Diabetes care, teenagers and parenting, are 3 things that don’t naturally fit together. The addition of that uninvited guest certainly adds multiple layers to an already complex period of metamorphosis. This post from a parent’s perspective explores some of the challenges and successes we have faced with teenage diabetes care.
Transitioning through your teenage years can be challenging at the best of times, for everyone in the family. It’s an exciting and daunting period of metamorphosis for your child. With growing independence and identity very much at the forefront of these changes. But, being a teenager who is living or is given a diagnosis of a lifelong condition, like type 1 diabetes, certainly adds additional angles and complexities. For you, as a parent, this means having the extra task of working through all of this with your teenager.
In this post, I want to cover some of those additional layers we have stumbled across or are yet to navigate as parents of a type 1 teenager. I will also include recommendations for further reading, that I have found invaluable.
The transition to teenager!
Moving into your teenage years is an exciting and sometimes turbulent time of physical and mental change. This period of discovery for your teenager leads to natural shifts in relationships. These shifts will be within both the family and their peer groups. They begin to explore and try and work out where they belong or fit in this new social world. Along with discovering and sharing their newfound views and opinions (where you are inevitably wrong!!). Sometimes this is easy but more often than not these shifts can create periods of friction in your relationship with your child. It can also add a little extra stress and worry.
This transition period means that you need to establish new boundaries and communication with your child. But also it’s important to try to see things from their perspective, particularly when it comes to their diabetes. This extra responsibility can be really overwhelming for you both.
On top of all of this, they are also having to deal with their bodies going through huge changes. They never seem to stop growing, developing and releasing buckets of hormones. This impacts moods, energy levels and their never-ending need for food, rest and sleep.
Both these physical and mental developments impact insulin requirements hugely. It’s a time of change which means that their bodies respond and fluctuate and so their insulin requirements move with that. This makes managing teenage diabetes quite tricky.
It is very hard to keep on top of all these shifts as we don’t have a crystal ball to truly understand. So it can feel like you are chasing your tail and just trying to play catch up constantly. But having some understanding of physically what is transpiring alongside what else is happening in your teenager’s life can help to open that door. The more information you have, then the more able you are as a parent to interpret and adjust their diabetes management to try and keep up.
But also don’t be scared to make big changes in insulin requirements. As their bodies grow so do their insulin needs. They need what need! Their bodies are doing amazing things and yes it is very frustrating to try and figure out what on earth it’s doing at 3:00 in the morning. But we just have to learn to accept this and keep on tweaking and adjusting basal and carb ratios.
The normalisation of teenagers’ type 1 diabetes
Part of parenting a teenager with type 1 diabetes, is our role in helping them learn to “normalise” their chronic illness. We all came into this world of diabetes at different points and how your teenager responds to growing up alongside it will be totally unique. But what we can do is take the time to help them work through making diabetes care part of their daily routine (hopefully!)
However, what may feel like a small thing for us might be huge for them!
The normalisation of anything that is different from the majority is always a difficult task. Not only do they look different with their tech but they have this other “thing” that others don’t. At this age, all they want is to be like their friends and diabetes is annoying and feels very unfair. But this is where communication, slowly managing a shift in responsibility of care and creating clear boundaries with your teen can really help.
The Transition of Diabetes Care
For many of us, this transfer of responsibility normally goes hand in hand with the move to secondary school. Not ideal really when you think about what a huge transition this is for children regardless. However, it’s necessary that we work with our teenagers to empower them to take on their diabetes management without judgement so that daily care just becomes another thing in the background.
Again this will be different for every Type 1 teenager. Your age of diagnosis and acceptance of the condition plays a major role in this. Our daughter was just moving into her teenage years when she was diagnosed, which you can read all about in this POST. Bizarrely covid and lockdowns in the UK gave us the luxury of time to learn and prepare together. However, it didn’t make the transition of diabetes care any less scary.
What we have found through trial and error is being open and setting clear boundaries of responsibilities. For example, we have an agreement that diabetes care sits with her when she is out of the house. But of course, thanks to tech I can often be found helicopter parenting and texting advice. Note to self …. you need to work on this!
But whilst our daughter is at home she has requested that the care and monitoring sit with us. Which I am happy to do as she has this responsibility forever. Nevertheless, we have found as she is getting older that this doesn’t always work. This means we have to go into a period of adjustment and negotiation.
The goalposts stay in the same place, however, our approach to reaching that goal needs to keep adjusting!
Keeping Your teen engaged in diabetes care
A very big part of teen diabetes management is keeping your teenager engaged in staying on top of things. Gone are the days of the school monitoring on their behalf or them being with you at all times so you can do this for them.
Their growing independence away from you means that this ginormous responsibility becomes theirs. Which can be daunting, to say the least. But here are a few things to consider to help keep them engaged.
