Your Active Teen with Diabetes: Balancing Safety and Responsibility

Parents of teens with type 1 diabetes have the same job as all parents, to keep their kids safe while helping them develop independence.

Parenting a child with type 1 becomes increasingly tricky when students leave home early in the morning for classes, and then participate in after school sports practice, student government, clubs, drama, or music rehearsals. A child might be away more than half the day.

Someone Who’s Been There

While no one can tell a parent how they should raise their child, some of the best advice in the world comes from people who have been where we are now.

Moira McCarthy has a son with type 1 diabetes, and she shares her experience with balancing teen safety and responsibility in her book, Raising Teens with Diabetes: A Survival Guide for Parents.

In her guide, McCarthy points out that being at school allows kids to practice for functioning as an adult in the wider, working world. She therefore espouses making sure school safety measures are in place, and supporting an adolescent’s blossoming independence.

Safety Measures In Place

Having safety measures in place means making sure the adults overseeing your teen’s activities are aware of the diabetes, your child’s need to monitor as needed, the symptoms of low blood sugar, and how to manage an emergency. If a 504 plan is in place, school personnel will be expected to honor your child’s right to disengage from participation for monitoring, and to resume participation when ready.

Your teen’s club advisors, coaches, and the school’s athletic trainer (if there is one) may also agree to receive glucagon instruction. An athletic trainer, particularly, might be willing to take a personal interest in your child and/or agree carry a glucagon kit in their medical bag. It is worth looking into.

Supporting Independence

Even with school personnel keeping an eye on your teen, he or she must agree to shoulder more responsibility for their well being - if they want to be entrusted with increased freedom.

While parents should not demand perfection from an adolescent it is, according to McCarthy, reasonable to expect three important things:

  1. It is reasonable to expect your teen to monitor their blood sugar at the end of each school day, before their activity begins. After long hours in the classroom, they need to know their numbers before engaging in something else. If rehearsal or practice runs into the evening, discuss with your teen the importance of monitoring again. Should they eat and insulin is required—carb-counting or other smartphone diabetes apps may help.
  2. It is reasonable to expect a teenager to always carry the supplies that might be needed, including a meter, strips for the meter, fast-acting carbs, and a backup pump site change, if a pump is used. Most parents willingly check their child’s school bag to make sure these items are present since all busy humans are forgetful sometimes.
  3. It is reasonable to expect a good effort from your adolescent, backed by honesty. To cultivate honesty, parents should react to their child’s efforts in a non-judgmental way. For instance, if a child confesses, “I had pizza on the way home with my friends and didn’t monitor or bolus,” a non-judgmental response that supports their honesty would be, “All right, check your glucose now and let’s get it corrected. Thanks for letting me know.”

Though parents may want their teen to call or text blood sugar numbers throughout the day, McCarthy suggests not doing this. Instead, parents can look over meter readings in the evening to gauge how things are going and encourage kids to call any time they need advice.

Source: Moira McCarthy, Raising Teens with Diabetes: A Survival Guide for Parents, Spry Publishing LLC, 2013.
Photo credit: Tom Childers

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