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Parenting a Teen with Diabetes

Tips and inspiration for moms and dads

Being the parent of a teenager with diabetes may be a challenging role. You not only have to be on top of your child’s battle with a chronic illness, but it may be that your teen is not the most cooperative partner. Rebellion is a natural part of adolescence, and it’s not surprising to see some of that rebellious behavior spilling over into a teen’s blood sugar management. You may feel the need to give your teen the independence to monitor his or her own glucose levels, and at the same time worry that your adolescent isn’t doing it. And those worries are certainly warranted. According to an article in the journal Diabetes Spectrum, “Adolescents with diabetes tend to ignore their vulnerability to the potential consequences of their disease in their age-appropriate preoccupation with the present. Only one-fifth of the diabetic adolescent participants [surveyed] felt that they complied fully with what they believed they were expected to do regarding diabetes management.”

If you nag your teen about his or her diabetes care, you will possibly find yourself in tense situations, where you make your teen angry and frustrated (and diabetes is frustrating enough on its own!). “It is important not to make diabetes a battleground,” says Brenda Hitchcock, co-founder of Children With Diabetes, whose now-grown daughter was diagnosed at the age of two. “Striking the right balance between allowing for independence yet making sure your child is healthy is key, but it’s much easier said than done!”

Take a Time-Out

It’s understandable that parents and children often become so wrapped up in the daily stress and tension diabetes can create, they’ll forget to appreciate and acknowledge how much hard work sometimes goes into staying healthy. Mother’s Day is a perfect time to take a break, give yourself some credit, and acknowledge how challenging it is to be the mother of a teen with type 1 diabetes. “It takes courage, persistence, optimism, and living with ambiguity,” says Dr. Barbara Anderson, clinical psychologist and professor of pediatrics at the Baylor College of Medicine. And for teens, Mother’s Day is an opportunity to thank mothers who may seem annoying at times, but who ultimately love you and want the best for you.

Remember that Mother’s Day celebrations don’t need to be elaborate. “A great way to celebrate the day,” says Anderson, “is to focus on strengths in the other that have nothing to do with diabetes – the teen’s passion for music or robot-building and the mother’s for gardening, cooking, or juggling work and family artfully.”

Of course, Mother’s Day is just one Sunday in May, so Dr. Anderson offers some do’s and don’ts on keeping your mother-teen relationship as smooth as possible all year long.

Do

Stay involved. Being active and aware in your teen’s life can be helpful for a child’s physical, emotional, and social outcomes. For adolescents, with or without diabetes, parental involvement may help keep kids away from high-risk situations.

Encourage. Tell your child that you’re proud of him or her for trying, and not just necessarily because of specific blood sugar numbers.

Remember that diabetes is always changing. A challenge parents may face is living with the ambiguity of diabetes. There may be fluctuation, especially with a child who is growing and changing every day.

Don’t

Blame. When you see a 300 blood sugar on your child’s meter don’t say, “What did you eat?” Ask, “What do you think we should do?” “What did the doctor or diabetes educator say to do?” Have a problem-solving conversation about it.

Take for granted that a child will just naturally do what needs to be done for his or her diabetes. This is where staying involved comes in.

Forget to spend some one-on-one time with your other children. That goes a long way to help siblings feel important.

Find more great tips online at the Behavioral Diabetes Institute.

Jessica Apple is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Financial Times Magazine, The Southern Review, The Bellevue Literary Review, Tablet Magazine, and elsewhere. She is the diabetes correspondent for The Faster Times. In 2009, she and her husband, both type 1 diabetics, founded asweetlife.org, where she serves as editor-in-chief. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

© 2012 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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