3 Ways Parents Can Set Limits With Borderline Teens


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Are you the parent of a teen who is struggling with intense emotions, rage or anger, emotional lability, interpersonal conflict, unstable social or family relationships, and poor self-image? If so, perhaps you are dealing with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Borderline Personality Disorder cannot be diagnosed in adolescents but it can certainly be identified by licensed psychologists and psychiatrist as “borderline personality traits.” Listing a diagnosis of BPD traits make it easier for other mental health professionals to decide to either make the diagnosis or not make the diagnosis once the individual becomes an adult. Age 18 is typically when the BPD diagnosis can be applied. This article will discuss 7 ways parents can learn to set limits with a teen who may later meet criteria for BPD. Unfortunately, and sadly for many parents, the adolescent often becomes very oppositional, emotional, and anti-social at times throughout their adolescent development because the treatment options available to those with the BPD diagnosis are typically not available to teens who may meet the criteria later in life. As a result, many problematic and emotional teens receive therapy focused on building compliance in the home, reducing conflict in the parent-child relationship, building a support network, staying in school, and building social skills. Cognitive Behavior  and Dialectical Behavior Therapy is also a typical treatment for problematic and emotional teens.

Parents who are struggling with their teenager may find it useful to:

  1. Seek therapy, not just counselling: What I mean by this is that a school counselor or guidance counselor is not enough for a teenager who is struggling with intense emotions, switchable moods, and negative perceptions of life. Many adolescents go through periods where their emotions are disproportional to the trigger or stressor and may benefit from talking to someone in the school. But other teens are dealing with real psychological, emotional, and behavioral problems hat will require the experience and professionalism of a licensed or certified therapist. Someone who is familiar with working with troubled teens will be your best option. Ask around for a local therapist. Word of mouth is often helpful. If this does not work, try putting your zip code into www.psychologytoday.com Find A Therapist box to locate a local therapist.
  2.  Remove privileges until the behavior is stabilized: teen with BPD traits are often exaggerative, reactive, and emotional. A teen like this should not be privileged to have the car keys, hang out with friends every night or weekend, or have a boyfriend. The goal is certainly not to make the teen feel trapped or punished but to ensure that you are limiting the possibility of more problems occurring in the future. For example, an emotional teenager who does not respond well to rejection should not be dating until they are ready. A teenager who is emotionally reactive to bad drivers should not be driving your car.
  3. Set fair expectations and rules: Teens hate rules that feel imprisoning and unfair. With a teen who exhibits unstable emotions and reactions, it will be important to be strategic with how you set rules and when you do it. Try not to delay punishments or punish immediately before receiving the full story or having a talk about what happened. Any impulsive behavior from the parents can result in the teen lashing out and losing control of their emotions.


It is important that parents so-regulate their teens emotions. What that means is controlling your own emotions to help your teen control their emotions. If you’d like to ask me questions about this topic, feel free to contact me by clicking on the “talk to me” tab on the home page.