This is stressful for parents, but it may be reassuring to know that it’s a normal stage that won’t necessarily last forever or lead to long-term diabetes complications. On the other hand, it’s not an excuse for teens to ignore or neglect their daily diabetes care. Parents and teens need to negotiate how critical diabetes tasks will get done, where, when, and by whom.
Offer your love and support
You may think your love for your teen is obvious, but it never hurts to state it out loud. For example, you might say, “I care so much about your diabetes care because I love you and want a long healthy life for you!” Even if your teen rolls his eyes at this, it’s likely he’s taking in the message.
Let him know what the rules are: “The only way I am going to relax and get off your case about all this stuff is for you to do what you need to do to take care of yourself. Therefore, the ball is in your court. You have some choice about whether to live with harassment or not.”
Assure him that you’re there to help: “Your father and I, your sister, your medical team, and maybe some of your friends are here to help. We are your support team! We are rooting for you and want you to do well. But you’ve got to be the team leader. You need to tell us how we can help you take charge of your diabetes.”
Ask for your teen’s input
Often, teens have their own solutions to problems that are more creative or practical than anyone else’s. In addition, if they are the ones to suggest it, it is more than likely an acceptable solution.
Back in the exam room, I say to Jake, “So, Jake, how would you like your Mom and Dad to help you? What could they do that would help you stay on track?”
Jake takes some time to reflect, then says softly, “I really hate looking up carbs and figuring it out. You used to write it down for me, Mom.”
Mom responds, “I know I did, but how are you going to learn to do it for yourself if you don’t do it?”
I interject, “Well, Mrs. P, he’s telling you how you can help him right now. And I agree that he is not going to learn to do it if he doesn’t do it. But for right now, in an effort to improve his control, and because this part is hard for him, do you think you could talk about how you might give him some help in this area?” Mom nods.
“Anything else, Jake?” I ask.
He says, “Just keep reminding me.”
Mom laughs at that. “You get smart with me and nasty! And you don’t do it!”
I say, “But you are hearing that in spite of his immediate response, he really wants you to remind him. And Jake, when your Mom reminds you, she is doing so because she loves you, so your job is to treat her with respect and do it.”
Jake says, “OK, I’ll try.”
Remind your teen why it’s worth it
Scare tactics — threatening your teen with kidney failure or blindness, for example — don’t work for anyone. But it’s still important for teens to know that their actions now can have both short-term and long-term effects.
People with frequent or chronic high blood glucose over many years are the most likely to develop the devastating problems of eye, kidney, cardiovascular, and nerve disease, which can potentially lead to erectile dysfunction, heart attack, stroke, and amputations. Every little bit a person does to keep his blood glucose level in the near-normal range can lower his risk.
It’s hard for teens (and often for adults, too) to believe these things could happen to them. But often, teens can be disciplined about doing something today because it will benefit them sometime in the future. For example, many kids are willing to work hard in school so that they graduate from high school and can go to college. Or they are willing to save money over months or even years for a big expense such as college, a computer, or a car. Student athletes train and go to practice so they’ll do well later in competition. So it’s not unreasonable to ask teens to take steps now to raise the likelihood of good health in the future.