Parenting Teens With Type 1: Learning To Let Go

Though teaching kids to function independently is big part of parenting, letting go when teens start exercising that independence can be difficult.

If a teen has type 1 diabetes, honoring his or her growing autonomy may be even more of a challenge. Validating the child’s growing self-reliance, holding them accountable for their choices, and wanting to keep them safe are a mind-boggling balancing act full of emotional highs and lows.

One way parents can find balance is to cultivate a supportive role in their teen’s diabetes management. Most adolescents will rebel against tight parental oversight, but appreciate knowing parents care and have their back.

Here are a few suggestions for establishing a supportive role—not meant to replace your common sense, or your child’s diabetes team recommendations.

  • Open Ends. To keep communication open, criticism and nagging are two hot potatoes that need to be dropped; they shut down conversation and build resentment. The best way to get a dialog going is using open-ended questions, those that invite a person to share their thoughts and feelings. For instance, you might ask, “What would help you the most right now?” Or, “What's the most difficult thing about managing your diabetes at school?”
  • Vital Knowledge. Since you are loosening your diabetes management grip, it’s imperative your teen understands the possibly devastating consequences of mixing diabetes with smoking, alcohol, or drug use; consider having your child’s diabetes professional broach this subject with him or her. Teens also need to know more insulin might be required as they go through puberty. This has to do with the effect of growth hormones and does not mean the diabetes is worsening.
  • Body Image Influence. Avoid commenting on your adolescent’s body shape or weight, and be aware that some teens discover they lose weight when using less than optimal amounts of insulin. This discovery can prompt some individuals, more often girls, to lower or skip insulin doses, putting themselves at risk for diabetes complications or ketoacidosis. Resume supervising your child’s insulin injections if you suspect this behavior, and consult your diabetes care team.
  • Solution Support. Help teens problem solve how to fit diabetes into their busy school and social schedule. Ask what specific assistance you can provide to help lighten their load. Support their participation in sports or other activities, and assist them in finding ways to avoid hypoglycemia with the increased activity. Draw support from your diabetes team, and have teens consider joining a diabetes peer support group.
  • Just The Facts. Your attitude and words have a tremendous influence. Make an effort to be non-judgmental about your child’s diabetes management, and keep away from words such as “good” or “bad” when talking about glucose levels. State the facts, or what you observe, and give your child the opportunity to make corrections. For instance, “Your blood sugar has been lower than your target level since starting volleyball practice, so what’s your plan for getting it back on track?”

Though it may go without saying, watch for signs that your teen is struggling with diabetes management. If you notice symptoms of high or low blood sugar, depressed mood, anxiety, a change in grades, or school attendance you may need to re-involve yourself in his or her diabetes care for a while. Consult with your child’s diabetes team about the best way to proceed.

Remember, even if teens roll their eyeballs when you speak, it means they heard you—and words that annoy them today may be the ones that prompt wise choices when you’re not looking.

Sources: Canadian Diabetes Assoc; Empowering Parents
Photo credit: Slongood

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