Type 1 Diabetes and Teens
The teenage years can be hard, even for kids without diabetes. All adolescents can use some guidance during this time. But when type 1 diabetes is involved, it can cause additional confusion, frustration, and fear for both parent and child alike. This is the time when the slow shift in responsibility for diabetes care, from parent to child, can start to speed up.
It is only natural for there to be some conflict. Raising a teenager with type 1 diabetes can be stressful and difficult, but you can do it. Millions of adults have successfully gone through adolescence with type 1 diabetes and have become healthy and positive young adults. We don’t claim to have all the answers, but here is some perspective that may help you get through some of the bigger bumps in your child’s road to adulthood.
As you may know, sometimes you have to accept that your teen’s blood sugar may not be within your control. But knowing the conflicts and challenges your teen is facing may help you give him or her better guidance. The following are a few conflicts that you and your teen with type 1 diabetes may need to work through:
- Impulse vs Planning. Teens tend to be impulsive. They want to “live in the moment” and do things, eat things, and try things on a whim like their friends do. But, as you know, type 1 diabetes does require planning and, though they may feel invincible, you know that how they take care of their diabetes today matters for their future. Reminding them that poor care now can lead to health problems later may do little to motivate them. But if you deal in the here and now, you may have a better chance of getting through. Talking about how their blood sugar control can affect their mood, school and sports performance, and energy levels now may be more motivating than talking about the future, which they may see as more distant than you do at the moment
- Control vs Freedom. Teens want to be in control of their lives. To define themselves. To achieve these goals, they have to keep testing their limits. But testing the limits of their diabetes care plan can be risky. As a parent, it may be a bit scary if your adolescent and the diabetes care team come up with a diabetes care plan that involves fewer blood sugar checks than your child or you are used to. But be patient. See how well their being in control of things works. By the same token, if their idea of freedom is to ignore their care plan and let their A1C go sky-high, then you may have to step in
- Protecting vs Overprotecting. You know that you can't watch over your teen every minute of the day. If you try to, they may resent you for it. Remind yourself from time to time that it's your child's type 1 diabetes, not yours. At the same time, be aware that you can't turn your back on your teen and allow him or her to stray too far away from their diabetes care plan. You may need to give in a little and back off on controlling their diabetes as strictly as you did when they were younger. Again, since teens are more in the here-and-now than adults, remind them that the better they take care of their diabetes, the more they will be able to do the activities they love now, such as sports, spending time with friends, and having an active social life
Here are some reminders about things you can do to help:
- Keep talking with your teen. Be open to talking about the choices he or she is making. And not just about their diabetes. Teens want to know that you care about them as people, not just about their blood sugar numbers. Sometimes teens will pick odd times to open up to you. As much as you can, stop whatever else you are doing and listen. Simply listening to what matters to them can help build trust and understanding
- Help your teen connect. Get your teen involved in type 1 diabetes support groups and diabetes camps where he or she can meet other teens with type 1 diabetes. You can help by networking and finding other people within your extended family and community who have type 1 diabetes and have been through what your teen is going through. Many of these people remember what is was like and may be willing to talk to your teen. Having a mentor who “gets it” can be an extremely helpful resource
- Call for back-up. If you believe your child is in serious trouble, don't wait to seek professional help. And even if your teen doesn’t seem to be in immediate danger, if he or she seems to be struggling, find a counselor or other health care professional who can help
- Stay positive. Be a positive role model. For example, show your teen how you follow your own healthy meal plan. If you are clear and confident about your choices, he or she may be more likely to follow your example. Choose to reward your teen for good diabetes care, rather than to punish them for lapses. Share any concerns with the diabetes care team on how to address them with your child. They are there for you, too—to hear your fears, concerns, and challenges. Speak to the experts whenever you need to
Encourage your teen to make wise choices on his or her own. But leave the door wide open for a steady stream of communication. Also, with your permission, have your teen register here at Cornerstones4Care.com. As long as they are age 13 years or older, they can establish their own account.