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What's Normal for Teen development

Becoming Independent

This fact sheet is part of the Teen talk: A survival guide for parents of teenagers series.

Colleen Gengler, Extension Educator, emerita — Family Relations

2011. Reviewed March 2017 by Jodi Dworkin, Extension Specialist and Associate Professor — Family Social Science.

Becoming autonomous is a developmental task in which teens become independent of their parents (and others) emotionally, in decision making, and in developing their own principles and beliefs.

teen boy on ipadHow to View Autonomy

Parents often think that “autonomy” means that their teen must separate from them and give in to peer influence. But that’s not true. Here’s a more realistic, healthy, and developmentally appropriate way to view autonomy: The parent and the teen together figure out a new relationship that is based on the teen becoming more mature. It means that teens are not disconnected from their parents, but connected in different ways. It also means that parents and teens will relate to each other in new ways.

It is true that peers have more influence on some issues than parents as described in the section on social and emotional changes. But parents still have influence. Laurence Steinberg, an expert in adolescent psychology, describes it this way: "It is detachment from parents, rather than attachment to peers, that is potentially harmful."

What Parents Can Do


McNeely, C., & Blanchard, J. (2010). The teen years explained: A guide to healthy adolescent development. Baltimore: Center for Adolescent Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Simpson, A. R. (2001). Raising teens: A synthesis of research and a foundation for action. Boston: Center for Health Communication, Harvard School of Public Health.

Steinberg, L. (2008). Adolescence. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Related resources

What’s Normal for Teen development? — Learn about the biological, physical, social, and emotional changes that are occurring for teens and get tips for what parents can do. Part of the Teen Talk: A Survival Guide for Parents of Teens series.

The Teen Years ExplainedClea McNeely, PhD and Jayne Blanchard — This e-book can help both teens and adults to understand developmental changes and tips for how to apply this knowledge to your everyday life.

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