The teen years may be the hardest time for young people with diabetes and their parents. Normal teen behaviors include going to bed late, sleeping late, and eating meals at varying times. These behaviors combined with the normal cycle of rapid growth spurts and periods of slow growth make it hard to keep a teen's blood sugar level consistently within a target range.
Eating fast foods often also makes it hard for teens to follow a balanced diet and stay at a healthy weight. Teens may try to control their weight by going on fad diets, vomiting after meals, or eating very little food. Insulin can cause a person to gain weight, so a teen who uses insulin may skip doses. These actions can be dangerous. They may lead to high or low blood sugar emergencies or an eating disorder.
Common ways that teens with diabetes rebel
Your teenager may be very mature and assume the right amount of responsibility for their diabetes care. If so, your job as a parent of providing supervision will be fairly easy. On the other hand, teenage rebellion is normal. To rebel, teens with diabetes may:
- Skip doses of insulin or other diabetes medicine.
- Eat high-fat, high-calorie meals. Or they may eat whenever and whatever they want, ignoring the daily meal plan.
- Falsify or lie about blood sugar test results.
- Hide or deny the disease when they're around friends, in an effort to fit in.
These behaviors may lead to high or low blood sugar emergencies.
How to help your teen
The teen years can be a hard time for teens with diabetes and their parents. Here are some things you can do that may be helpful for both you and your teen.
- Expect your teen to be in charge of their own diabetes care.
You can be there to support and guide. But accept that ultimately it's up to your teen to take control of their care. This transition will be smoother if you encourage your teen to take on more and more responsibility over time.
- Allow your teen to meet with health professionals alone.
This will encourage your teen to be highly involved in their care. A registered dietitian can help your teen build a healthy meal plan.
- Don't overreact to high blood sugar levels.
Everyone with diabetes has them from time to time. Praise your teen for checking their blood sugar level. Offer to help problem-solve ways to handle high blood sugar effectively.
- Keep the disease in perspective.
Diabetes is only one part of a person's life. Encourage your teen to be as active as they'd like to be in sports and other healthy activities.
- Help your teen identify a safety support system.
Low blood sugar levels are likely to occur at times. So your teen needs to have at least one friend who knows what to do in case of an emergency. Discuss who else needs to know and what they need to know.
- If insulin is needed, help your teen be successful.
It may help for your teen to:
- Use an insulin pump. Some young people like using the pump because it's a less obvious way of giving their insulin injections. If rapid-acting insulin is used with meals, the pump makes it convenient to give an extra dose if needed.
- Use a flexible insulin dosing schedule. Using a combination of long-acting and rapid-acting insulins allows greater flexibility for those times when a teen sleeps late, goes to parties, or changes the meal schedule.
- Try to be patient and understanding.
Your teen may lash out at you for the ups and downs of the disease. Try to empathize. Imagine the fear, sadness, anger, and even guilt your teen may be feeling.
- Get support for your teen.
It may be a good idea to have a mental health professional, such as a counselor, involved with your teen's care from the time of their diagnosis.
Current as of: April 13, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Rhonda O'Brien MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator