Managing Your Relationship While Managing Their Diabetes:
Being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes is difficult at any age. But it is especially difficult for teenagers and their parents. The teen years are characterized by so many changes happening simultaneously, such as bodily changes, a strong affinity with peers, dating, and driving, among others. Add diabetes to this already crowded and often confusing mix, and it can be more than some families can handle.
But there are sound ways to navigate diabetes in the teen years that give proper attention to diabetes management and keep your relationship with your teen intact. Here are three ways to help achieve that balance.
1. Be supportive of your teen without being overprotective.
One of the key developmental issues of adolescence is learning greater independence. Your goal as a parent is to strike a balance between providing guidance and giving your teen the freedom to make some of his or her decisions.
Teens need to be taking increasing amounts of responsibility for their diabetes management. But in the months following their diagnosis with type 1, teens typically do best if they have the supportive presence of a parent alongside them as they learn and practice correct management skills. This gradual transition of responsibility helps them to not feel alone, enables them to ask questions, allows you to monitor their technique and routine, and builds confidence in both you and your teen that things are on track. The age of your child and their level of emotional maturity should act as guides for how long this transition should take.
This same supportive balance can be practiced at your teen’s doctor appointments. Let your child do most of the talking with the healthcare professionals about his diabetes management routine. Most diabetes professionals will assume the teen is performing most, if not all, of the diabetes management tasks. This dialogue will foster more ownership on your child’s part for their own self-care, which means less nagging required by you.
2. Really listen to your teen’s concerns and challenges.
This not only applies to their difficulties with diabetes management, but for the other parts of life as well. Teens are notorious for not disclosing much information about their lives. But this is often a result of parents not knowing how to carefully listen and sensitively respond to complaints, discouragement and even depression that their teen might be experiencing.
One of the most powerful tools for getting your child to open up about his or her feelings is to use empathy. For example, if your teen says, "I’m sick of testing my blood and I’m not going to do it anymore," listen for the emotion embedded in the statement. He may be feeling discouraged, tired or hopeless. Being able to hear this deeper meaning and reflect it back to your child can be the difference between a meaningful conversation and an argument. So instead of forcefully saying, "Oh yes you will keep checking your blood sugar," you could respond by saying, "I know it gets really tiring checking your blood several times a day. You sound like you are discouraged." The latter response tunes in to your child’s feelings, which is what he really wants you to hear. Though there is no magic in using empathy, if you regularly tune into those and other feelings, you’re likely to get more conversation from them and more cooperation with diabetes management.
3. Be a good model of self-care for your teen.
It is a proven fact that when children and teens have parents that teach and model healthy lifestyle habits, they more likely to practice these as well. It may at times feel like your example is futile, but remember, you are thinking long-term. Right now, your teen may repeatedly gulp down three slices of pizza before checking his blood sugar. But, short of a cure, your child is going to have diabetes for a long time. Your example establishes a reference point for what is healthy self-care from this point forward. If you consistently practice healthy lifestyle habits, you can be sure that your teen is noticing.
Eat a variety of foods in moderation and engage in regular exercise. Better yet, get your teen to help you prepare meals now and then, and take the whole family out for some hiking, biking or canoeing. It won’t feel like work and it will create a shared experience together. The idea is for all members of the family to live a lifestyle that is consistent with good diabetes management. It creates a supportive environment for your teen and a healthy routine for everyone in the family.