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Teens With Type 1- Managing The Ups and Downs

Helping Teens with Type 1 Navigate The Physical and Emotional Changes


Updated April 16, 2014

A teen with type 1 can prevent no shortage of challenges to any household. To say that adolescence a is period of constant change is an understatement. If you’ve tried to track with your teen’s ever changing schedule, friends and mood, you already know this well. But adolescents who also have type 1 diabetes face special challenges. Not only do these teens experience the typical social and emotional struggles associated with growing up, but they also must contend with widely fluctuating hormonal changes that affect their diabetes management.

Hormonal Ups and Downs

The same hormones that cause growth spurts in your child can also wreak havoc on his or her efforts to keep blood sugar under control. As growth hormone increases during the early and middle teen years, the body becomes less sensitive to insulin. As a result, high glucose levels are common in teens. When an adolescent reaches his or her full growth, these insulin-inhibiting hormones tend to decrease. As a way to compensate for these changes, talk with your doctor about possibly increasing your teen’s insulin during these years.

Is It Adolescence or Diabetes?

In addition to higher blood sugar levels, you may have noticed that your teen tends to have mood swings from time to time. Most parents assume this emotional roller-coaster is a natural part of growing up. But moodiness may also be a symptom of low blood sugar and it can be difficult to distinguish a hypoglycemic reaction from a recent conflict with a friend. Sudden behavioral changes, such as crying, anger or irritability should always be suspect if there are no observable reasons for such a reaction. More frequent blood tests might be necessary to rule out low blood sugar.

Create a Forum For Your Teen

Adolescents need a safe place to discuss their struggles about growing up and especially what they go through living with diabetes. Some teens feel comfortable talking their parents; others do not. But regardless of whether your child talks to you, another family member or a trusted friend they need a forum to express their emotion about the challenges they face.

It’s also important to look for signs of depression in your teen. Though the normal hormonal changes of adolescence do not cause depression, teens with diabetes are more prone to become depressed than those not living with a chronic condition. If you notice any of the common symptoms of depression, consider having your child:

  • Discuss these symptoms with his or her doctor.
  • Talk with a mental health counselor who understands type 1 diabetes. Your doctor should be able recommend someone in your area.
  • Discuss school-related challenges with the school Social Worker.

Building confidence

Part of living with diabetes as a teen is learning to gradually take over daily management of their condition from parents. When a teen feels as though diabetes runs his or her life, motivation for following the management plan is likely to be poor. The goal is to empower your child by showing them that their choices and decisions matter.

One way to do this is let them be part of the decision-making process as it applies to balancing their lifestyle with insulin therapy, glucose testing, meals and exercise. The discussion should focus on when (not whether) these areas of management are practiced. This balance is easier to find for some families than others. But with the help of your healthcare team, it can be a great asset to help build ownership for diabetes management in your teen that they will need for the rest of their lives.


Helping Your Child or Teen Live With Type 1 Diabetes. Juvenile Diabetes Association. Accessed: August 10, 2008. http://www.jdrf.org/index.cfm?page_id=103523

The Challenge of Adolescence: Hormonal Changes and Sensitivity to Insulin. International Diabetes Federation. Accessed: August 10, 2008. http://www.diabetesvoice.org/files/attachments/article_503_en.pdf

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