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Adolescents and Diabetes

A d-mom talks about helping without hindering

“Hi, my name is Moira and I survived my child with diabetes’ teen years. I am three years less-stressed now.”

Okay, so there’s not really a program for that, but sometimes I wished there had been. As parents grapple with the daily demands of having a child with type 1 diabetes, many may be like I was: afraid to peek too far forward into the future, since even a glance at that giant road bump called adolescence is enough to make them wish they could just hit the brakes.

And for good reason: it’s not always easy to juggle hormones, mood swings, pushes for independence, and diabetes, but I’m here to say it can be done – and done well. I look at my daughter now: a junior in college, rocking her grades, her social life, her career aspirations, and yes, her diabetes management, as well. Heck, if someone were to meet her today, they’d assume she sailed through those rocky teen years. But she – and I – did not.

So what’s the best advice I can give parents as they move toward those years? In broad terms, know this: Most teens, and their parents, get through this road to independence. I honestly did not embrace that until my daughter’s new doctor for “adults” looked me in the eye at her first appointment and said, “Mom, you do know she’s going to be okay, right?” If I could have picked him up and spun him around, I would have. Instead, I dubbed him “Doctor Wonderful” because his message is so important. We parents may toss and turn and stress and cry over what might happen, never realizing that no one, no one with diabetes sails through it never wavering. But there is so much that can help.

Still, the teen years are rough, and there are so many worries that parents may help ease by taking action. For today, I want to talk about what I see as the two most prevalent fears; fears that overlay nearly every single thing our teens with diabetes do: self-management and burnout. Those are the two whoppers, and my daughter and I struggled with both, learning as we went. Hindsight cannot change things for me, but perhaps it can help other parents of children living with diabetes facing the teen years.

Self-management: We all jump and cheer when our children take on things like administering their own shots, performing glucose checks or changing their own pump sites. I suggest that giving self-management so much attention may not be the best thing to do, and avoiding that hoopla is a great first step toward better easing into self-management. This may sound counterintuitive, but it’s really not. In my opinion, teens, for the most part, simply are not ready for total self-care. Yet, they’ve been messaged all along that being ready is the “good thing.” Deep in their minds, they have embraced us praising them doing their own shots when they were younger, or logging their own numbers as they are older. And with that comes an implanted feeling that if they don’t step up, they are disappointing us. Which, when they cannot handle it themselves, can lead to either lying about it, sneaking about it, or just plain giving up.

Because here’s the thing: while teens look grown up physically, their minds are still developing. They need us to oversee their daily diabetes care, even if they push back on us about it. The longer you can hold onto some oversight – perhaps via an app (MyCareConnect’s BlueLoop is one) that sends you all their checks or whichever aspects of care your teen would like you to see – the more time you give them to move toward self-care, and the less pressure they feel to take it on. If you’ve not hit the teen years yet, take your time with all this. If you have, take a step backwards and discuss with your teen what you can do for them to make their lives easier with diabetes on board. The time will come when they are ready, and you’ll both know it, and know that you can count on one another if they need to step backwards.

Burnout: Here is the challenge for parents of teens who just don’t want to deal with it anymore: your diabetes plan may not be the best plan for them now.

Say what? What I mean is this: while you absolutely still need to stay involved, a great way to avoid burnout is to empower your teen in the decisions about their daily diabetes plan. Begin to let them discuss with their healthcare team when – and how many times – they will check their blood sugar. If the medical team and the teen come up with a plan they agree on that does not match your expectations, consider changing your expectations! If the medical team is all for it, then you know your teen is safe, and the plan is a good one, even if it is not what you imagined.

The same goes for decisions like pumps versus shots. If your teen wants to switch from one to another, even if it is not what you would choose, let them (so long as their medical team agrees). This is a tough pill for parents to swallow, but if you can, you may just give your teen a feeling of control that will help them not get to the point of just wanting to ignore it all.

I learned this when my daughter, who had pumped for twelve years, insisted on going on shots. I’ll be honest: I was horrified. But I went along with it, and what do you know, she did just fine. I had to let go of my vision of what her daily care should be in order for her to embrace her daily care. Lesson learned.

So in the end, for me it came down to two main themes: keeping my hand in her daily care, and keeping out of her daily care decisions to some point. Yes, you can do both, and yes, it might mean compromising your own personal parental diabetes ideals.

But so much of parenting in general is about that: we give them all our love and advice so they can make their own decisions and live life their own way. Diabetes is, in many ways, no different. Finding the balance of helping and not hindering: that’s  what I’ve found to be the key to success!

“My name is Moira and I’m so proud of my daughter and me. Because eventually I learned. And so did she.”

Moira McCarthy is an acclaimed writer, author, and public speaker who has shared her story – and lessons – on raising a child living with type 1 diabetes in the media, through books, and on her popular blog, despitediabetes.com. McCarthy has appeared on CNN Live, Good Morning America, and Fox News. She was recently recognized as the JDRF International Volunteer of the Year. Her six books include the top-selling The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children With Juvenile Diabetes and the upcoming Raising Teens With Diabetes: A Survival Guide For Parents. McCarthy is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

Sanofi US supports MyCareConnect LLC, through a service agreement. 

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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