Is Parental Alienation a Type of Child Abuse?

Is Parental Alienation a Type of Child Abuse?

When you hear the term “child abuse,” you probably think of physical harm. But as you might know, abuse comes in different forms — in fact, abuse can be emotional, mental, and physical.

As a parent, the last thing you want is for your child to experience any harm, but if you’re going through a divorce, your child may unknowingly be at risk of child abuse. Let’s dive into the definitions and determine if parental alienation is a form of child abuse. 

Defining Parental Alienation and Child Abuse

To answer this question accurately, we first need to cover what constitutes parental alienation and child abuse. 

Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is a strategy in which one parent intentionally and unjustly speaks badly about the other parent or undermines the other parent’s authority. As a result, the child may refuse to have a relationship, which is often due to the other parent’s manipulation. 

For example, if a father tells their child that their mother is stupid, that is attempted parental alienation. Consistent acts like this may harm the relationship between the targeted parent and children (which may very well be the abusive parent’s intention). 

But sometimes, parental alienation isn’t so straightforward: In many cases, one parent may interfere with the child and the other parent’s quality time, be it visitation or contact in general. This is often an attempt to control who the child sees the most in hopes that they’ll lose interest in having a relationship with the other parent. 

Child Abuse

Child abuse is any action by the parent or caretaker that results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation. According to the CDC, 1 in 7 children has experienced child abuse in the past year. 

A typical example of physical child abuse is when a caretaker deliberately causes a bodily injury to a child. This often occurs when a parent cannot control their anger and may include hitting, choking, or kicking.

On the other hand, emotional child abuse can be tough to identify and prove. It occurs when a caretaker impairs a child’s emotional development, which may arise through demeaning their self-worth, manipulation, threatening, blaming, and scapegoating. In many cases, abused children of any kind will act out in school, around other family members, or deliberately lose friends.  

Are Parental Alienation and Child Abuse Related? 

To determine whether parental alienation is a form of child abuse, we need to highlight what aspects of child abuse line up with the effects of parental alienation. Based on the definitions of both, there are a few common themes: manipulation, low self-worth, and behavioral issues.

  • Manipulation: If one parent convinces their child to feel hatred towards the other parent unjustly, this is a type of emotional abuse called “manipulation.” Manipulation can come in many forms (be it gaslighting or love bombing) and can directly affect the way the child handles their relationships as they get older. 
  • Low self-worth: Children naturally love their parents unconditionally, but when they’re told that one parent is “stupid” or “never does what he’s supposed to do,” it may make the child feel like they’re unable to form their own opinions on other people, which can lead to low self-worth and severe anxiety
  • Behavioral issues: There’s no doubt that constant fighting, separation, and divorce between two parents can cause behavioral problems in children. Parental alienation and child abuse can do the same thing — and in most cases, children don’t know how to process their emotions or share their feelings, so they resort to acting out, which stems from unfulfilled wants and desired attention

Although there is no concrete scientific evidence that parental alienation is a form of child abuse, experts in the field say that it can be a type of emotional abuse since it causes emotional harm via poor relationships, low self-esteem, and general behavior issues. 

Keep Your Child Safe, Even If You’re Experiencing Parental Alienation

Your priority as a parent is ensuring your child is happy and healthy. However, this can be hard to control when dealing with an angry ex-spouse who attempts to use your child against you. If this is happening to you, then please call Hickey & Hull Law Partners today so we can remedy this situation before any real emotional damage is done. Our River Valley office number is 479.434.2414, and our Northwest Arkansas number is 479.802.6560.