BlogMax QuinnLesson #3: Moving through Autonomy, towards Virtual Interdependence

Lesson #3: Moving through Autonomy, towards Virtual Interdependence

College students are “self-regulating, autonomous individuals” (Mastrodicasa & Metellus, 2013, p. 25) who certainly have a passion for social media. Often, college students share information about their personal lives, or the lives of those they care about, with their networks across social media. It is not the sharing that should be of concern, but the content and the impact that practitioners should pay attention to.

Students may be looking for validation, empathy, acceptance, or simply to share an experience that happened to them, a friend or family member. However, some sharing is not always positive, and can sometimes elicit negative responses, perceptions, or impacts. From my work with college students, I find that they often post with the hope of making contact with others, to share what’s going on in their lives, to ask for help, or to raise awareness of something happening to them, a group they identify with, or someone they care about. The hope of moving through autonomy and towards virtual interdependence tells us two things:

College students have the autonomy to post online despite the “consequences” of the content they choose to share, AND, that they not only care quite a bit about what others (those they have relationships with) think, they rely on them quite a bit.

A “key developmental step for students is learning to function with relative self-sufficiency, to take responsibility for pursuing self-chosen goals, and to be less bound by others’ opinions” (Chickering & Reisser, 1993, p. 47). Chickering and Reisser (1993) tell us that in college, students experience emotional independence (a willingness to risk loss of friends or status in order to pursue strong interests or stand on convictions) as they balance the need to be independent. This, in turn, increases their longing for inclusion. College students display this autonomous behavior online when they advocate for a cause that has gone viral, or post to support their friend who is grieving over the loss of a loved one. Through these engagements, they are seeking inclusion through networked pockets of support, and the impacts are critical.

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Millennials are challenging our role as educators, causing an unprecedented increase in the need for, and further understanding of, professional competence regarding the way students seek interdependence and interconnectedness online.

Educators give students autonomy, encourage integrity and model behaviors as they support students when they encounter dissonance. As a result, the goal of a Digital Identity Coach is to help students begin their journey toward self-authorship: “an internal personal identity, a self-authorship that can coordinate, integrate, act upon, or invent values, beliefs, convictions, generalizations, ideals, abstractions, interpersonal loyalties, and intrapersonal states. It is no longer authored by them, it authors them and thereby achieves a personal authority” (Keegan, 1994, p. 185). Through helping students become not only self-authored, but both autonomous and interdependent, coaches can assist students as they begin to “understand themselves as both independent and interdependent” (Renn & Reason, 2013, p. 148).

Students take “increasing responsibility for self-support” as they travel through this vector. Coaches help students to “clarify goals, reorder priorities, and ask family members to support them as they redefine themselves” (Chickering & Reisser, 1993, p. 115). A large part of the redefinition, or transference, of this Vector into the virtual realm relates to the students’ self in relation to their use of social media; the content they post and the emotional impact it solicits, as well as their conceptualization of their personal brand and its’ impact on others.

Increased ownership over the virtual-self, including what one posts online, might be a signal that a student is traveling through this virtual vector. When a student becomes purposeful in sharing content on social media it may promote “more confidence in articulating and acting on guiding principles, ... greater tolerance for other points of view ... and [the] find[ing of] their own voice” (Chickering & Reisser, 1993, p. 116).

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Moving through autonomy toward interdependence involves three components: (1) emotional independence - freedom from continual and pressing needs for reassurance, affection, or approval from others; (2) instrumental independence - the ability to carry on activities and solve problems in a self-directed manner, and the freedom and confidence to be mobile in order to pursue opportunity or adventure; (3) interdependence - an awareness of one’s place in and commitment to the welfare of the larger community (p. 117).

Self-determination, separation from parents/family and an increase in reliance on peers as well as their self-sufficiency contributes towards helping students define realistic goals and true meaning in their lives. Social media allow students to seek reassurance, affection and constant approval from others. “The road to emotional independence begins with disengagement from parents, proceeds through reliance on peers and role models, and moves toward a balance of comfort with one’s own company and openness to others, without the need to cling” (Chickering & Reisser, 1993, p. 122). It is the last line of this quotation that we are trying to coach students to move towards.

Students may use social media to disengage from home-life, to create alliances with peers, and to connect with professional role models that can help them balance their relationships.

To further understand this virtual vector, the following quote shows us just how challenging of a task moving through autonomy and towards virtual interdependence can prove to be:
“A person exists by differentiating self from other and by connecting self and other. These are the two functions of a boundary. To make good contact with one's world, it is necessary to risk reaching out and discovering one's own boundaries. Effective self-regulation includes contact in which one is aware of novelty in the environment that is potentially nourishing or toxic. That which is nourishing is assimilated and all else is rejected. This kind of differentiated contact inevitably leads to growth” (Polster and Polster, 1973, p. 101).


With the inception of the Social Media Revolution, now, more than ever, we must facilitate the mature, interpersonal growth of college students so that they can achieve their dreams and not be held back due to an inability to hone their thoughts, feelings and emotions via social media.

To connect with a coach, and to find out how to bring one to your campus, you are encouraged to visit and explore how you and your students can navigate these seven virtual vectors, while striving to lead a digital life that is genuine and congruent. Stay tuned for our next post where we will dive into Lesson #4 of our Coaching Playbook: Developing Mature, Interpersonal, Virtual Relationships.

For a complete list of the references used in creating this blog post, click here!

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