If your teenager has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), you may be curious about how to parent a teenager with borderline personality disorder.
Parenting a teen is never easy. But parenting a teen with a personality disorder requires additional patience, as well as a unique set of parenting skills. Borderline personality disorder is a mental health condition that affects about one in a hundred teens, and is characterized by impulsive behaviors, thoughts of self-harm or suicidal ideation, frequent mood swings, and difficulty with interpersonal relationships.
In other words, teens who struggle with borderline personality disorder often exhibit the behaviors that teenagers are stereotypically known for – but to an extreme and sometimes harmful degree.
Borderline personality disorder is only recently being recognized and diagnosed in adolescents. In fact, adolescent BPD is sometimes considered a separate diagnosis from adult BPD – and there is less research on the condition in teens than older adults. For parents, watching a teen struggle with frequent changes in mood and impulsivity can be heartbreaking. And because personality disorders can be inherited, parents with a family history of borderline personality disorder or other personality disorders might be worried about how to handle their teens if they begin showing symptoms.
In this article, you will discover how to parent a teenager with borderline personality disorder.
Signs of Borderline Personality Disorder in Teens
Diagnosing borderline personality disorder in teens isn’t a straightforward process. In the past, some experts would argue that because most teens haven’t had the chance to cement their personalities, a traditional borderline personality disorder isn’t possible.
Teen borderline personality disorder symptoms aren’t characterized so much by an unstable or fluctuating personality (as this is the norm for teens in the beginning stages of adult maturity), but by concurrent symptoms of self-harm, depression, intense and frequent mood shifts, impulsive behavior, and interpersonal problems. Other important signs and symptoms to watch out for include:
- Problems with emotional regulation, such as a difficulty to calm down or self-soothe.
- Poor coping mechanisms, and frequent outbursts of rage.
- Jumping from one emotional crisis to the next.
- Fearing abandonment and loneliness, yet always feeling isolated even among friends.
- Often falling out with friends or switching friend groups.
- Paranoia about social rejection and perception.
- Long-term symptoms of depression.
A formal diagnosis is important. Psychiatrists and other trained medical doctors can assess a teen’s history of behavior and recommend treatment based on their responses to certain questions. Teens and even children have agency, and can understand their behaviors and motivations, even if their personalities are not yet set in stone.
More recent research on the topic indicates that teens may be accurately diagnosed for borderline personality disorder as early as age 11. This research also stresses the importance of a cohesive and comprehensive treatment team and treatment plan, and the invaluable nature of parental cooperation and support.
The causes for personality disorders like BPD aren’t yet fully understood. The fact that the risk of a personality disorder can be inherited suggests a genetic link, or a neurological trait. In many cases, personality disorders find their onset in late childhood or early adolescence, at a crucial stage of mental development. External risk factors – such as trauma and neglect – also play a role in how, when, and if a personality disorder might surface in a teen.
Recognizing and acting on signs and symptoms will be your best bet. Once you have a formal diagnosis, you can start working with your teen and a professional treatment team to develop a plan for their condition. However, there’s more to managing a mental health diagnosis like BPD than professional treatment. How you manage your teen’s symptoms at home can play a big role in their progress.
Important Parenting Tips for Borderline Personality Disorder
The first and most important lesson is to remember that teens with BPD should not be treated the same way as teens without BPD. Silent treatment, tough love, or classic reward or consequence parenting is not going to work and will fail to elicit a healthy emotional response in your teen.
Furthermore, it’s important to temper your expectations for behavioral progress. People respond to therapy and other treatments in different ways. It may take your teen some time to learn to manage their impulses and BPD symptoms. Here is what you might want to know:
- Manage your own fears and emotions. With your teen struggling to deal with their short fuse, the last thing they need is more anger and anxiety to bounce off of. Finding ways to manage your own emotional stress, through counseling or healthy coping skills, is important.
- Emotional intelligence is paramount. Sometimes, mental health issues can benefit from a logical argument. But with BPD, emotions usually come first. Take the time to think about what you say and be sensitive to how your words might be misinterpreted. Use simple and clear forms of communication and leave no room for misunderstanding.
- Assist in your teen’s problem solving, but don’t solve problems for them. Developing a stronger and healthier sense of self is important in cases of BPD. Learning to deal with your own problems is a crucial part of that process. Rather than telling your teen what to do when faced with day-to-day challenges, ask them what they’re thinking of doing, and lead the conversation to bring them to the right conclusion.
- Compassion and validation matter. Your teen will be constantly second-guessing themselves, unsure of who they are. While you can’t answer that for them directly, it helps to hear positive things and affirmations from an outside source, even if it’s from a parent. When your teen is acting out, reinforce calmness.
- They will do things you might not understand. Neither do they, not really. Self-harm usually comes from a place of emotional dysfunction, not a healthy throughline of logic. You can’t make your teen explain why they want to hurt themselves, because the answer usually won’t be coherent. Instead, keep an eye out for signs of escalation and talk to them about seeking help together in times of acute stress.
- However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create boundaries. Boundaries are important and enforcing them is something no parent can avoid. For BPD, that means a zero-tolerance policy on destructive behaviors – whether towards the self, others, or objects – and no violence.
Borderline personality disorder is a complicated condition that requires long-term psychiatric and emotional support, in and outside of treatment.
Parents of teens with BPD can arm themselves with the knowledge needed to guide their child through the treatment process, as well as the day-to-day challenges of adolescence. Be patient and remember to take care of yourself. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help and support as you navigate this journey together.