Review of Dr. Warshak’s Parental Alienation DVD “Welcome Back Pluto”Written by: Rob Print This Article
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I’ve been meaning to publish a review of Welcome Back Pluto: Understanding, Preventing, and Overcoming Parental Alienation for some time now. Having watched it myself and with some children who are targets of parental alienation, I think it is a very helpful video for most kids who are at risk for alienation but who have not yet been totally turned against parent they are being encouraged to hate.
There are a lot of positive reviews of this video on Amazon, I’d encourage you to read them. Instead of simply rehashing the universally positive general comments about the video, I’m going to outline chapter by chapter what you’ll see when you watch it so you can better understand what Dr. Warshak is trying to accomplish with this video.
Chapter 1 – What is Alienation?
This first chapter explains what parental alienation is and what it isn’t. It makes it clear that even though it sounds like it has something to do with space aliens, it has nothing to do with this. It explains alienation in the general sense, that people can hate a person, their government, or their family. It breaks down the level of alienation in levels via the terms disillusioned, alienated, and estranged. It also explains that alienation can be realistic, such as when somebody has been very cruel for a long time, or unrealistic when the rejected person was once loved but now is not despite not having done anything to justify this.
I often use the term “target parent” to refer to what the video calls the “rejected parent”, in part because I’ve observed that such parents are often not only targeted for alienation but also for defamation, false accusations, harassment, intimidation, and more by the parties who are out to harm them and the children’s relationships with them.
Chapter 2 – Understanding Alienated Children
The second chapter addresses how alienated children view one parent as all good and the other parent as all bad. This dichotomous thinking about parents is oddly similar to the black-and-white thinking, also known as splitting, typified by people who suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). BPD is actually one of the common personality disorders that some alienating parents have, so it should not come as a surprise that they would try to impress their own black-and-white thinking on their children.
The chapter lists out the ridiculous complaints mouthed by kids influenced by an alienator. A little boy complains his father buys too many toys for him. A teenager complains her mother is horrible because she makes her finish her homework before she can watch TV. Another child complains that the father was drunk in the delivery room at birth. Not only are these complaints inaccurate and unreasonable, some of them show the kids are talking about things that they cannot possibly know.
Also discussed is tactics kids use to cause trouble for a rejected parent. Physical violence, trashing the bathroom, damaging property, being rude to others, and more are tactics that alienated children may use to “punish” a rejected parent. They may also be doing these things to encourage the rejected parent to not want to see them again.
The chapter encourages the kids to keep an open mind about the parent they think they dislike.
Chapter 3 – Mistakes Favored Parents Make
The third chapter discusses what the alienating parents are doing wrong. Some may not understand how much it hurts the children, others simply do not care because their
One mistake is access blocking, or unreasonably interfering contact between the children and the target parent. Another is bad-mouthing, or unreasonably denigrated the target parent. A third is teaching the children to pay attention to only negative aspects of the target parent, something Dr. Warshak refers to as “selective attention”.
Some parents will target the children’s words and thoughts for criticism. One way they do this is to criticize the child for making positive comments and observations about the target parent. Another is denigrating activities the children like to do with that parent.
Some alienators are adept at very twisted reasoning, often called distortions, that involve turning positives into negatives. Sometimes these are very subtle, other times they are ridiculous but might be believable if repeated often enough or said to a young child.
For instance, one parent may criticize the other parent’s job performance, explaining he or she is a bad doctor who kills a child every day. There might be a tiny element of fact to this as the parent is an Emergency Room doctor in the urban core of a big city with high crime and poverty. It is quite possible that such a doctor would encounter a lot of very serious problems like gunshot wounds and suffer from patients dying. But that doesn’t mean the parent is actually killing children as the alienator may make it sound to maximize the amount of fear created in this family’s own children.
The target parent may not even know about the distortions but their effects continue to harm the children who are afraid to speak about all the bad things they are hearing. Other times, the children will start saying or doing things that indicate what they are hearing. The target parent of course might be able to explain reality easily, but if the children hear enough of these distortions, they may not believe the explanation.
Sometimes these actions are combined. Alienators may trash the target parent and then offer the children a choice about whether to see the parent. It’s clear they are trying to blame the children for not seeing the target parent while in fact they are actually causing the children to not want to spend time with the target parent.
Alienating parents may manipulate others, including family, friends, teachers, pastors, and more, to participate in the parental alienation. They can build a whole community of alienation from which the children seldom emerge.
Children try to adapt to this hostile environment in various ways. One is to hide their love for the target parent, or even to deny it.
