PAS, Terminology & Developmental Stages: Target Parents ( It is just a phase)
PAS, Terminology & Developmental Stages: Target Parents (It is just a phase) by Monika Logan, LBSW
I recently heard someone state that the terminology associated with Parental Alienation is confusing. At present, there are various terms for this destructive family experience. Just to name one, Janet Johnston (2001) reformulated Parental Alienation. The reformulation though was not in name only. According to Johnston, a child who expresses freely and persistently, unreasonable negative feelings and beliefs toward a parent that are significantly disproportionate to the child’s actual experience with that parent, is known as an alienated child. Parental Alienation, according to an article published by the American Academy of child and Adolescent Psychiatry (1997) is when a child finds nothing positive in his or her relationship with the parent and prefers no contact.
Ultimately, we come full circle to Gardner (2002) who defined and observed the confusion as a disorder arising primarily in the context of child-custody disputes. Gardner noted that, “it results from the combination of a programming parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target parent.” Some may wonder the benefit of utilizing the idiom alienated child.
One benefit is distraction. If the jargon of parental alienation is continuously amended conceptualization will remain vague. According to Webster’s, alienation is defined as “to make indifferent or hostile, to turn away or divert.” An alienated child is one that has turned away. We must remember that they may have turned away for justifiable reasons, such as abuse and neglect. Gardner (2002) pointed out, “when true parental abuse and /or neglect is present the child’s animosity may be justified, and so the parental alienation syndrome diagnosis is not applicable” Johnston (2001) is right that it is “critical to differentiate the alienated child (who persistently refuses and rejects visitation because of unreasonable negative views and feelings) from other children who also resist contact with a parent after separation. However, the author notes that the rejection should be considered within the context of the “variety of normal developmentally expectable reasons.” I wonder if children in intact homes should be excused from rejecting his or her parent due to a particular developmental stage?
Most parents not dealing with parental alienation figure out that their 16-year-old “has a life of their own.” If we link refusing visitation to “a variety of normal developmentally stages” then all cases of Parental Alienation should occur during adolescent. Even if one is not well versed in developmental stages, parents figure out that a four-year old enjoys time with mom and dad but most 17 year olds prefer time their friends. The concern for many is that true abuse and neglect must be determined from false allegations. Rightfully so. Domestic violence is real and in some courts, parental alienation syndrome has been misused.
Nevertheless, it is a big mistake for parents experiencing a hostile divorce to believe that his or her child is “just in a developmental stage.” Silence is not always golden and taking the “high road” may lead to a dead-end. An un-brainwashed 16-year-old will speak to his or her parent again. Parental Alienation should not be assumed that it will resolve by age 18. According to Johnston (2001) the childs refusal to visit may be motivated by other factors. She notes that, “…a four-year old might resist visitation because of difficulty separating from a primary care caretaker.” Obviously, this is to be expected. Many four year old children are attached to a primary caretaker. A four-year old that is clingy when mom or dad picks them up is quite another scenario than a four year old that reports, “I do not want to go with mom, she is a slut and only wants alimony.” The parents of clingy children understand. The cruelty of the alienating parent with intent is another. A child of any age that refuses contact with a parent who has been abusive is expected. On the other hand, an enmeshed 16-year-old will defend and protect the preferred parent into his or her golden years.
To read about normal developmental stages visit: http://www.pccua.edu/keough/erikson’s_stages_of_development.htm