- Go slow – Take the transition of responsibility gradually
- Understand – they just want to be like their friends
- Realise how overwhelming it can be – you know how you feel at certain points with diabetes care. They will be feeling exactly the same as you.
- Have a bigger perspective – You don’t think in the same way so what may seem trivial to you can be a massive problem or hurdle for them and vice versa.
How we talk to our teenagers about Diabetes Care
This is a big one! How we talk to our teenagers can have a huge impact on how they manage their diabetes care. We have to keep them engaged and remind them of why it’s important without judgement, which I know is easier said than done.
Key to this is a respectful relationship on both sides. Kids push our buttons and are more likely than most to quickly irritate and get a snappy response. But with awareness of this and the patience to work with your teen can make a huge difference in how they respond to their independence and responsibility of diabetes care
Here are a few pointers to think about when it comes to talking about diabetes care:
- Think about how you question actions taken during the day – questions like what did you do? why did you do that? why didn’t you do this? can often create inflammatory situations with your teen.
- Be mindful about how you approach these conversations – Your teen needs to feel like you are working as a team
- Is diabetes care the first thing you ask them when you see them? – Not all kids want to talk when they walk in the door so it’s about working out when is a good (or maybe just about bearable) time to talk to you.
- Make it clear you are just trying to understand what happened – it’s just a case of needing all the information to help advise on adjustments, keep them safe and healthy.
- It’s a fine line between not wanting to sound like you accusing them of getting it wrong and teaching them what they need to think about next time. Don’t beat yourself up when you get it wrong (and we do!)
- Sometimes not asking is the best thing you can do – Your teen may not want to micro-manage every out-of-range incident in the same way you do. So pick your battles. It may be at a much later point that they feel ready to work with you to understand what they could try next time.
As a little side note to this post, I wanted to mention support for parents and the diabetes community. Parenting a teenager living with diabetes is challenging but you’re not alone. This shift from being the main diabetes carer into sharing that responsibility and allowing our children the agency to control their blood glucose their way is hard. And yes we will get it wrong sometimes.
However, you are not alone. There are so many parents out there in the same situation, experiencing the same things as you or just feeling a little lost. All you need to do is reach out. There are lots of fabulous type 1 mums, families, children and adults who share their stories and experiences on social media. You just have to find them!
There are also plenty of forums and parent support groups up and down the country so why not find your local group at Diabetes UK.
Diabetes Care, Teenagers and Parenting
As a parent of a teenager, we have to remember that all these changes and transitions are huge milestones despite the added diabetes diagnosis. It really can be easy to get lost in focusing on just diabetes management. This means that we forget about these amazing young people shaping, creating and forming themselves in front of our eyes. It is another extremely magical part of parenting (although I get it, it doesn’t always feel like that) and it’s our job to not let the challenges and friction get in the way of this.
Now of course none of this happens overnight and is more of a gradual shift. However, as parents, we need to be prepared for these changes in order to teach and help the transition of parental diabetes management to teenage diabetes care.
I would love to hear your stories and experiences or recommendations for helpful resources. So leave a comment below!
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In this age of information at our fingertips, we have a variety of information available to us digitally. We have the option to engage with other Type 1 parents, follow accounts of advocates for type 1 awareness or individuals with diabetes and watch their journey. However, what I have found as a mother of a teenager living with type 1 diabetes is there isn’t quite so much out there geared towards them.
So here are a few links to websites, articles, research and books that I have found helpful
JDRF – The Teen Toolkit
Diabetes.co.uk – Talking to your teenager about diabetes
Diabetes UK – Talking to your teenager about diabetes
The Centre for Diabetes and Endocrine Care. – What Do I Need to Know About Type 1 Diabetes, Puberty, and My Teenager?
Three Ways to Change Your Parenting in the Teenage Years – Three Ways to Change Your Parenting in the Teenage Years
Why don’t children and young people engage with diabetes services? https://www.bmj.com/content/377/bmj.o750
BMJ 2022; 377 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.o750 (Published 04 April 2022)
Mindfulness, Worries, and Parenting in Parents of Children With Type 1 Diabetes Journal of Pediatric Psychology. Volume 44, Issue 4, May 2019, Pages 499–508, https://academic.oup.com/jpepsy/article/44/4/499/5260814
A systematic review of parents’ experiences of raising a child with type 1 diabetes The British Journal of Diabetes. Volume 21, Issue 1, June 2021, https://bjd-abcd.com/index.php/bjd/article/view/693
Highs & Lows of Type 1 Diabetes: The Ultimate Guide for Teens and Young Adults by Patrick McAllister.
The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did) by Phillipa Perry.
The Incredible Teenage Brain: Everything You Need to Know to Unlock Your Teen’s Potential by Bettina Hohnen, Jane Gilmore & Tara Murphy.