Chapter 4 – What’s In a Name?
This chapter discusses the ways in which alienators cause the children to disregard the family roles of the target parent and other relatives. They may stop referring to “mommy” or “daddy” with the kids and replace them with first names, “Sarah” or “George” instead. Some even go so far as to change the family name of the child, in extreme cases even the personal name.
These tactics can cause the children to stop using parental names for the target parent and other relatives. Some may not realize they are doing this, others may do it intentionally to align their loyalties with the alienating parent.
Chapter 5 – Understanding Favored Parents
This chapter explains some of the reasons why alienating parents do what they do. Some may simply not know what they are doing and distrust the other parent and communicate this distrust to the children. Others may intentionally want to ruin their children’s relationships with the target parent.
It mentions “cheating” (referring to sexual affairs) as a major reason why one parent will hate the other. This might lead children to ask some questions about this topic, so be prepared.
Child support is a weapon some of these parents use to harm the children and target parent. Alienators frequently threaten to block access to children unless the target parent pays them money. Even if the target parent is paying more child support than legally required, they may lie to the children to cause them to believe the target parent never pays and they are poor and can’t pay their bills because the target parent is selfish.
The video itself doesn’t take a position on child support except discussing that it is often used by alienators to cause more problems. I strongly believe that child support and arguments over it are often a primary enabler and contributor to emotional and verbal child abuse and especially in the form of parental alienation. Shared 50/50 parenting with each parent responsible for typical expenses that occur during their time with the kids is a better option. Courts, however, seem to think that very unequal time shares and financial games are preferable. By making one-sided living and financial decisions, they create far more conflict and hurt the children, sometimes severely.
Remarriage can trigger bad behaviors in some parents. If the alienating remarries, he or she may get the new stepparent to join in the alienation. If the target parent remarries, it may anger the alienator and he or she may retaliate.
Chapter 6 – The Plight of Rejected Parents
Rejected parents develop a host of psychological problems of their own, include discomfort talking about their children or seeing other children with their parents. Depression and anxiety are common.
Sometime these parents will be inconsistent, disengaging when in pain and trying to be too involved at other times to make up for the lack of contact with the children.
Dr. Warshak talks about how some of these parents reach a state of “learned helplessness” because nothing they do or don’t do works to improve the situation. They may stop seeing their children. If the children haven’t truly stopped loving them, this could contribute to it occurring.
One of the most important things to do for rejected parents is to learn to be patient, put up with the disrespect the children may be showing, and not respond negatively to it. Responding negatively can simply reinforce the alienated children’s brainwashed beliefs that the rejected parent is loud, angry, difficult, or simply not a nice person.
Children are told that sometimes rejected parents will ask a lot of questions and that they may seem overly intrusive. Such parents often have so little time with their children and are so starved for information that they can ask a lot of questions just trying to know more about their children with no bad intentions at all. But don’t interpret this as authorization to use the kids as little spies. Your questions should be focused on the children themselves, not on the ex.
The video points out that the children may repeat a lot of misinformation from the alienating parent and that it is reasonable to correct this misinformation. I’ve found that sometimes asking children questions about the misinformation to get them to think about it for themselves can be helpful. That’s becuse children who genuinely learn to think critically for themselves are less prone to being alienated and manipulated.
For instance, if their mother tells them their father is a criminal and he should be arrested and the children repeat this, the father might ask them what they think of this. Perhaps they will say he got a speeding ticket. His response could be that that is true, but many people get speeding tickets and almost none of them are arrested unless they were in trouble for doing something else wrong.
Chapter 7 – Tips for Parents
This chapter points out that children can help remind their parents to do a better job avoiding making the mistakes discussed in the video. For instance, they can point out when a parent becomes too negative about the other parent and ask them to stop.
The video cautions that children shouldn’t see themselves or others around them as all-good or all-bad, even if that is how their parents see themselves and others.
Kids develop long-term psychological damage from alienation. They may have troubles with relationships, especially working through disagreements and being able to trust others. Depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are all more common problems.
Alienated children often end up angry with both their parents. They may as they get older become so angry with the alienating parent to such an extent that they will eventually reject that parent, too. They may be angry at the rejected parent because he or she didn’t do enough to keep in contact with them.
The tips in this chapter are pretty common sense and I won’t spell all of them out in detail. It is essentially to realize these tips or rules are here because they are often violated by one or both parents to varying degrees. The tips are explained both in terms of what the parents should do and how failing to do these things creates problems for the children.
