Parental alienation occurs when one parent attempts to sabotage their child’s relationship with the other parent (and/or their extended family). Most commonly seen in high-conflict divorce situations, parental alienation has been linked by scholars to a range of psychological issues in children and teenagers.
Yes—parental alienation is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) as a serious form of child abuse. According to a 2008 study by Dr. William Bernet, professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, around 1% of U.S. children suffer from parental alienation— today, that would mean over 740,000 kids have been alienated from their parents.
A 2011 paper in the Journal of Psychological Nursing and Mental Health Services defines parental alienation as: “During parental warfare, a child is used as a weapon by one parent (alienating parent) against the other parent (alienated/targeted parent). The targeted parent – child relationship once encased with unconditional love is transformed by anunrelenting campaign of denigration, criticism, and hatred.” Other researchers and organizations us slightly different phrasing to describe the phenomenon, but the core ideas remain the same.
Parental alienation is widely recognized as having a harmful effect on children. Writing in Social Work Today, Dr. Amy J.L. Baker identified numerous deleterious effects suffered by children who have been subjected to parental alienation— including depression, addiction, and (later in adulthood) alienation from their own children.