If you have a teenager, you’ve probably discovered that diabetes care is no longer kid stuff. Chances are that their days are packed full of classes and after-school activities like sports, drama club and perhaps a job. Given their busy schedule, it can be hard to manage their diabetes.
Between the ages of 13 and 17, the transfer of diabetes care is oftentimes a challenge. During early childhood, your child was accustomed to you handling their care. Now that they’re older, they need time and maturity so that they can take over that responsibility, but before that happens, many teens have periods of giving up on their diabetes care.
Fortunately, most teens who struggle with fitting in and managing their diabetes care eventually mature and do a better job at it. In the meantime, here are some tips for dealing with teens who struggle with caring for themselves.
Rely on healthcare providers. It’s important to find a doctor, diabetes educator and/or dietitian that your child likes and with whom she feels comfortable communicating. These professionals can motivate your child. Choose a diabetes expert who listens carefully to your teen and who can offer alternatives based on your teen’s wishes.
Encourage your teen to speak up. If your teen listens to a plan of care, but fails to follow it outside the doctor’s office, it may be that she didn’t feel comfortable objecting to the plan or asking for changes in the first place. Your child may either need a different healthcare provider or help speaking up. It also may be that your child doesn’t want to talk about certain things in front of you and may do better talking alone with the diabetes professionals.
Remain involved. Many teens need encouragement to manage their diabetes well. You can help by asking if they want your assistance with certain tasks. Follow up with them on this subject because your teen’s needs will likely change over time. For example, they may need extra help during exam week and other stressful times.
Avoid “policing.” While you want to make sure your child is accountable for their care, you also don’t want to be overly authoritarian or else your child may rebel. If you notice that they’re ignoring diabetes care tasks, ask them what’s going on and work together toward a solution.
Hold your teen accountable. At times, your child may test you to see how much you care. Consequently, it’s important to periodically check on how she is doing. You may want to set a time each week during which you and your teen upload and review data from their meter or pump. Then you can both problem resolve any issues, such as missed insulin doses.
Help your teen fit in diabetes care. When your child gets busy or is too disorganized to maintain diabetes care, try to help them schedule it all in. They might have to temporarily drop an after-school activity in order to get their diabetes under control. You might also help them organize supplies and schedules.
Offer occasional breaks. Your child may appreciate periodic help. Ask them occasionally (especially during busy and/or stressful times) if they’d like temporary relief from total responsibility for their diabetes care. If they accept your offer, you may take over by giving injections, counting carbohydrates or setting out monitoring supplies.
Take a good look at yourself. As your child becomes more independent, consider your own feelings, expectations and actions. Although you realize your teen needs to become independent, you may have trouble letting go – for fear that they’ll fail to handle everything right. Your teen’s behavior may be a reaction to your behavior. Try to convey the message that you’re interested and willing to be involved in their diabetes care.
Get counseling, if needed. Oftentimes, depression is the underlying reason why teens stop managing their diabetes appropriately. You might suspect depression if you see that your child is excessively angry, cries often, or has changes in sleep habits and appetite. If your child gives up on their diabetes care, they clearly need help. Some teens – especially females – skip insulin doses as a way to control their weight. Since teens oftentimes won’t admit to this practice, it’s something you need to watch for.
Use Akron Children’s health coach. This professional works with the diabetes team and offers professional counseling services. Your child can see him at regular or separately scheduled appointments.
Remember that the teen years are temporary. While they can be challenging, they can also be full of joy, as you watch your child grow into a mature adult.
For additional information about diabetes, visit Akron Children’s Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology.