Parent Alienation refers to the manipulation or “programming” by one parent to behave and speak negatively about the other parent, in order to get their teen to take sides. The parent who is causing the alienation will work to create distance and distress between the teen and the other parent, in order to further solidify his/her own importance in the teen’s life. This kind of behavior is disturbing for a great number of reasons, not the least of which is, for teens who have experienced or are experiencing divorce, what they need more than anything is to be able to continue to maintain strong relationships with both of their parents. Unfortunately, sometimes because of anger or bitterness toward the spouse, or simply because of the parent’s own insecurities and/or lack of ability to put the child first, he or she will manipulate the situation to force the teen to become involved in the dispute. Whether done intentionally or unintentionally, this selfish behavior on the part of the parent often creates emotional angst in the teen, creates relational difficulties, causes the teen to feel guilt, and prevents the teen from feeling the proper support and guidance from both parents that they want and need.
Though Teen Parent Alienation may sound like a modern-times term, the syndrome was actually identified almost 20 years ago, and its definition explains: “It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target parent.” Despite teenagers’ attempts to think for themselves, to love and appreciate both parents, and to treat their parents equally, such alienating behavior of one parent is unfortunately often successful in driving an emotional wedge between the teen and the other parent. Over time, this can lead to a situation where the teen views the alienated parent as almost completely evil, and can no longer see or understand any positive attributes in that parent.
As you can probably imagine and/or have experienced yourself, the ways in which one parent alienates the other are numerous, varying, and can be disturbingly creative. Most commonly, the manipulative behaviors including bad-mouthing, forbidding the teen to see or spend time with the other parent, portraying the other parent as dangerous, forcing the teen to choose between the parents and/or threatening to withdraw attention or affection, and belittling the other parent, in front of the teen. All of these things not only disempower and reduce the parent in the eyes of the teen, but also cause the teen to have an increasing sense of loss, emotional distress, and conflict of identity, as their idea of the family role goes from being something healthy to something broken and demented.
In Teen Parental Alienation treatment, we implement a number of different therapeutic techniques, designed to help address the false belief systems, negative thoughts, feelings of guilt, and stress in relationships, that have all been caused by the poisonous words and actions of one parent, toward another. We’re especially careful to help teens become aware of the ways in which their own beliefs, both concerning their parents and themselves, have been created and/or affected by their parents’ actions. And lastly, we help teens to make connections between these experiences of teens with the negative symptoms related with their Mental Health and/or Substance Abuse condition, especially with relation to how certain aspects of relationships with their parents might trigger certain thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. Though Teen Parent Alienation Therapy is sometimes a very prominent and powerful aspect of a teen’s overall treatment plan, it’s always incorporated into a holistic design, which address these familial stressors and challenges in the context of the teen’s greater life experience. We work carefully with teens to help them build and heal in relationships with their parents and/or concepts of family, as one important part of them gaining relief from the challenges and conflicts they face in their lives, overall.