Adolescence. None of us remembers it fondly. In fact, it was one of the hardest periods of our lives, as we were trying to figure out our identity and to separate from our parents and caregivers in a healthy way.
And a diagnosis of diabetes during childhood or adolescence can make the whole journey exponentially harder.
Here are the challenges that adolescents with diabetes face in managing their condition, and how we can help them.
Getting the Diagnosis
No matter the age, receiving a diabetes diagnosis can be truly shattering. Suddenly, teens must learn all the information about their condition while simultaneously overcoming any fear of needles and accepting that their lives will never be the same again. Teens will need skilled and sensitive healthcare professionals to guide them and teach them during this time.
Navigating Diabetes Care
Healthy management of diabetes is a monumental and ongoing task. Teens are still developing their executive functioning skills, so logging and monitoring blood sugar levels and giving themselves insulin injections with meals can be overwhelming. Fortunately, new technology (injector pumps and glucose monitoring apps downloaded on their phone) can now facilitate these tasks.
An Unfair Burden
Teens with diabetes may resent the perceived burden on their family and friends. They may struggle with feelings of unfairness that their parents have to devote so much time to their care, or the discomfort friends may feel when trying to adapt to the demands of their condition. Lack of understanding on the part of their teachers can make school feel complicated. Educating staff and students about diabetes can alleviate some of this.
Teens often feel uncomfortable standing out from their peers in any way, especially in a way that might make them appear weak. A diabetes diagnosis immediately brands them as different, more delicate, in need of more care and attention. These feelings are normal, and a skilled social worker or psychologist can help your teen work through them.
Parents are notorious for nagging their teen children, and diabetes-related concerns can greatly exacerbate that. It’s only natural that parents may be scared of allowing their teens more control. Unfortunately, constant nagging will just augment a teen’s anxiety and insecurity. Instead of nagging, make your teen a partner in his care, gradually releasing some tasks as he becomes mature enough to handle them.
Moving to Self-Management
Just like driving and living away from home, self-management of diabetes is a task that your teen must master before leaving the nest. After all, you can hardly follow her around at college to make sure she is okay. But as with driving, this skill needs to be taught gradually as the teen is ready. Don’t overwhelm him with too much, too soon or it can backfire.
The Need For Independence
There are few things teens crave more than independence, and this craving often brings them into conflict with parents. Unfortunately, parental conflict is dangerous for diabetic teens; research has shown that such conflicts make diabetes-related complications more likely to happen. Spend time educating your teen, empowering her to self-manage. Be sure to share information about how alcohol, drug use, and smoking can be more dangerous for your diabetic teen than for his non-diabetic peers.
Living with diabetes is challenging for anyone, but teens face many special challenges. Fortunately, all it takes is support from family members and healthcare professionals to overcome these challenges, and to learn to live with this potentially earth-shattering diagnosis.