Autonomy has been defined in a number of ways: the process of becoming a self-governing person; development of a sense of individuation; the ability to give direction to one's own life by defining goals, feeling competent and being able to regulate one's own actions; and freedom to carry out actions on one's own behalf while maintaining appropriate connections to significant others. The development of autonomy is seen as a crucial part of adolescence but it can be affected by a number of different factors, among which is parentification. Parentification is the term given to what happens when a child ends up looking after a parent, assuming adult roles that the parent can no longer perform and taking on some of the caregiving of an ill parent. Research into the effects of parentification has been inconclusive and researchers in the U.S. studied 108 children whose mothers had HIV. The researchers found that children with greater attachment to their mothers had higher autonomy, whilst children who drank or used drugs had lower autonomy. Attachment to peers was associated with higher autonomy. Those children who had taken on more responsibility for caretaking roles because of their mother's illness showed better autonomy development in early and middle adolescence.
Murphy, Debra A. ... [et al] - Early and middle adolescents' autonomy development: impact of maternal HIV/AIDS Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry April 2008, 13(2), 253-276