Teen Parental Alienation Treatment

It’s not uncommon to see children and teens struggling after the divorce of their parents. In some cases, one parent may work to manipulate the child so that they feel anger, hostility, and disdain for the other parent. While the psychiatric community doesn’t technically consider this a disorder, parental alienation is a serious issue that can have a huge impact on a teen’s mental health. It has the potential to create trust and social issues that can last for years.

The term parental alienation can be applied when a child feels hostility, disdain, or fear for a parent that has been neglectful or abusive, otherwise known as realistic estrangement. For the purposes of this discussion and page, we will be focused on pathological alienation by a parent.

What Does Parental Alienation Look Like?

  • A parent is more likely to attempt to turn a child against the other parent in situations where the divorce is not amicable; especially in states that give the child the right to choose or when one feels sharing custody isn’t fair. They tend to lie, make misleading remarks, or use other forms of manipulation to confuse their child.
  • Teens being alienated will show sudden hostility towards the other parent, in a manner completely unlike normal teen angst. This is because they have been led to question that parent’s every action. This type of pathological alienation is not the same as the very real and valid feelings a teen may have towards an abusive parent (realistic estrangement).
  • Teens who are being alienated tend to struggle with “independent-thinker phenomenon.” That is, they truly believe the thoughts they have about their parent are their own and do not realize they were planted by the other.

Signs of Parental Alienation

Teen Parental Alienation Treatment | Paradigm San Francisco

Strong support for one parent (but not the other)

Teen Parental Alienation Treatment | Paradigm San Francisco

Alienating or showing dislike with no cause

Teen Parental Alienation Treatment | Paradigm San Francisco

Repeating phrases they believe are their own

Teen Parental Alienation Treatment | Paradigm San Francisco

Spreading rumors heard from the alienating parent

Teen Parental Alienation Treatment | Paradigm San Francisco

Creating false stories, especially about sexual abuse

What Causes Parental Alienation?

It’s a lot easier to alienate younger children because they aren’t mature enough to differentiate between the things they hear and their own unique thoughts. Children of a young age can’t identify manipulation as their critical thinking skills aren’t as well developed. Despite this, the alienation that does occur can carry straight through the child’s teenage years, causing them to continue to believe their other parent did something wrong.

Subtle Manipulation – or pathological alienation, occurs when one parent makes a conscious effort to discredit the other. They use varying forms of manipulation to make a child think the other parent deserves hostile treatment. This not only ruins the child’s relationship with the parent, especially in the teen years, but makes it difficult to build trusting relationships later in life.

Realistic Estrangement – occurs when a child’s behavior towards a parent are justified. Examples may be cases of physical or mental abuse. Teens struggling with this form of alienation often need treatment for PTSD or other mental health disorders as well.

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Teen Parental Alienation Treatment | Paradigm San Francisco


of divorce cases result in parental alienation


of children in high-conflict separations experience alienation


of adolescents in North America experience parental alienation

How Can I Help a Teen with Parental Alienation

Build a Bond of Trust – Parental alienation during the child or teen years usually destroys multiple relationships – and not just with the parent. Teens have trouble forming trusting relationships and struggle to communicate with others, especially about their feelings. Some teens experience deep-seated damage that can take years to heal. The feelings of mistrust they experience may also cause them to develop other mental or behavioral complications. You’ll want to create a positive and supportive atmosphere in which your teen feels safe while practicing the techniques learned during therapy.

Encourage Them to Talk - A lot of teens don’t like to talk, but communication is especially important when attempting to rebuild trusting relationships. When working with teens who have been alienated, it’s important to stress that communication be constant, honest, and based on trust. Do not be surprised if the teen you are caring for experiences setbacks.

Explore Stress Management – Teens who are struggling to grasp the concept of alienation may feel considerable amounts of stress as they process their situation. Realizing you were lied to can be very distressing. Teaching teens healthy stress management and coping techniques will prevent them from turning to unhealthy alternatives, like alcohol or drugs. It is common for teens to lash out and become angry, so they’ll need to learn how to deal with the pain they are experiencing.

What Types of Teen Parental Alienation Treatment Are Available?

The most important aspect of treating a teen for parental alienation is removing the teen from the home environment, giving them a chance to heal in a safe and neutral place. They need time away from both parents, protection from bad parenting, and time to learn what a healthy family system looks like. Teens who have been alienated need space to explore their memories, learn to recognize manipulation, and come to terms with their past experiences.

Talk Therapy

Some people don’t think counseling is an effective treatment for teen parental alienation treatment. The reality is that most teens respond well to a combination of behavioral and talk therapy. They do need time to themselves to assess their situations, but laying the groundwork and allowing them to discuss their thoughts with a neutral therapist, in a safe place, can be incredibly helpful.

Residential Treatment

Teens who are victims of parental alienation are best served by nominal removal from both parents. They can spend time in a transitional home, like Paradigm San Francisco, while talking to therapists and other teens about their experiences. This time spent away from their parents is necessary to helping them develop a sense of clarity about the things they’ve been told.

Structural Intervention

In severe cases, structural intervention is used to pull a teen out of an alienating environment. There are legal complications. Most 17-year-old teens who run away from home have rights that help to protect them. Teens who have turned 18 are considered adults. The guidelines that need to be followed to remove younger children from the home are more complex.

Teen Parental Alienation Treatment at Paradigm San Francisco

The treatment methods used in cases of parental alienation are carefully designed to support a teen as they work through the complicated web of poisonous actions and words they’ve been regularly exposed to. Therapeutic techniques are used to help teens alleviate stress and guilt while helping them to explore the negativity and false beliefs they’ve been harboring. We work to carefully guide teen towards their own realizations about how one parent has molded their beliefs about the other.

Multimodal Approaches

Parental alienation can lead to the development of co-occurring mental health disorders. Their experiences can lead to anxiety, depression, and unhealthy coping mechanisms, like drugs use. Teens tend to withdraw socially and have trouble trusting people. Our therapists are especially conscious of these issues and help teens to identify, explore, and address their feelings through the use of a variety of therapeutic techniques.


A lot of teens do not return to parental environments after treatment, instead opting to live with grandparents or, if old enough, on their own. Our treatment programs carefully consider each teen’s overall goals, so that family stressors can be addressed. It’s important to consider what a teen’s life will look like after treatment so that a holistic approach can be applied to life after treatment as well. Teens in treatment will work on rebuilding relationships, self-care, and any other side-effects they’re experiencing.

The people who work at Paradigm are so compassionate, genuine and kind. So grateful for all the help they have given my family. Thanks!!

– Norbert G.

Frequently Asked Questions About Teen Parental Alienation Treatment

How do I know if my child’s other parent is attempting parental alienation?

It’s difficult to be 100 percent certain, but watch out for common signs. Your child may begin avoiding you or acting strange or hostile when you are in the room. They may also begin telling lies about you and will start to take the other parent’s side, when given the chance, in arguments.

Where should a teen live after parental alienation?

In most cases, teens choose who they will live with after they finish their treatment programs. Most obviously don’t choose to live with the parent they feel alienated them to begin with, but many don’t particularly feel comfortable with either parent after the experience. Many choose to live with grandparents or other relatives. Some may decide to live on their own, if they are of age.

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