Did you know that Parental Alienation is a form of Child Abuse? Yes! It is a cruel emotional act aimed against another adult but, in reality, causes unseen wounds to the children.
Separation or divorce often results in children not seeing one of their parents. We agree that this may disrupt a child’s need to spend time with both parents, and the reasons behind this would be interesting to explore.
Ideally, this includes the child being given a choice of opting for one of the parents and rejecting the other one. In the later process, it may be called estrangement or alienation.
What is the difference between Estrangement and Alienation?
Estrangement refers to a child’s rejection of a parent that is justified “due to the rejected parent’s history of family violence, abuse, and neglect” (Johnston, 2005). On the other hand, alienation refers to a child rejecting one of the parents without a valid reason.
Here are some research findings indicating the importance of Parental Alienation
Derived from the U.S. Census Bureau, 2015, and research conducted by Dr. Jennifer Harman, the percentage of parents who reported being alienated from their children in the poll is 13.4%. This means, approximately 22,211,287 adults are currently targets of parental alienation.
Nearly half (48%) of the parents in the sample who reported being alienated from their children indicated that they were experiencing severe alienation (versus mild and moderate).
Bernet (2008) goes on to report that 10% of children (7.4 million) in the United States live with divorced parents, and 10% of these (740,000) are involved in custody or visitation disputes, of which 25% (185,000) develop parental alienation.
Fidler and Bala (2010) report both an increasing incidence and increased judicial findings of parental alienation; they report estimates of parental alienation in 11 to 15 percent of divorces involving children; and Bernet et al. (2010) estimate that about 1 percent of children and adolescents in North America experience parental alienation.
Richard Gardner, in 1998 coined the concept of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).
Different ways one parent is alienating the child from the other parent:
Signs that your child may be experiencing parental alienation:
Watch out for the following signs in children that may need to be addressed immediately.
What do alienators use to stand their grounds?
Alienators may use anything and everything concerning the other parent and portray them as “a problem.” This can range from their nationality, immigration status, race, gender, occupational status, or other stereotypes to leverage their pattern of coercive control.
The Impact of Parental Alienation on Children
Exposure to toxic stress caused by this phenomenon has long-lasting effects on a child’s mind. It is damaging to the developing brain of children, and the intensity of practiced parental alienation is closely regarded as abuse or violence. There is a scholarly consensus that severe alienation is abusive to children (Fidler and Bala, 2010). It is a largely overlooked form of child abuse (Bernet et al., 2010). Child welfare and divorce practitioners are often unaware of or minimize its extent.
Children, if in case, stay with this alienating parent, will be utterly dependent on this parent who could be very controlling of what the children think or feel at all times.
Children actively experiencing parental alienation take lots of effort even to realize what is going wrong. Coming out of it usually takes a very long time with regular therapy.
The Impact of Parental Alienation on the Targeted Parent:
Divorce or separation is already a draining process. It can be a life-stirring phenomenon when it is topped with a child custody battle with the ex-partner.
The targeted parent misses being with their child and is worried about the impact the whole process of alienation will have on the child. In addition, many examples have shown that there is a constant fear and anxiety in the targeted parent about a) what they may be portrayed as in their child’s mind by another parent; b) that they may not see their child again or c) they may not be a good parent. They usually experience irregularities in their sleep and eating patterns, loss of self-worth, depressive moods, engage in self-blame, may have trauma symptoms. In extreme vulnerabilities, they may even manifest Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or suicidal ideation.
Is parental alienation based on gender?
No, this could be practiced by either males or females. Studies suggest females express their aggression indirectly, thus engaging more in gossips, spreading rumors, undermining the reputation of people they dislike. In contrast, males express aggression both directly and indirectly.
Parental Alienation is okay to be practiced if the parent is:
1. American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
2. United States Census Bureau (2015, September). State and county quick facts: USA. Retrieved on November 20, 2015 from
Treatment and care will depend on the severity of parental alienation experienced by the child. If it is of mild intensity, the child can benefit from parenting time and psychoeducation.
If the intensity is moderate in nature, the child will benefit from regular counseling and joint sessions by the parenting coordinator to minimize the exposure of parental conflicts and improve communication. However, this is subject to the agreement of both the parents in owning the joint responsibility of their child’s mental health.
In severe cases, the child may display intense hatred for the unfavored parent and both the child and the alienating parent who refuses to attend joint meetings or even address the concerns.
In a nutshell, Parental Alienation occurs when two parents separate, get divorced, or are away from the child for other personal or legal reasons. In the scenario where both parents are safe for the child, the child benefits the most with both parents in their lives, even after their split.
It is ideal to opt for shared parenting, keeping in mind that love and responsibility for one’s child are more significant than hatred for one’s ex-partner. Suppose this default option is not voted for. In that case, it can cause irreparable damages to the unfavored parent and the child (there are many pieces of research hinting at the long-lasting effects of the same). As this emotional act or syndrome cannot be easily proved, it is critically sensitive to identify its occurrence. However, once identified, it may be considered a social responsibility to proactively work to safeguard everyone’s mental health and avoid or lessen the damaging effects.