If there’s one thing harder than raising a teen, it’s raising a teen with diabetes! Korey Hood is a family clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic, and as a type 1 diabetic himself since he was 19, he has counseled many families through his practice and also through serving as faculty member at the Children with Diabetes conferences.
Korey is also the author of the new book, Type 1 Teens: A Guide to Managing Your Diabetes. Today, Korey shares some words of wisdom about how to handle the tumultuous teens years and what you — the parent — can do to survive!
A Guest Post by Korey Hood, Professor of Pediatrics
As a parent of a teenager, you probably see or hear any number of the following on a daily basis: eye rolls, “whatever,” or sighs as your teen walks out of the room. As a parent of a teenager with type 1 diabetes, you probably get the same treatment, but because you have more interactions due to taking care of diabetes and all those tasks that HAVE to get done, you may get a double-dose of eye rolls and whatevers! If you find yourself frustrated with your teen at times, burned out by all the work that’s involved in diabetes management, or just generally feeling like the teen years are never going to end, read on.
I was never a teenager with diabetes myself, as I was diagnosed as a young adult, but I have managed my own type 1 diabetes for more than a decade. Plus, I am a child psychologist and spend a lot of time working with teens with type 1 diabetes and their families. Here are some things that other families have found helpful when attempting to improve communication and decrease conflict about diabetes:
- Change the way you think about blood sugars. How many times have you gotten frustrated with a number that pops up on your teen’s meter? How many times have you been scared by a number? I bet it happens a lot. And what happens when you’re frustrated or scared is that you may ask your teen, “have you been eating something you’re not supposed to?” or “why is your number so HIGH?” What usually happens then? The teen may give a short answer or sense your frustration and say “leave me alone!” One way to avoid displaying negative emotions about blood sugars is to start thinking about the number as simply that — a number, a piece of data, information to figure out what to do next. If you start to think about the number just as data, it will help to keep your emotions in check. Once that happens, the teen may be more willing to share numbers and even check more often (keep your fingers crossed on that one!). So, think about the number as a piece of data, keep your emotions in check, and then treat the blood sugar if need be.
- Find alternative ways to communicate about diabetes. If you’re struggling to get information from your teen or struggling to get your teen to check more or bolus before meals, come up with alternative ways to talk about it. It may just be the verbal interactions about diabetes that are making it harder to get along. Try putting up a white board on the refrigerator and “passing notes.” You could write “remember to check before you eat breakfast, and please write your number here.” The teen could check, write the number down, and you can come by later and see what it was. The next step could be to have your teen write down what he or she did about the number. You can try this with other things as well, such as taking supplies for sports after school, knowing how many test strips he has left, or reminding him to wear his medic-alert bracelet. This isn’t a long-term fix, but may help with rough patches of poor communication.
- Find time for a family meeting. Instead of reviewing blood sugars and discussing eating and snacking throughout the day, pick a designated time to discuss these things. That way, everyone can be prepared to discuss trends in blood sugars, potential changes in insulin doses, and plans for activities that require planning about diabetes. Being prepared to discuss these things at a specific time can help avoid making your teen feel that he’s being constantly nagged about diabetes throughout the day. Plus, it will give you more information to either problem-solve for the next day or to tell your diabetes team so they can make changes. So try a “family meeting” or check-in for 5 minutes in the evening, or a little longer if it’s just once a week.
- Hit the RESET button. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a RESET button that we could hit when things go wrong? I definitely would like one. Well, you can use this idea to help you manage your teen’s diabetes. Try to think of each day as a new day for managing diabetes and don’t let the previous day’s problems carry over. This is tough to do, but it will help you keep a fresh perspective and not let frustration about high blood sugars carry over to today’s efforts at managing diabetes the best you can.
It is a tricky process being a parent of a teenager, and an even trickier process parenting a teen with type 1 diabetes. Try some of these strategies and keep working hard — your efforts will eventually pay off. And keep taking care of yourself, too, because you’ll be a better helper if you’ve done things to take care of yourself first!
For more from Korey, check out his new book, Type 1 Teens: A Guide to Managing Your Diabetes, now available at bookstores and on Amazon.