Interdependent Independence: The Meanings of Autonomy Among Chinese American and Filipino American Adolescents

  • Stephen T. Russell
  • June Y. Chu
  • Lisa J. Crockett
  • Sun-A Lee
Part of the Advancing Responsible Adolescent Development book series (ARAD)


A growing body of research suggests important ethnic differences in parenting styles and parent-adolescent relationship quality. Most of that work examines ethnic group differences in widely accepted survey measures of parenting, including parental monitoring and autonomy-granting. Less is known about the cultural meanings held by young people (and parents) with regard to these commonly understood concepts of parenting. We conducted eight focus group interviews with a total of 40 Chinese American and Filipino American adolescents, asking them to describe autonomy in relation to their parents. They provided typical definitions of adolescent independence, but followed up with in-depth discussions of the interdependent nature of independence. These youth defined independence in reference to their relationships with parents, and in relational and contingent terms. For girls, independence is interdependent due to mutually understood family role obligations: parents know what is best for their daughters, and daughters express autonomy by making choices consistent with their parent’s preferences. For Chinese American girls, parents’ role pertained to choices about college, and parents’ lower levels of acculturation were discussed as explanations for parental perspectives on independence. Some parents of Filipino American girls wanted them to be autonomous; girls distinguished between decisions about life goals versus day-to-day decisions, about which their parents allowed more independence. For boys, autonomy was continent on parental approval, or was negotiated with parents. Being independent meant to live on your own, but further discussion revealed the degree to which this independence was negotiated with parents and expressed with sensitivity to parental concerns.


Life Goal Immigrant Parent Financial Independence College Choice Asian American Adolescent 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen T. Russell
    • 1
  • June Y. Chu
    • 2
  • Lisa J. Crockett
    • 3
  • Sun-A Lee
    • 4
  1. 1.University of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.University of NebraskaLincolnUSA
  4. 4.Georgia Southern UniversityStatesboroUSA

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