What Is the Definition of Individuation?

Why parents must let go during this time

Mother and daughter with flour on nose baking in kitchen
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Learn the definition of individuation and why it's a key concept in developmental psychology with this overview of the term. 

What Individuation Means

Carl Jung used the term "individuation" extensively in his work on personality development. When discussing human development, individuation refers to the process of forming a stable personality. As a person individuates, he gains a clearer sense of self that is separate from his parents and others around him.

 Adolescent egocentrism may arise due to the individuation process.

Individuation occurs throughout life, but it is an important part of the tween, teen and young adulthood years. When individuation occurs, tweens and teens may want more privacy. During this time, parents should get used to the idea of their children wanting to spend time alone in their bedrooms. They may no longer be as open about what happens during the school day or in their friendships. They may have romantic relationships or crushes that they keep to themselves.

In addition to wanting more alone time and privacy, young people undergoing the individuation process may also seemingly rebel against their parents. If their parents are conservative Christians, for example, the child may begin to develop an interest in Buddhism or announce their interest in atheism. The child may reject conservatism to embrace liberal politics.

Children during this time may dress, style their hair or listen to music to which their parents object. Parents should not take these style decisions personally. If your child shaves her head or dyes her hair purple, remember this is likely phase, and if it isn't, you'll eventually grow accustomed to it.

Letting Go 

It's important that parents allow children to undergo the individuation process. While parents may want children to live the same way that they do or embrace the same values that they have, they must recognize and respect the fact that their children are unique individuals with their own paths in life.

After all, children who don't develop a healthy sense of self may become depressed as adults or have an existential crisis. They may wonder why they chose the career they did or the spouse they have and question if they were really supposed to lead a certain lifestyle. Did they make these choices consciously or simply listen to what others (namely their parents) told them to do?

If you have faith in your parenting skills and that you've given your child a good moral foundation, then be confident that your child will turn out fine, even if their life in no way resembles your own.

When to Intervene

Tweens and teens are known to take risks as they develop into independent people. While it's important for parents to respect the differences between their children and them, it's not necessarily a good idea to give your child too much freedom during this time.

If your child shows signs of experimenting with drugs or alcohol, don't chalk it up to individuation. It's time to intervene. 

Let them know that you respect the fact that they're growing into adults but that recklessness at their age has real-world consequences that can affect them for the rest of their lives. Set boundaries for kids, even as they undergo the individuation process. Children can find a sense of self without resorting to drugs, alcohol, promiscuity or other behaviors that put them at risk.  


Rathus, PhD, Spencer. Psychology: Concepts and Connections, Brief Version. 8th edition. 2007. Belmont, CA: Thomson, Wadsworth.

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