We all know that teenager-hood with diabetes can be extremely challenging. Also for the parents, of course. And if your teen is anything like I was, the phrase, “You just don’t understand!” is regularly heard around the home. As a parent, you probably feel like your teen doesn’t understand either! That’s why Brad Lowder, a Northern California-based real estate agent with a strong background in media and advertising, created 1SweetLife — an online community just for teens with diabetes. Because when Brad’s youngest son, Dallin, was diagnosed two years ago at age 15, he realized he “didn’t get it” either…
In just its second month of existence, 1SweetLife has about 200 members and counting from around the world, including Russia, Israel, and even Iceland. Running on the Ning network (same platform as TuDiabetes), 1SweetLife allows teens to create their own profiles where they can post pictures, participate in chats, and visit a section of blogs written by teens, for teens. We’re impressed with Brad’s efforts to create this community for his son, which is why we’ve picked him as our featured Amazing Diabetes Advocate for July!
DM) Like all D-parents, your son’s diagnosis must have taken you by surprise…
BL) Yes. Just over two years ago, in April 2010, my 15-year-old son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. We didn’t have a family history of it. It just came out of the blue. He’s the 4th of four children. Fortunately, he’s very responsible with his self-care and does a great job with it. But the first year was still really tough. Not just with clinical management, but with the part that I wasn’t expecting: the psychosocial part of having a son with a lifelong disease.
Why was starting a website for D-teens important to you?
Dallin didn’t really have the resources to connect with other people like him, people who could relate to him. Even though as parents we were very compassionate and very responsible, helping him learn to manage, there’s a piece that we will just never understand. Unless you’re living with the disease, you just don’t know what it’s like. That was a piece missing for him, people who “got him,” who knew what it was like to live with diabetes day in and day out. All the little things that go with it.
We created this community so that my son and people like him can connect and support each other. We want to create this place where they can go and be supported, mentored, encouraged and inspired by famous people, everyday people, who are living full, active and wonderful lives. That’s really the message we want to imbue on our site. You can live the life you aspire to. You’re not limited by your diabetes, you’re not defined by it. You probably won’t be a taste-tester for Krispy Kreme or a commercial airline pilot, but you can pretty much do what you want if you take care of yourself.
What about the emotional struggles of D-parents like yourself?
As a parent of a young person with type 1 diabetes, there is this whole coping with this new thing, the emotions and guilt. Did I give this to him? Genetically? So you have this guilt and the burden of responsibility for the first few months. You get up six times a night to make sure they are still breathing. Emotionally, it’s still a huge thing to wrap your arms around. I really felt so alone in that process.
There are other people out there going through this. It would be nice to connect with them. So that’s another part of the site. We’ve created a companion site for parents, so they can share their experiences, ups and downs, and how to deal with a teenager. It’s borne out of my own personal experience and this own void that I felt and felt for my son.
How did you go about setting up this new community?
It took almost a year from the time we thought about it, to put together and advisory board to when we went live. We developed the site, and we were days from launching it, and originanlly, it was missing the interactive social networking aspect, so we hit the breaks and dumped it and went with a different programmer and platform to have more of the interactivity so that it’s more viable.
We now have a good start and the people who come to the site are able to interact others. We’re making the content richer as we go. It’s free to join. You just opt-in with a little bit of information. You can post pictures, videos, share your experiences, your ups and downs, ask questions… Do I tell my date that I got diabetes? Do I not? All these young people are going through such intense, critical life-changing experiences. Puberty, dates, trauma and drama of high school, graduating, going off to college, living on their own, and managing their diabetes without a parent breathing down their neck.
We want to be a resource to help them through these transitions.
With a site just for teens, things could maybe get a little out of hand at times. What’s your moderation process?
We have a young adult who is on our board, Mike Lawson (Editor’s Note: Goooo, Mike! Who’s also an illustrator here). He’s a little out of our demographic but very in tune with teens and young adults. He’s our primary moderator. As far as the adults are involved, we’re very hands-off. We want it to be organic with the teens and young adults. If they need to complain about something or vent, we don’t want them to feel that all these adults are going to jump on them and set them straight. They need an environment of trust.
So how do you protect teens’ privacy and keep the parents from prying?
When parents come to the original site, we ask them to join the parents’ site. If we see an adult who is too active or making comments that are suited to the other side, we’ll address that directly with them. We really want (the main community) to be for the teens and young adults, and for them to feel like it’s their community.
Do you run the whole show on your own?
I’m the President and Publisher of the whole thing. It’s my concept and I’m the driving force. But early on, I brought on a managing editor, Andrea Davis. She’s out of Salt Lake City and is a public relations consultant for Interim Healthcare. She has an 11-year old son with type 1 diabetes. We also have a marketing director, Jenna Transtrom, out of Scottsdale, AZ, and then Mike Lawson, who is our head of social media. Our food editor is actually my daughter, Maddie Lowder. She does the cooking show where she films short segments of fun recipes that are healthy and also posts recipes. We’ve also got Andrea Calamoneri, who’s more involved in the parent side, is in the San Francisco Bay Area and has son with diabetes.
That’s our main group, and then we have others who we call on from time to time.
We have a large advisory board, including Dr. Bill Polonsky, several pediatric endos from around the country, and athletes Will Cross and Sean Busby. Just a really cool group. They’re helping us direct the way that we move forward. We’ll be posting interviews with them. They’ve been very supportive.
How’s your son involved?
His title is “Creative Director.” We don’t do anything on the site without his approval. He’s 17 years old, so he’s at the heart of our demographic group. He’s very in tune with the trends and what’s going on. We don’t do anything design or content without him saying, “Yeah that’s relevant, that speaks to me.” In the year we spent developing this, he would have the final say in everything we did.
I’m 54, and I’m self-aware enough to know that I don’t know what’s cool! But he does. It has to be relevant and speak to the young people. My son’s really critical of everything we do. He’s always on our conference calls. Gives great input: we need to do this or this part is stupid or this is too emphasized and it’s not that big of a deal. He’s very critical, and he enjoys being part of it.
He feels a sense of ownership and pride in it. It’s something that he likes being part of and it’s meaningful to him. That’s been really meaningful to me!
What advice do you have for other D-parents?
My advice for parents for is to join 1SweetLife. There are a lot of parents who are really struggling, who are not doing well and they need encouragement. So this is a place to start. Just get involved in a community that’s already there. Get involved in local events, JDRF events, and (the ADA’s) Tour de Cure.
My advice is also to just love your kid and support them. Don’t be the ‘diabetes police.’ You have to teach your kids, but you also have to give them freedom, and not hound them. Give them a little bit of room to manage their disease on their own and be responsible. Give lots of encouragement to help instill in them the vision that they can do whatever they want with their life and they’re not limited by this.
Thanks for taking the time to talk, Brad. Sounds like a great community and resources for teens and their families!