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Reciprocal effects of parenting and borderline personality disorder symptoms in adolescent girls

  • Stephanie D. Stepp (a1), Diana J. Whalen (a2), Lori N. Scott (a1), Maureen Zalewski (a1), Rolf Loeber (a1) and Alison E. Hipwell (a1)...


Theories of borderline personality disorder (BPD) postulate that high-risk transactions between caregiver and child are important for the development and maintenance of the disorder. Little empirical evidence exists regarding the reciprocal effects of parenting on the development of BPD symptoms in adolescence. The impact of child and caregiver characteristics on this reciprocal relationship is also unknown. Thus, the current study examines bidirectional effects of parenting, specifically harsh punishment practices and caregiver low warmth, and BPD symptoms in girls aged 14–17 years based on annual, longitudinal data from the Pittsburgh Girls Study (N = 2,451) in the context of child and caregiver characteristics. We examined these associations through the use of autoregressive latent trajectory models to differentiate time-specific variations in BPD symptoms and parenting from the stable processes that steadily influence repeated measures within an individual. The developmental trajectories of BPD symptoms and parenting were moderately associated, suggesting a reciprocal relationship. There was some support for time-specific elevations in BPD symptoms predicting subsequent increases in harsh punishment and caregiver low warmth. There was little support for increases in harsh punishment and caregiver low warmth predicting subsequent elevations in BPD symptoms. Child impulsivity and negative affectivity, and caregiver psychopathology were related to parenting trajectories, while only child characteristics predicted BPD trajectories. The results highlight the stability of the reciprocal associations between parenting and BPD trajectories in adolescent girls and add to our understanding of the longitudinal course of BPD in youth.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Stephanie D. Stepp, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, 3811 O'Hara Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15213; E-mail:


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