In the news recently you probably couldn’t help but hear of the story of the three kids sent to juvenile detention center for refusing to see their father.
A little background here:
A Michigan judge ordered the children, ages 9 to 15, to be sent to a juvenile detention center after failing to follow her orders to go to lunch with their father. Prior to this order (to go to lunch with their dad), the judge had ordered the 3 to “have a healthy relationship with your father,” which also landed them in contempt of court (because every kid knows how to have a “healthy relationship” with their parent after a undisclosed period of time of being poisoned against him). Shouldn’t it be the alienator being given that responsibility and instruction and not the kids? How on earth do kids know how to have healthy relationships? Aren’t the parents supposed to be modeling these to them? Doesn’t this judge acknowledge that the mother is an alienator? Shouldn’t she be focused on her and her attitudes? Shouldn’t the mother be telling the kids to go have lunch with him, to do anything possible to help foster a healthy relationship with the father? Because they’ll follow her lead. But I digress…
For those of you affected by PA, I’m going to guess that some of you agree with the judge’s actions. Maybe your thoughts are if the kids won’t visit then give them repercussions for disobeying the judge’s orders. Maybe you’re thinking, “If they defy my wishes as a parent to come visit–even with a custody order in place and a judge telling them to visit, then they should be held accountable for their actions.” I can certainly empathize with what you’re thinking especially because your ex and your kids have taken all/some of your power away and if the kids can act in this manner, as mini adults, then they should also suffer the consequences of their behavior.
Here’s why the judge’s orders are an ineffective solution to a problem that goes deeper than punishing the children:
[Tweet “The biggest problem in Parental Alienation is the alienator.”]
These kids (remember, they’re ages 9 to 15) are all at highly impressionable ages (which is obvious if they’re programmed to hate in general, and in particular, their other parent). If you put these kids in this type of environment (juvenile hall), they’ll be scared. They’ll want to be comforted–and where will they want to turn for that? The father? Nope.
An effective solution is not going to be to punish the kids for their hatred of their parent. Ever tell a teenager you don’t like their girl/boyfriend and tell them they can’t see them anymore? What happened next? The opposite of what you’d like, right? Suddenly it’s a power struggle.
The core issue is the alienating parent’s attitude toward the targeted parent (this is without neglect or abuse being the cause–which ironically, the kid will still usually want a relationship with that parent anyway). Without a sense of appropriate boundaries, with alienators, it’s anything goes. They fail to see their children’s needs to have a healthy relationship with the other parent; the alienator only wants their needs met. They fail to see that their children have a whole other experience with their parent, separate from child support, affairs, and whatever else is going on that is not appropriate to share with the child.
Without changing the alienator’s behaviors, you’re just sending the kids back to a toxic environment ripe for continuing Parental Alienation. In order for kids to get stronger against the alienator’s campaign of denigration and hatred (sound familiar?), they’ll need some strong support.
Just like cult members becoming programmed over time, it takes a certain period of time to deprogram the participants. Even if the kids get the therapeutic help they need, it’s all for naught if they are still spending time with the “cult leader”–the one who programs (consciously or unconsciously) the attitude of hate, contempt, and disdain for the other parent. If you deprogram a cult kid, how can you think of sending them back to the cult environment without changing anything, especially the cult leader’s behavior? Ummm…hello! We’ve got a problem here!
Also, punishing kids at this age with their rational brains still forming seems counter-intuitive. They don’t (obviously) make good decisions. Punishing them for not having a good relationship with the threat of juvenile hall (aka “jail for kids”) is not an appropriate repercussion for this type of behavior. Not seeing their father is not a crime–not for the kids. It should be for the alienator.
Having a kid who’s influenced by an alienator is extremely frustrating. Their behavior is hostile, rude, disrespectful–everything you don’t want to see in your child (a walking, breathing advertisement of the ex’s sentiments)–and it’s all directed at you. It’s hard not to keep your composure sometimes because you know this isn’t the kid you’ve raised and how you want them to be in the world. They wouldn’t do it to their teacher or their other parent.
If the alienator were to stop their alienating ways, eventually the alienation would stop. Sometimes the damage is so deeply entrenched in the kids, there will need to be some good therapeutic support for the whole family. It takes time to deconstruct a story and rebuild it. Depending on how much the story is marked by negative emotion, it will take some time to lessen its effect.
If you don’t address the problem at the source, the problem will continue. The first part of addressing alienation is to change the alienator’s behavior. This isn’t easy because the alienator doesn’t see a problem let alone recognize the power they have in indoctrinating their kids in a campaign of hatred toward the other parent.
[Tweet “Kids aren’t born to hate. They’re taught.”]
This is how I would have handled this. I don’t know how severe the alienation is, but I would order the mother to go for mandatory therapy–first by herself, then with the father. I would have the kids go to therapy. All of this should be done with therapists who are familiar with PA and have worked with these types of clients before. As this is occurring, I would have the kids transition to living with the other parent. Removing the kids from the abusive situation (and it is psychological abuse to foster and allow a child to hate the other parent) would be one of my first priorities.
It’s great to see the judge recognizes PA, but her approach needs some work–it’s not effective. If I were sent to juvenile hall because of this, I wouldn’t stop hating my father–I’d hate him even more for making that happen. Their filters can’t see anything but how bad the dad is–and this just solidifies it even more. Plus, can’t you just see the mother now, saying to the kids, “See, your father doesn’t care about or love you–he sent you three to jail!”
Punishing the kids is not going to bring about a positive solution. The judge could say that the mother might face repercussions if the kids don’t visit–then they have an “out” to use an excuse to visit the father without facing their mother’s repercussions for wanting to see and be with their dad. The judge could say that until the mother gets the help she needs, the kids are now going to be staying with their dad (again, depending upon the severity, the kids may need to transition into this). When the mother can demonstrate through supervised visits that she can handle herself, then they can work out something different. The judge could also award the father custody and reward the children for their respectful behaviors with visits to the mother.
A good antidote to parental alienation is to have the child(ren) spend more time with the targeted parent.
There’s so much more I can write about this topic, but bottom line is, while it is great that the judge recognized PA, her solution is ineffective for healing the relationship between the kids and their dad. As angry as I would be at my kids for treating me so poorly, I wouldn’t want to see them punished by sending them to their equivalent of jail. In a way it would be taking care of my need to punish them for my hurt and pain. It isn’t a crime for refusing to see a parent as a child. The child didn’t make the custody order–the adults did.
My information came from The Washington Post‘s article located here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2015/07/09/michigan-judge-bullies-children-in-open-court-for-refusing-to-see-their-dad/