Growth hormones, peer pressure, independence struggles, and mood swings: welcome to the teenage years! There’s nothing like a warning glance from a fed-up teenager to make a parent retreat. As your child takes more control of his or her diabetes, it becomes ever more tempting to step back and avoid the friction that sometimes comes from being involved. Nevertheless, your teenager needs your reliable presence more than ever. The beauty, strength, and sheer courage our kids exhibit in meeting their teenage challenges can inspire us to stand up and work with them to keep their health and well-being firmly in the forefront of their minds. Each child and each situation is different, but here are a few suggestions for staying on your teen’s diabetes team.
1. Listen to yourself. Your instincts are an invaluable resource, and no one knows your child better than you do. During some undistracted time, take an objective look at your teen. Is he or she healthy, comfortable, and thriving? Are there areas of tension between you over blood sugar levels or eating habits? Is your child happy with his or her medical team and school nurse? Before you can find a way to help, you have to know what your concerns are. Put your energy into those that you feel are an absolute priority for your child’s safety and well-being.
2. Listen to the cues around you. Teenagers who are reaching for independence can be reluctant to talk with their parents about the frustrations and difficulties of self-care. Sometimes your child’s siblings, doctor, coach, teachers, neighbors, or friends can give you additional insight. Other clues, such as your child’s latest A1c results, a change in eating patterns, or a decrease in physical activity, can point to issues that your teen isn’t talking about.
3. Listen to your teen. Of course, your child knows how things are going, but finding time to communicate has never been more challenging. The combination of sports, after-school jobs, cell phones, and iPods can make casual conversation almost impossible. One way to find quiet, uninterrupted time to talk is by banning electronics during car rides. This allows for old-fashioned one-on-one conversations with mom or dad. Bedtime presents another opportunity. Find ways to be alone together, ask how the diabetes is going, and then listen without reacting.
4. Approach issues as a team. Teens want to be independent, but good diabetes control requires a team approach. Once you have your concerns clearly in mind, include your child in finding solutions. If blood sugar control or safety is the issue, the bottom line is that changes are necessary. The details of that change are the part to work on together. Don’t be afraid to ask, “How do you suggest we do this?” You could present an issue such as “Your school nurse says you’re forgetting to test during the day.” Then ask, “What do you think would help you to remember?” Make a plan to review numbers together in a way that works for both of you. Remind your teen that you are there to help.
5. Make use of outside support. The best-laid plans are hard to complete alone. Don’t forget to keep your child’s school nurse, medical team, and athletic coach up to date. If your teen is willing, include his or her friends in a kitchen table discussion to get their support and understanding. They can help reinforce any changes your child is trying to make, especially concerning risks with drugs and alcohol. Oftentimes, there are role models with diabetes in your community. Don’t hesitate to introduce them to your child.
6. Don’t back away. Good blood sugar control is vital for avoiding long-term complications. Continue to offer support and encouragement instead of criticism. Find acceptable ways to help. Offer to text reminders if a child is forgetting to test or take insulin. An older teen might not want to report individual numbers, but won’t mind if you check the meter history once a day, look for patterns, and suggest changes.
7. Take a diabetes break. Make sure you have fun together without talking about diabetes-playing scrabble, shopping, attending a sports event, or shooting baskets are examples. Remember to enjoy this transition into adulthood. Your child will be on his or her own soon enough.