Although negotiation of family relatedness and personal autonomy is a key developmental task of adolescence, what is most adaptive for adolescents may vary across cultures. The purpose of the present study was to examine whether relations between family obligation values and adolescent internalizing symptoms may vary as a function of the level of parental autonomy support perceived by the adolescent, and to assess the extent to which such associations vary by ethnic group.
The study included 614 adolescents (Mean age = 15.57 years, 50% male) from Vietnamese-American (55%) and European-American (45%) backgrounds. Adolescents reported their: (a) family obligation values to (a1) respect, (a2) provide current assistance, and (a3) provide future support to the family, (b) perceived maternal and paternal autonomy support, and (c) internalizing symptoms.
Effects of family obligation values differed across the three subdomains as a function of maternal autonomy support and ethnic group. Family obligation values to respect the family (a1, above) were related to lower levels of internalizing symptoms for both Vietnamese- and European-American adolescents who received high levels of maternal autonomy support. Ethnic differences emerged such that only among Vietnamese-American adolescents, there was a negative relation between current assistance values (a2, above) and internalizing symptoms among adolescents with high maternal autonomy support.
Overall, findings highlight the importance for parents to nurture adolescents’ family obligation values while also promoting their autonomy development.