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Teens & diabetes

Parents of young children with diabetes need to be very involved with their child’s health. As children grow into young adults, it is important that they develop the skills and confidence to manage their diabetes independently.

For parents: supporting your teen's independence

Adolescence can be a challenging time for young people with diabetes and their parents. Teens want to try new things, test their limits and be more independent. Parents may be reluctant to let their child take responsibility for their diabetes management.

The key is to find balance between parental monitoring and teen independence. With patience and a positive attitude, you can help your teen become a responsible, independent and healthy young adult.

Here are some suggestions to support teens as they become young adults living with diabetes:

Your steps Reasoning
Recognize how devastating diabetes can be Your teen wants to be carefree and independent, just like their friends. Instead, they feel burdened and restricted by tests and injections. Help your teen figure out ways to fit diabetes into their schedule; share the load where you can, such as helping to record blood sugar results.
Find support for your teen They may feel more comfortable talking about their feelings and challenges to someone on their diabetes care team, such as a nurse or social worker, than to their parents. Find out if your teen is interested in joining a peer support group.
Be positive and non-judgmental Avoid using terms such as “good” or “bad” when referring to blood sugar levels. Instead, focus on helping your teen make sense of blood sugar levels and determine a course of action. For example, ask, “Your blood sugar is higher than your target, so what do you need to do?”
Understand and help your teen understand Understand that they will need more insulin as they grow and go through puberty. This is normal. It is not a sign of worsening diabetes.
Encourage your teen Encourage your teen to take part in sports and other activities, which are great for building self-esteem. Help them to figure out how to prevent low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), which often happens with increased activity, by testing frequently and either reducing insulin or increasing the amount they're eating.
Educate on risks

Ensure that your teen understands the potentially devastating effect that smoking, alcohol and drugs can have for people with diabetes. If you are not comfortable talking with your teen about these issues, ask your diabetes professional to have a chat with them.

Avoid focusing on weight and body shape

Rather, focus on promoting healthy living behaviours for all members of the family. Some teens discover that when they are  not getting enough insulin, they lose weight. Some teens (particularly girls) are tempted to reduce or skip their insulin repeatedly in order to lose weight. This risky behaviour leads to poor blood sugar management, a risk of diabetes ketoacidosis (a life-threatening condition that arises from a serious insulin shortage and can cause death) and a high risk for long-term complications. Parents who suspect this behaviour in their teen should watch each insulin injection while getting advice from their diabetes team.

Be flexible and willing to help or step back Watch for signs that your teen is struggling with diabetes management: signs of high blood sugar levels (frequent urination, extreme thirst), low blood sugar episodes (hypoglycemia), poor school attendance, depression or a noticeable change in behaviour. If your child shows any of these signs, get involve n your teen’s diabetes care and talk to their diabetes professional for further advice.
Keep communication open Instead of nagging or criticizing, use open-ended questions that encourage conversation. For example, ask: “How do you feel you are coping with your diabetes?”, “What are you finding most difficult?”, or “What would help you now?”

For teens: making the move to adulthood

Are you thinking about moving away from home to go to school or to work in a different city? Are you planning to travel, move in with friends or simply be more independent with your diabetes management?

Now that you’re ready to step into adulthood, many things are going to be your responsibility, including taking care of your diabetes.

To learn more about eating well on your own, dating with diabetes, driving, and more, connect with young young people (ages 14 to 24) with type 1 diabetes through the Virtual Peer Network, a private Facebook group.

Connect with others just like you!

Through the Virtual Peer Network, young people (ages 14 to 24) with type 1 diabetes can connect with their peers, and share experiences, information, tools, and videos.

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