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The Definition of Autonomy


Updated September 27, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Definition: Autonomy means behaving and thinking independently of others.

Children develop autonomy gradually over the course of development. In the toddler years, they begin to develop autonomy by exploring their environment and starting to do things for themselves. The next major struggle with autonomy occurs during the tween and teen years. During that time, children fight to become autonomous, but simultaneously feel pulled back toward childhood by their own longings and/or by the boundaries parents and society places on them.

In American culture, individuals typically do not become fully autonomous until sometime during emerging adulthood (between 18 and 25 years of age). In some cases, it may be even later.

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