Critics argue that no solid science backs the idea that children can be manipulated to turn a child against a loving parent—a phenomenon known as parental alienation.
This position is inconsistent with the reality known by any parent that, children come to dislike, hate, or reject certain people (such as those of a different race) based on how their parents or other guardians talk about and act toward others.
Parents have such a strong influence; they can convince their children to remember events that never actually happened. The science has been clear on this for decades (Lawson et al, 2018).
The most extreme examples are when children are coached to accuse a parent of physical or sexual abuse that never occurred (Becker, 1996).
If, as critics contend, parental alienation does not exist, then why have so many US family court judges ruled that it does? Lorondos’s study found in nearly 1,200 trial and appellate cases between 1985 and 2018, judges agreed that evidence of possible parental alienation was relevant, admissible, and worthy of discussion (2020).
Harman, Lorandos, Florian and Warshak reviewed the empirical studies on parental alienation, including those published in languages other than English. They have reported the results in their new article, “Developmental Psychology and the Scientific Status of Parental Alienation,” which was recently published (2022).
They found of the more than 200 empirical studies reviewed, 40% were published since 2016. This means critics can no longer accurately assert that “parental alienation research is in its infancy”.
Their study leaves no doubt that parental alienation is a valid concept supported by robust and well-developed scientific literature. There are several points to be made in relation to this
First, the number of studies is increasing each year.
Second, the type of studies increasingly favours quantitative (e.g., statistical analysis) over qualitative (e.g., descriptive) methods.
Third, the studies increasingly test hypotheses and situate the design and results in a theoretical and explanatory framework.
The studies reviewed by Harman et al (2022) provide a wide range of reliable information for judges, lawyers, legislators, therapists, and parents—information such as
- The prevalence of parental alienation,
- The strategies parents use to undermine their child’s relationship with the other parent,
- How to identify a child who rejects a good parent
- How courts can help families suffering from this problem.
- The types and frequency of alienating behaviour a parent engaged in
Parental Alienation a Misogynist Weapon?
Many critics suggest parental alienation is used as a weapon to harm vulnerable women and children however, this is inconsistent with the literature where for many years Warshak and others have written that fathers and mothers can and do ferment their children’s rejection of the other parent. (Warshak, R, 2015).
Their review provided confirmation of this observation. Ten studies found no gender differences in who was likely to be an alienating parent. In other words, mothers as well as fathers are targets of their children’s irrational rejection. Far from being a misogynist’s weapon, as some activists claim, parental alienation is an equal opportunity offense.
The key takeaway message is Parental alienation is real and supported by a legitimate and trustworthy foundation of scientific study. Advocates who claim otherwise are wrong and either through ignorance or design are ignoring scientific advances in the field and spreading misinformation.
Legislators should not be fooled by claims that research in parental alienation lacks scientific status. For decades, judges have found a clear link between a parent’s alienating behaviour and the child’s subsequent rejection of the other parent. Our laws and practices should recognize the harm caused to children who fall victim to parental alienation and allow judges to do what is necessary to spare children from this injury.
Becker (1996) Child Sexual Abuse Allegations Against a Lesbian or Gay Parent in a Custody or Visitation Dispute: Battling the Overt and Insidious Bias of Experts and Judges, Denver Law Review, vol 74, (1) Art 5, Jan 1996. https://digitalcommons.du.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1953&context=dlr
Harman, J. J., Warshak, R. A., Lorandos, D., & Florian, M. J. (2022). Developmental psychology and the scientific status of parental alienation. Developmental Psychology, 58(10), 1887–1911. https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0001404
Lawson et al, (2018) A systemic Review of the reliability of children’s event reports after discussing experiences with a naïve, knowledgeable, or misled parent, Developmental Review Vol 49, September 2018, Pages 62-79 A systematic review of the reliability of children’s event reports after discussing experiences with a naïve, knowledgeable, or misled parent – ScienceDirect
Lorondos, (2020) Parental Alienation in US Courts from 1985 – 2018, Family Court Review, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/fcre.12475
Warshak, R. A. (2015). Ten parental alienation fallacies that compromise decisions in court and in therapy. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 46(4), 235–249. https://doi.org/10.1037/pro0000031