Autonomy and relatedness in inner-city families of substance abusing adolescents

Jessica Samuolis, Fordham University


The ultimate objective of the current study was to investigate the developmentally salient process of parent-adolescent autonomous-relatedness functioning in inner-city, ethnic minority families of adolescents exhibiting serious problem behaviors. Prevalence rates of drug abuse and externalizing behaviors are high among adolescents living in impoverished inner-city neighborhoods. Despite the wealth of research highlighting dysfunctional family patterns in clinical and non-clinical families of adolescent drug abusers, very little is known about ethnic minority families of adolescent drug abusers. This projects attempted to fill this void by linking developmentally salient family processes (i.e., parent-adolescent relationship characteristics) to fundamental developmental and behavioral outcomes. This study involved coding videotaped parent-adolescent interaction tasks completed at the pre-treatment assessment of a randomized clinical trial for adolescent drug abuse. The sample for this study was comprised of primarily African-American, low-income families. Seventy-four parent-adolescent interactions were coded based on an autonomy and relatedness coding system. Autonomous-relatedness functioning was expected to be linked to critical adolescent outcomes (drug use, externalizing behaviors, and internalizing behaviors) as well as key empirically based moderators of outcomes (adolescents' self-esteem, parental acceptance/involvement, family cohesion, and family conflict). ANOVA analyses were used to investigate whether dyadic parent-adolescent autonomous-relatedness functioning was associated with indices of adolescent symptomatology and other family functioning. Regression analyses were used to examine whether adolescents' levels of autonomous-relatedness, as well as the parents' level, predicted adolescent functioning. Results indicated that adolescents' autonomous-relatedness functioning was both associated with and predictive of other indices of adolescent psychosocial functioning, primarily adolescent drug use and externalizing behaviors. The findings provide valuable information to the field of developmental psychopathology regarding the extent to which observed behaviors indicative of parent-adolescent autonomous-relatedness are related to adolescents' concurrent psychosocial functioning. In regard to the treatment community, the findings point to the need to build positive parent-adolescent relationship characteristics and the importance of systemic efforts at repairing family relationships and subsequently reducing adolescent symptomatology.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Samuolis, Jessica, "Autonomy and relatedness in inner-city families of substance abusing adolescents" (2001). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3022798.