Just For Parents

Helping Parents of Teens with Type 1 Diabetes

What Parents Can DO:
Three major tips that health care professionals would like you to know

1. Agree with your teen, loudly and regularly, that diabetes is not fair and that it sucks

Its true! You are not making things worse by agreeing with your teen; instead, you are showing your teen that you can understand and accept their point of view. And your teen should feel free to complain about diabetes as needed. You might even want to recommend that there be a regularly scheduled time for complaining about diabetes. Accept the complaints; they are, after all, no reflection on you or your teen. And your teen is correct: diabetes really does suck and it IS unfair. Don't try and talk your teen out of how they feel about diabetes. You won't be successful anyway.

2. Don't leave your teen alone with diabetes

No matter what your teen says about being able to manage alone, it is very likely that a parent still needs to be actively involved. There are many ways to share responsibility with your teen about diabetes, and even though you may hear many protests, he/she is still a teen and there are many benefits to having a parent engaged in an active role. Of course, your role will, and should, change over time as your teen becomes more mature and takes on greater responsibility for diabetes care. Still, it is very helpful to join with your health care team to figure out how you and your teen can work together, who will do what and when, what kind of accountability there will be, and how things will work. Teens may test the agreement, but a firm and consistent enforcement of the agreed upon rules can be very helpful.

3. Catch your teen doing something right

It is easy to tell a teen when they have done something wrong or that they have forgotten to do something. It is always easy to find fault, even when your intentions are good. But often we forget to make public when a teen does something right and to congratulate them. Acknowledge when your teen remembers to check their blood glucose before dinner every night; commend your teen for changing their own insertion set at the appropriate times. When you see a high blood glucose reading, try to stop yourself from immediately asking, "What went wrong here?" Instead, congratulate them for checking and try to maintain your best diabetes poker face, at least for a few minutes! Such positive reinforcement can lead to even greater success. However, you must be careful to do this correctly and with sensitivity. While it can be great to praise your teen about good diabetes management, your teen may feel that you are being patronizing or drawing attention to something that they don't want to talk about. As you know it doesn't take much for a teen to roll their eyes in frustration and walk away, even when you are applauding their behavior and have the best intentions. So choose your timing carefully.

What Parents Can DO:
Nine major tips that your teen would like you to know

These are the key principles of "diabetes etiquette": the key issues that your teen would like you as a parent to consider. This can be a first step towards starting a more helpful conversation between you and your teen.

1. Stop trying to scare me with diabetes statistics

You've told me a million times that many years of high blood sugars can hurt me. I understand you are scared and want the best for me, but bugging me about complications just makes me want to tune you out. If I need motivation, it has to be something important to me right now, not way down the road.

2. When my blood sugars are high, don't assume I've done something stupid (although I may have)

It may be hard to believe, but sometimes it really isn't my fault. Blood sugars can get wacky even when you do everything right. Instead of grilling me about why they are high (which may have no answer) or what I might've done wrong, let's figure out what to do now.

3. Please acknowledge when I'm doing something right, not just when I've messed up

You may not notice it, but taking care of diabetes is a lot of hard work. And it is not fun! I may not be perfect, but there are a lot of things I am doing right every day just to stay alive. A pat on the back for a job well done would be awesome.

4. Don't always be in my face about diabetes, but don't leave me completely alone with it either

I know this is a tough balance. I don't want to be constantly hassled about what I should be doing. I need to handle diabetes more on my own. Still, though I hate to admit it, I am glad to know you've "got my back." Let's figure out where you can trust me to do things on my own and where I could still use your involvement.

5. Make the effort to understand diabetes from my point of view

If you don't have diabetes, you can't possibly know what I am going through. The reality is that diabetes is unfair, inconvenient, a lot of work, and it sucks. No need to cheer me up, or to tell me that it could all be worse. You don't have to fix it; instead, just listen when I need to vent or complain.

6. Don't tell everyone about my diabetes, especially not during the first minute you meet them

Do you have any idea how embarrassing this is? I know you mean well, but my goal is to fit in, not stick out. Everybody does not have to know. Give me a chance to tell people about diabetes when I am ready to do so.

7. I am never going to be perfect with my diabetes care, no matter how much you want this

I know it can make you nervous when you see a high blood sugar reading or notice that I haven't made the best food choice, but let's get real. No one can manage diabetes perfectly. I'll do my best (and yes, maybe I need to do even better), but I also need to have a life.

8. Don't limit my activities based on diabetes

If you do, people may see me as fragile, sick, or think something is wrong with me. I can do anything those without diabetes can do, though it may require some creative problem solving. Sports, sleepovers, traveling, and parties are all things that can be done safely. Support me in figuring out a way to make it all possible.

9. Don't be the food police

Yes, I make choices that you don't like (and sometimes aren't so smart). But trying to control what I eat isn't going to help; instead I'll just do my best to avoid you when I eat. Remember that good diabetes control is doable even if you don't eat healthy stuff all the time.

For a downloadable copy of the official, parent-teen diabetes etiquette card, click here.
(The printable, foldable card will open in your default PDF viewer)