Helping Teens With Type 1 Diabetes Become Young Adults
The age range from 18 to 25 years is often considered the time of “high hopes and big dreams.” That’s because as your child prepares to go off to college, break into the workforce, or leave home, there are bound to be big hopes and changes, as well as ups and downs along the way.
But as someone caring for a teenager with type 1 diabetes, you’ve probably already been through a lot and have learned to get through the bad times to a better place. This time of change may be an exciting time, full of promise.
The question that may come up next could be: “As my grown child prepares to move on, how can I be most helpful?”
Help them recognize the skills that diabetes management has taught them
From learning how to manage their type 1 diabetes, teenagers, like your child, have already acquired important skill sets that can help them take those first steps into independence:
- Planning ahead and setting goals. They can set goals with their care team for A1C, diet, and exercise. They know how to plan for the supplies they’ll need when they’re away from home
- Medical terms, knowing the body, and how it works. They already have a head start on medical matters and know how to talk to doctors, nurses, and other medical staff
- Management skills. They know how to make decisions, what to do in a crisis, how to plan a trip, how to come back after a setback, and how to manage technical things like reading their meters, setting up a pump, or using a pen. They are skilled managers already
- Healthy coping. They probably have developed effective tools for managing stress and solving problems, especially if they have had to respond to blood sugar emergencies and other issues regarding their diabetes care
Give teens the basic tools of successful living
Now is the time to start planning how best to handle your teen’s big change into young adulthood. Handing off control needn’t be tough if you think about it now and have a plan that covers all the bases. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Help teens find an adult health care provider
- First, talk to the members of the current care team. Decide together with your teen about when this change needs to take place
- Collect names of doctors and research their practices. Plan to meet and see if they would be a good fit
Teach teens about their own medical history
- Take the time to go over key facts about your teen’s personal history of diabetes care and episodes of illness. It may make sense to put this timeline in writing
- Discuss past challenges and how you found solutions. Talk about this so that he or she knows the medical facts about what happened in the past. Knowing these facts can also help with diabetes care in the future
Hand over the day-to-day tasks of managing diabetes
Help your teenager take over managing daily diabetes care by letting him or her:
- Make appointments with the diabetes care team
- Order insulin and supplies on the phone or online
- Decide where to keep important diabetes information and sick-day supplies
- Create a sick-day plan, including whom to call and when
Teach teens basic cooking skills
Many young people are so used to eating out or having their meals prepared for them that they feel lost when on their own and faced with a tight budget:
- Help your teenager learn the basics by helping him or her prepare some simple diabetes-friendly breakfasts, lunches, and dinners
- Point out the importance of planning meals and thinking ahead—just as important as checking blood sugar and taking medicine
- Access the Cornerstones4Care® Menu Planning Tools and use them with your teenager to plan favorite meals, learn the best ingredients to use, and create shopping lists. If they haven’t created their own account yet, now is a great time for them to get started!
Load up on basic laundry skills
Learning the basics now could save teens time (and ruined clothes) later on. It may sound silly, but the more efficient their personal care routine is, the more time they will have left for their diabetes care
- Spend some time explaining how it’s done
- Plan on buying them a good supply of socks, towels, and underwear to get them started
Provide career-planning help
Your teen may have definite ideas about looking into college or further training. There may be a great guidance counselor at school who is a motivating force. On the other hand, he or she may not have any firm ideas. Don’t panic! Your local library will probably have many interesting career and job guidance books. However, make sure to let your teen know that their diabetes should not hold them back from pursuing virtually any career they want to go into!
Tips to share with teens going into young adulthood
Successful diabetes self-management when your grown child is on his or her own will be key. Here are some suggestions you can share:
- Watch daily calorie intake. It’s a good idea for them to check that their daily calories at each meal are right for the amount of insulin they are taking. If they haven’t done so already, urge them to try to meet with a nutritionist to talk about this and any weight concerns they may have
- Setting up new routines. Remind them that it takes a while for new tasks to become an automatic part of a daily routine. It can be stressful at first, but it will become less so as time goes by
- Ups and downs are part of life. When they have a lot going on, it won’t be smooth sailing all the time. Tell them to take lapses in stride—they’re not a sign of failure. Teach them to recognize this, and let them know that if they need you, you can help them get back on track
- Set goals that are reachable. Advise your teen to be realistic about their goals. Tell your teen to start small, with something they know they can achieve. As they succeed, they’ll get more confident. If they have many goals, they should focus on one at a time, check it off, and then move on to the next one. Help them decide what they really want, decide what’s most important, and then go to work. Remind them that people who set goals achieve more because they have something to work toward
- Looking toward the future. Explain that fear of the unknown can bring up all kinds of feelings that may affect them and even hold them back from achieving their goals. Tell them to try to stop worrying and realize that they already have many of the tools they need!