We all know that the teen years are hard. Teenagers are dealing with hormonal changes and their role in the world is changing. They are no longer children, but they are not yet adults. When you throw type 1 diabetes into the mix, things can get crazy for everyone involved and it is hard to know how to help your teen.
Hormones make regulating blood glucose levels a huge challenge and yet, we often expect our teens to step up and take over their care at this most tumultuous time. So, what are realistic expectations for our teens with diabetes? Here is what we have learned.
Why do teens seem not to care about their diabetes?
As children enter their teen years, their bodies are changing. Their interactions with their peers are also changing. It becomes important for them to fit in. They don’t want to call attention to themselves.
Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital reminds us that teens with diabetes may feel that checking their blood glucose is inconvenient and it makes them feel different. Infusion sets, insulin pumps, and CGM sensors further show that they are not the same as everyone else. For many teens, being unique is not a good thing. They want to be like everyone else and do their very best to blend in rather than stand out.
Teens with diabetes do not want anyone to focus on their diabetes. They are interested in their activities, sports, friendships, and school. They often only care about their diabetes care if it can somehow easily fit into the day. If it doesn’t, then care may not happen.
What parents need to remember about diabetes care
Diabetes care is complicated. Diabetes care during puberty is even more complex. Teens with diabetes are faced with checking blood sugar levels, counting carbohydrates, making healthier food choices, exercising, carrying supplies, managing an insulin pump, and keeping some sort of a record of all of this so that they can answer why a high or low reading may have occurred.
It is important for parents of teens with diabetes to remember that their children are teens. Teens themselves are notorious for not being able to attend constantly and consistently to almost anything! Think about how often you remind them to take out the trash.
How can you help your teen manage their diabetes care?
- Creating reminders for your teen with diabetes can be a good thing! Consider creating spreadsheets, using a calendar, or setting alarms to help your teen remember some of their diabetes tasks.
- Stay involved with your child’s diabetes care. You don’t have to become the diabetes police but become a safe place where your child can share ideas and information on their diabetes care.
- If possible, find them a diabetes team that they like to work with and can talk to.
- Look at diabetes camps or support organizations that will allow your teen with diabetes to share their feelings with other teens going through the same thing.
- Consider allowing them access to online support groups or search for groups in your area that can help.
- Help your teen learn how to fit diabetes care into their lives so that they don’t feel that diabetes is controlling their life. Work with their diabetes team to find a way for them to balance their diabetes care with the sports or other activities of their choice
- Offer to take over certain tasks in the short term when your child becomes overwhelmed.
- If they are still feeling overwhelmed, consider finding a counselor for them to speak with.
- Make sure that your teen understands how smoking, alcohol, or drugs can impact blood sugar levels.
- Use open-ended questions when talking with your teen about their diabetes care.
How to tell if a teen might be lying about their care?
Teens with diabetes are teens. There is no getting around it. They will take risks that they shouldn’t and they will avoid confrontation wherever possible. This includes lying to you about their care.
Here are some signs that they may not be being completely honest with you.
- They claim to have lost their glucometer.
- Your control solution has disappeared.
- They tell you their readings rather than showing you a glucometer.
What to do if your teen is lying about their care?
Telling your teen with diabetes about the dangers of complications at this age is often not effective. Teens are motivated by instant gratification. They do not look that far into their future.
Try to set aside your own frustration over your child lying and try to work to find a solution.
- Remind them that you are in this together.
- Let them know that you understand that being a pancreas is a hard job.
- Remember that readings are tools to help you understand what is working and not working. They are not good or bad.
- Remind them that they feel better, function better, and can interact with their peer better when their blood glucose levels are in range.
- Consider finding your child a professional to speak with. The mental toll of diabetes care is often overlooked. Speaking to a therapist or social worker may help them to learn how to better cope with their feelings.
When will your teen with diabetes take over their care?
Every child is different. Every child with diabetes is also different. The rate at which they are ready to take over their own tasks will depend on the child. There will be times when they amaze you with what they have learned.
For example, my son was 13 when he explained to me as he was packing his lunch, “At lunch I have a sandwich and two juice boxes. If I bolus the right amount for lunch I go low so I have been bolusing for only one juice box and it works out fine.” I was shocked and pleasantly surprised. He often forget to check his blood sugar levels and his lax attitude towards his care tended to drive me insane. Just when I would lose all hope of my teen ever being able to manage his own diabetes care, he would shock me with something like this.
Be patient. Offer a hand where you can. Try not to judge. If things become too challenging, remember that there are many professionals who can help you find a solution that works for all of you.
For a detailed guide on how to help your teen become more independent in their diabetes care, click to download
For more information on dealing with teens with diabetes, check out these great resources that we found: