A Parent’s Guide to Adolescent Borderline Personality Disorder

Parenting teens can be stressful. Because your teen is going through hormonal changes and dealing with the rigors of approaching adulthood, it’s common to deal with moodiness, irrational behaviors, misplaced anger, and frustrating behaviors. If your adolescent has borderline personality disorder, however, it’s more than simply stressful and frustrating. Borderline personality disorder, or BPD, is a mental health condition that can cause severe mood swings, difficulty functioning, and general instability. As a parent, it’s important that you understand the disorder and know what to do to help support your teen through treatment. Read on for information on adolescent borderline personality disorder, as well as tips on how you can help.

Symptoms of Adolescent and Teen Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder can cause a person to lose their sense of self-identity. They might lash out in irrational anger or have severe mood swings. They often have volatile and unstable relationships with friends, family, romantic partners, and acquaintances. Your teen with BPD might engage in risky behaviors, like unprotected sex, racing in a car, and drug use. He or she might react very strongly to seemingly trivial or neutral issues, and it’s common for people with BPD to inaccurately think that others are angry over small things or nothing at all.

Your teen might have a distorted perception about who he or she is. Separation can be a huge obstacle, and your teen might be terrified that any small separation will lead to abandonment. For example, he or she might overreact to you going away for a weekend on business or coming home late from work unexpectedly. There can be paranoid delusions and suicide attempts, too. Often, other types of mental health conditions exist at the same time as BPD.

Coexisting Mental Disorders

Your teen with BPD might have other mental health disorders, too. Sometimes it’s difficult to differentiate what is being caused by the BPD and what is being caused by anxiety disorder, panic attacks, clinical depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, or schizoaffective disorder. All of these can be serious and have some of the same symptoms as BPD, so it’s important to work closely with a mental health professional who will be able to diagnose the issues and treat your teen accordingly.

It’s important to note that people with BPD have a higher-than-average risk of suicide. If you see the signs of suicidal tendencies in your teen, it’s important to get them help immediately. If he or she is in danger, go to the nearest emergency room or call the suicide national hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE. Otherwise, make an urgent appointment with his or her primary care doctor or mental health professional.

Risk Factors of Adolescent Borderline Personality Disorder

There is not one cause of BPD. In a sizable percentage of people with the disorder, there is a genetic component. If a parent or sibling of your teen has been diagnosed with or shows signs of BPD, your child has a five times greater chance than average of developing it. Also, if your teen has had some type of traumatic episode or was a victim of any type of child abuse, the signs might be higher of him or her developing BPD. Finally, some people with borderline personality disorder have changes in their brains that could contribute to the condition.

It’s important to remember, however, that there are plenty of people who have family members with BPD, who have had traumatic or abusive pasts, and who have similar brain changes who do not go on to develop this condition. Researchers are still looking into why some people develop the disorder and others do not.

Treatments for Borderline Personality Disorder

The primary method of treatment for adolescent borderline personality disorder is psychotherapy. There are many different kinds of therapy that might be tried to see what is most successful. Some common types include

  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • schema-focused therapy

Your teen’s mental health professional might recommend family therapy in addition to individual therapy. Counseling can make a big difference and make the condition easier to cope with.

Medications can also be used, but because people with BPD are at a higher risk of suicide than the general population, many practitioners will try not to prescribe anything that would be lethal in case of an overdose or which might raise the risk of suicide. Also, medication will not be effective for some of the symptoms of BPD. Work carefully with your teen’s psychiatrist to decide on whether medication is appropriate. Also, control the medication yourself by keeping it locked up or otherwise inaccessible if your teen is at risk of suicide or is showing symptoms of suicidal ideation.

Tips for Parenting an Adolescent With Borderline Personality Disorder

In addition to supporting your child through adolescent borderline personality disorder treatment, it’s important to continue to parent him or her the way you otherwise would when it comes to boundaries, rules and consequences. Sometimes, parents of teens with mental health conditions get into the habit of letting boundaries go by the wayside, but this can make things even more difficult. Talk to your teen’s counselors to find out whether your boundaries or consequences need to change; if they’re reasonable when considering your child’s abilities and mental state, stick to them. A home rules contract might help by having everything in writing.

Also, be sure to get support for yourself and any other children or teens in your home. Having a child or sibling with a severe mental health disorder is stressful and can be overwhelming. Talk to your teen’s mental health care team about how you can procure the appropriate therapy for the other members of the household. This may include family therapy in addition to individual counseling for each family member.

Parenting an adolescent with borderline personality disorder can be an overwhelming task. Rely on your circle of friends and family members, as well as your mental health care team, to help you with the things that you need to do to help your teen get healthier and to keep the other members of your household safe and healthy. Remember to take care of yourself and to keep the lines of communication open with your teenager. You can support him or her through this disorder now and lay a framework so your teen will be able to continue to care for him- or herself through adulthood.

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