Is glucose monitoring becoming a minefield? Here’s how to help your teen take charge of their diabetes.
Parenting a teen is tough enough, what with curfews, moodiness and questionable outfits. Throw diabetes into the mix and you have your hands full. Some teens with diabetes “fudge” their blood sugar numbers; other kids rebel and stop testing altogether.
No matter your situation, you can help your child manage their condition and get the most from their teen years. The key is to touch base frequently, so you know how their diabetes management is going. Parents who praise their teens’ self-care successes—rather than criticize or punish them for failures—are most successful at helping their kids stay on top of their condition, according to a study published in Diabetes Spectrum. Here’s how to handle the most common stumbling blocks:
1. The problem: Your teen is fudging their A1C numbers.
Some teens worry that their parents will be upset about a “bad” number, so they doctor it. “Children with diabetes see the hurt in their parents’ eyes and hear it in their voices,” says Kelly Kunik, a blogger and diabetes advocate, who has had type 1 diabetes for 30 years. “They figure that if they change the number, they will make their parents happy.”
The solution: If your child comes home with a poor reading, don’t get upset. “There are no bad blood glucose numbers; there are challenging blood glucose numbers,” says Kelly. “I think if teens can understand that—and know that their parents will remain calm—they’ll be more likely to test.”
2. The problem: Your teen is refusing to monitor their blood sugar or is going on food binges. Children who have always been compliant about managing their diabetes may suddenly rebel in their teen years. One reason is that the condition causes them to feel “different” from other kids their age. Also, teens are expected to become self-reliant, so if their blood sugar levels spike despite their best efforts, they may feel frustrated or inadequate. Finally, many teens balk if they feel their parents are overly controlling. “I had much of the normal teenage angst, rebellion and noncompliance,” recalls Brandy Gunderson, a 39-year-old mother of two who has had type 1 diabetes for 24 years. “I rarely tested my blood sugar and was morbidly underweight throughout my teens and twenties. People don’t realize just how much diabetes controls every aspect of your life.”
The solution: Let your child know it’s not their fault if their blood sugar is difficult to control. During the teen years, a hormone that stimulates the growth of bone and muscle acts against insulin, causing swings in blood sugar levels, according to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Encourage your child to take an active role in their diabetes care. Help them set small goals, such as cutting back on sweets, and praise them when they meet those goals. Also, help your teen connect with other kids who have the disease. Ask your healthcare team for a referral to a local support group. And consider sending your child to a summer camp for teens with diabetes; more than 400 exist worldwide. To find one near you, go to diabetescamps.org.
3. The problem: Your child is forgetting to test their blood sugar
Today’s teens are often just as busy as adults, with hours of homework, soccer practice and music lessons—not to mention outings with friends. As a result, it may be difficult for your teen to juggle the additional responsibility of staying on top of their blood sugar level.
The solution: Even though your child is old enough to handle most of their self-care, you should be involved. Consider saying, “I know you’re very busy. What would help you remember to test yourself?” You might offer to text them reminders. You might also consider checking your child’s meter history once a day to pinpoint when they are forgetting to test.
Finally, ask your teen’s healthcare team, school nurse, coaches and friends for help. Give the school staff a copy of your child’s diabetes care plan, and meet with them to discuss how it can be implemented at school. Also, if your child is receptive, talk with them and a few of their friends about ways they may be able to help your child stay on track. For instance, the friends can easily remind your teen to do a blood sugar check.