One of the key rules here that is sometimes disputed by others is to correct false beliefs. Some “experts” will imply that the target parent shouldn’t try to correct false beliefs, perhaps thinking that it will only cause more conflict. However, a failure to teach children how to evaluate the accuracy of statements made by others, including by their parents, is going to set up the children for alienation and also may make them prone to manipulation by others besides the alienating parent. The key here is to avoid bad-mouthing the other parent. Focus on the facts and falsehoods, not on the people who said them.
Chapter 8 – Tips for Kids
This chapter tries to explain to kids why they need both of their parents. It points out that psychologists have found that kids who grow up with just one parent rather than two tend to be more unhappy and troubled. The video explains this as being related to having two parents means there are more people to care for and teach the children and that each parent may have different things they do well so the children can learn different things from both parents.
Children are discouraged from picking sides.
Outsides activities can help provide a release from the battle between the parents.
Friends who can help kids from feeling like they need to pick sides can be helpful.
When a parent starts badmouthing the other parent, act uninterested or change the topic.
This chapter ends with a sad story about a man named Daniel who was alienated from his father. In college, his girlfriend encouraged him to contact his father. He did, only to find that his father had died a month earlier. Daniel’s mother literally took his father away from him for his entire life after their divorce.
There’s a short overview or trailer about the video.
There is also an interview with divorced father Steve Doubet who has personally experienced being a rejected parent.
Overall Opinion: Very Helpful, But Not Enough for Severely Alienated Kids
Most of the parental alienation videos produced are really not suited for kids. They delve into the abusiveness of the courts, gender discrimination against fathers or mothers, etc. While all those things are important issues and are real problems, they may serve to confuse or turn off kids who are being subjected to alienation. Such topics may also be way more complicated than children younger than teenagers can understand.
This video is the first I’ve seen that is intended for both kids and parents, so it is particularly valuable. Dr. Warshak appears to have carefully picked what he says and doesn’t say so that this video can be watched by kids. As a result, some of his statements in the video are sanitized for children. For instance, he points out that most parents really don’t want their children to stop loving their other parent but then does not explain the exception to his general rule.
For children of alienation, Warshak’s exceptional case may not be so exceptional at all. Warshak is probably trying to avoid the appearance of bad-mouthing either parent and also reassure the children. Unfortunately, it appears that a significant percentage of alienators truly do want to make the children stop loving the target parent. For parents in that situation, they really should get a copy of Warshak’s excellent Divorce Poison book. Read it cover-to-cover, probably twice. The first read gets you the rough idea of how alienators function and how they harm kids. The second read should be for taking notes about concepts and behavior patterns that apply to your case and especially making a list of what you should do and not do with your kids to help counteract the particular pattern of alienation they experience.
We’ve heard that Dr. Warshak is apparently considering making future parental alienation videos for kids. Perhaps a future video can be aimed at kids involved in these more extreme cases. They are in need of a lot more help, but it is a challenge to address their situations without turning them off to important concepts they need to understand.
Suggestions On Watching With Kids
What I noticed is that kids who are being subjected to alienation show some signs of cognitive dissonance as they watch this video. For example, you may see they are raptly paying attention to much of it, but also complaining it is “boring” or some other similar complaint. Part of what I think is going on here is that the kids know the actions of the alienating parents are being challenged and they may find this uncomfortable. Part of it may also be that much of the video is a “talking head” or “interview” presentation style which is not as exciting to kids as something with more action and drama.
Combine watching the video with a treat that the kids enjoy. Popcorn, carrot sticks, cookies, ice cream, chips, or some other favorite snack or dessert type food would be good. You want to make this an overall enjoyable experience for them even though they may be struggling with some discomfort from what they are hearing that challenges behaviors they see in one or both of their parents.
I’d suggest that you break this video up into a few sessions, watching two or three chapters per session. Pause after each chapter to discuss what was covered in each part. Don’t lecture, ask questions to get the kids to think about what they heard. You want them to think on their own. Kids who think on their own are better able to resist parental alienation.
Questions asking about how a kid would feel in a certain situation or asking them to list some examples of alienating behaviors are much more helpful that statements that “your mom (or dad) is an alienator, see how she (he) says bad things about me.” While such a statement may be entirely true, it also tends to get a kid to jump to the defense of the alienating parent rather than really thinking deeply about what is going on in their own life.
If you’ve watched this video with kids, please leave a comment to share your experiences with how they received and reacted to the material. This may help not only other parents but also Dr. Warshak and others create even better materials for helping kids handle the challenge of parental alienation.
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