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You and your teen: Making peace  with their need for space

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You can give teens with type 1 diabetes more control over their care while still keeping an eye on things. 

The teenage years are never easy—for kids or their parents. But when type 1 diabetes is involved, it can cause even more confusion, frustration, and fear for both of you. This is because it is the time when, slowly but surely, diabetes care shifts from you to your child.

It is only natural for there to be some bumps along the way. But remember, millions of people have managed to get through their teen years with diabetes—and they still turned out okay.

So, here are some tips to help you both get through the transition.

Working through the conflicts 

Sometimes you have to accept that your teen’s blood glucoseBlood glucoseThe main sugar found in the blood, and the body’s main source of energy. may not be within your control. But knowing the conflicts and challenges your teen is facing may help you give him or her better guidance.

Here are a few issues that you and your teenager may need to work through:

  • Impulse vs planning. Teens tend to be impulsive. They want to “live in the moment” like their friends. 

But, as you know, life with diabetes requires planning. So, even though they feel invincible, you know that how they take care of their diabetes today matters for their future.

Teens, though, see the future as far away. So, reminding them that poor care now can lead to health problems later may not do a lot to motivate them.

  • Control vs freedom. Teens want to be in control of their lives and define who they are. To achieve these goals, they have to keep testing their limits—and yours.

But testing the limits of their diabetes care plan can be risky. As a parent, it may be scary if your teen and the diabetes care teamDiabetes care teamYour diabetes care team may include a primary care doctor, a diabetes and hormone doctor (endocrinologist), a registered nurse, a diabetes educator, a dietitian, a heart doctor (cardiologist), a foot doctor (podiatrist), an eye doctor (ophthalmologist/optometrist), a kidney doctor (nephrologist), a dentist, a pharmacist, and a mental health professional. come up with a care plan that involves fewer blood glucose checks than you are used to.

man speaking with teen
  • Protecting vs overprotecting. You know that you can't watch over your teen every minute of the day. If you try to, they may resent it.

Remind yourself that it’s your child’s diabetes, not yours. Though also be aware that you can’t ignore things if they stray too far from their diabetes care plan.

  • Give and take. You may need to give in a little. Back off a bit on controlling their diabetes as strictly as you did when they were younger.
  • Friendly reminders. Teens are more in the here-and-now than adults. Remind them that the better they take care of their diabetes, the more they will be able to do the activities they love now, such as sports or spending time with friends.

Here are some things you can do to help:

  • Keep talking with your teen        
    • Be open to talking about the choices they make and not just about their diabetes
    • Sometimes teens will pick odd times to open up to you. As much as you can, stop whatever else you are doing and listen
    • Simply listening to what matters to them can help build trust and understanding
  • Help your teen connect
    • Many adults with type 1 diabetes remember what it was like when they were young and may be willing to talk to your teen. Having a mentor who “gets it” can be an extremely helpful resource
    • Get your teen involved in type 1 diabetes support groups and diabetes camps where they can meet other teens like them
  • Call for backup
    • Even if your teen seems to be struggling just a little, find a counselor or other doctors who can help
    • Share any concerns with the diabetes care team on how to address them with your child. They are there for you too—to hear your fears, concerns, and challenges. Speak to the experts whenever you need to
  • Stay positive
    • Show your teen how you follow your own healthy meal plan. If you are confident about your choices, he or she may be more likely to follow your example
    • Choose to reward your teen for good diabetes care rather than punish them for slip-ups
  • Encourage your teen to make wise choices on his or her own
    • Always leave the door wide open for regular communication

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