholt et al., 1994
; Allen, Hauser, O’Connor et al., 1996
; Kuperminc et al., 1996
). Additionally, the current findings stand in contrast to research that has tied autonomous-relatedness to positive outcomes in adolescent psychosocial development such as ego development and self-esteem, attachment security and coherence of mind in attachment relationships, social problem-solving and academic competence, and young adult occupational attainment (Allen, Hauser, Bell, & O’Connor, 1994
; Allen & Hauser, 1996
; Bell, Allen, Hauser, & O’Connor, 1996
; Best, Hauser, & Allen, 1997
; Kuperminc et al., 1996
Undermining Autonomous-Relatedness was also associated with a number of important indicators of adolescents’ problem behaviors. Adolescents’ UAR functioning was positively associated with concurrent drug use and levels of family conflict. Parents’ UAR was also positively correlated with family conflict. These findings are generally in line with research that indicating that impaired autonomy and relatedness are associated with poorer adjustment in adolescence. Impaired relatedness has been linked with increased acts of delinquency (Kuperminc et al., 1996
) and externalizing behaviors (Allen, Hauser, Eickholt, Bell, & O’Connor, 1994
). Undermining Autonomy has been associated with depressed affect (Allen, Hauser, Eickholt et al., 1994
) and adolescent hostility (Allen, Hauser, O’Connor et al., 1996
Interestingly, parental acceptance and involvement, based on both parents’ and adolescents’ report, moderated the relation between adolescents’ undermining autonomous-relatedness and adolescents’ internalizing behaviors. In the context of low levels of parental warmth and encouragement, as well as low levels of involvement in various aspects of an adolescent’s life (i.e., school and friendships), undermining behaviors were likely to be related to higher levels of internalizing symptoms. However, within the context of high parental warmth and involvement, adolescents’ undermining behaviors were less likely to be associated with high levels of internalizing symptoms. These findings highlight the importance of considering the indirect relations of various family and contextual variables.
Contrary to expectations, parent characteristics were not related to adolescent symptomatology once adolescent characteristics were taken into account. First, in light of the use of an observationally-based predictor and adolescent self-report outcome variables, this finding is not the result of shared method variance. Second, in this cross-sectional study the current sample was comprised of highly impaired adolescents whose autonomous-relatedness functioning, not parent autonomous-relatedness functioning, served as the most salient predictor of indices of concurrent symptomatology. Longitudinal or intervention studies examining parent-adolescent autonomous-relatedness over time are needed to further clarify the parents’ contribution in explaining adolescents’ problem behavior.
Despite the importance of these findings, the study is characterized by methodological limitations. The sample size in the current study serves as a limitation in that statistical power is compromised in factor analyses. Observationally-based studies often suffer from issues related to low sample size given the practical and economical constraints that prevent the sampling of larger numbers of subjects. Confirmatory factor analysis involves the specification of a factor model and then enables the examination of its goodness-of-fit to the data in question (Bryant & Yarnold, 1995
). While this process offers the advantages of (1) allowing measurement errors to be either correlated or uncorrelated and (2) error variance due to shared methods of assessment to be partialed out (Bryant & Yarnold, 1995
), the current model respecifcation needs to be cross-validated in other samples. Indeed, the findings in the current study could be considered largely preliminary, yet a justifiable examination of the complex data obtained.
Moreover, observationally-based coding measures frequently require extensive coder training and time allotted to the coding process, imposing practical constraints on the number of observations to be considered. The original factor analysis conducted on the ARCS utilized a sample size of 77 adolescents and reported an acceptable GFI value of .92 (Allen, Hauser, Bell, & O’Connor, 1994
). Nonetheless, future studies would benefit from utilizing a larger sample size and the corresponding increase in statistical power, particularly those using confirmatory factor analyses. Secondly, the ethnic composition and lack of equal numbers of males and females in the current study, although ecologically representative, precludes a precise examination of ethnic and gender differences. Additional research with more tailored samples would provide valuable information to the treatment community. Third, the cross-sectional nature of the data also serves as a methodological limitation. Longitudinal studies are needed to better elucidate the developmental role of autonomous-relatedness in these families.
The explication of autonomous-relatedness functioning in a treatment-seeking population offers particular insights for the clinical community. Specifically, the findings point to the need to identify and build positive parent-adolescent relationship characteristics. In this sample the low levels of validating behaviors indicate the need for clinicians to foster such behaviors during parent-adolescent interactions. Similarly, the complex role of levels of parental acceptance and involvement highlights the importance of systemic efforts at repairing family relationships and subsequently reducing adolescent symptomatology. Treatment studies have identified family interactional processes such as structure, flexibility, and conflict resolution as critical in understanding family functioning and adolescent drug use (Ozechowski & Liddle, 2000
; Schmidt et al., 1996
; Szapocznik et al., 1989
). The unexpected positive association between the undermining and promoting autonomous-relatedness emphasizes that family variables can have different meanings in different cultures and different contexts (Amey & Albretcht, 1998
). For instance, autonomy strivings may take on a different meaning in the context of an inner-city setting (Allen, Moore, & Kuperminc, 1997
), thereby highlighting the need for clinicians to consider contextual variables in the assessment and treatment of families.
Future research examining autonomous-relatedness in samples similar to the current one would provide further clarification of the conceptual model of autonomous-relatedness obtained in the current study. As this study is one of the first to examine observed autonomous-relatedness in an inner-city, ethnic minority, clinically impaired sample, further evidence of the measurement and predictive validity of these constructs are needed. Such studies would provide vital information to the treatment community. Moreover, longitudinal studies identifying both negative and positive characteristics of parent-adolescent functioning, as associated with adolescent outcomes, would offer much to the understanding of autonomous-relatedness in these families. The inclusion of self-report measures that conceptually parallel observationally-based measures would provide added clarification of the meaning and interrelations of the variables of interest.