A short time ago, I chaperoned an outing for our middle school youth group. The mom of one of the boys, a friend of mine, pulled me aside before the group left. She needed to let me know that Jake had recently been diagnosed with diabetes. While I struggled for something appropriate to say, she let me know that he had a kit with him in case he needed to check his blood sugar level or take a snack. My job was primarily to make sure he didn’t leave the kit behind, subtly help him watch what he ate, and keep his mother’s cell number handy.
My job was over at the end of the outing, but Jake and his family have started on a lifelong journey of practicing healthy living for those with diabetes. No matter what one’s age when diagnosed with diabetes, it’s going to be a sometimes frightening challenge. Teenagers like Jake have particular complications, dealing with both the disease and adolescence simultaneously. Rapid physical and emotional development adds challenges to the control of diabetes. My friend is off to a good start, letting her son take the lead on sharing details of this new development in his life. My daughter and Jake’s other friends are aware of his condition (the girls think, “Just like Nick Jonas!”), but none of them considers it a big deal because he keeps his diabetes management low-key.
Parents of all teens need to be alert to moods, needs and limit-testing. Parents of diabetic teens need to be even more in tune. It is not unusual for a teen to test the limits of his or her diabetes plan or to rebel against the structure of taking insulin and checking glucose levels. It is important for the parents and the teen to work with the doctor to determine who will shoulder which responsibilities and to make clear the consequences of letting responsibilities slide. Listening to your teen’s concerns and making the diabetes plan as flexible as possible can help. Just like with other parenting challenges, setting short-term goals and rewards together can help ensure success.
Developing a good, communicative relationship with your teen is a distant dream for many parents. However, when families confront the adversity of a diabetes diagnosis, such communication becomes even more important.