Parent Alienation is a toxic family environmental situation, in which teens are manipulated by one or more of their parents. Often, in cases of Parent Alienation, one parent will work to create distance or tension between the teen and other parent, in order to maintain or improve his or her own relationship with the teen. This situation is commonly associated with separated or divorced parents, and can stem from a number of different sources of tension, including severe stress, feelings of bitterness, insecurity, and unhappiness. Even in situations where parents might creating this rift unintentionally and/or unconsciously, the effects on teens can still be considerable, especially in instances where teens are already under stress and/or emotional strain.
What’s uniquely harmful about Parent Alienation is the degree to which parents can disrupt teens’ lives, by this behavior. The particular ways which parents manipulate teens may vary, but often include methods of making themselves look good and making the other parent look bad. As a means to this end, parents might bribe their teens, insult the other parent in front of the teen, tell lies about the other parent, and/or over-share about how the other parent has caused them pain. Understandably, this causes teens to feel torn between the two parents, and often tends to cause the teens to feel responsibility of taking care of the parents, rather than the other way around. When teens experience this kind of inappropriate stress of supporting the family unit, in addition to other challenges, this can be extremely harmful and debilitating to teens’ overall mood, health, and well-being.
One of the most unique and important aspects of teen treatment, in general, is the involvement and engagement of the teens’ families. What we find, time and again, is that the health, recovery, and general well-being of teens is intimately connected to the relationships in the family and especially, with the teens’ parents. Therefore, especially in instances when teens are undergoing treatment for a mental illness and/or substance abuse disorder, it’s important to address and support the stability and health of the family unit, as a whole.
For teens and families with instances of Parent Alienation, we use a combination of individual and family group therapy sessions. In individual therapy sessions with the teens, we work with them to help them identify and recognize ways in which they’re being manipulated, how their parents’ actions affect them, and what sorts of thoughts and beliefs this manipulation has brought about in them. By helping teens to gradually see their parents’ behaviors for the manipulation they are, teens can then begin to practice new ways to respond and react to their parents’ behaviors. This will help teens to become more empowered and stable in their own relationships with their parents, as well as their emotional state. In family group sessions, therapists work to help evaluate the dynamics that are at play between the teens and parents, and help them to make connections between their own behaviors and the effects thereof. The goal of the family group sessions is to help create a more safe, fair, and supportive environment for the teens, which undoubtedly benefit the parents’ lives as well.