Ahhhh college life! Independence. Flex schedules. New people. Parties. So much for a young adult to look forward to! And while your all-grown-up kid with diabetes might be beyond excited for this momentous time in his or her life, you might be struggling with the idea of independence, flex schedules, new people and parties. So much for a diabetes parent to worry about! How can you prepare yourself and your child so that diabetes doesn’t detract from the adventure ahead? Start by checking in with your teen.
Check In With Your Teen
Everyone processes emotions differently. Some teens might be apprehensive about managing diabetes on their own in an unfamiliar environment, or maybe they aren’t concerned at all with an “I’ve got this” attitude. Validate their feelings no matter what they are and meet them where they’re at1. If they show enthusiasm, return it; if they express doubt, let them know that it’s ok to feel that way. Their reactions should guide your response and next steps.
We checked in with a group of college-bound teens participating in the recent course, Mastering Your Diabetes (MYD): College Edition at the Diabetes Research Institute, to hear about their feelings and concerns. A few of their responses below:
• “I’m worried that when my phone/CGM beeps in the night, it might bother my roommate. And sometimes I sleep through it.”
• “I’m worried about my health and being in a new situation.”
• “I’ve heard horror stories from others with type 1 diabetes about their first year in college.”
• “I might not be at my best if my blood sugar is out of control.”
• “I’m worried about my parents because I know they’ll be worried about me.”
• “My problem is overconfidence. I’m worried that I might overextend myself.”
• “Checking my blood consistently will be hard, and counting carbs is still new to me.”
Take A Class
Taking a diabetes class can definitely ease concerns and help ensure a smooth transition during an anxiety-inducing time. During the two-day MYD: College Edition course, students and their parents learn from the DRI’s education team about how to think like a pancreas and go beyond the rules so that college dorm meals, navigating parties and juggling schedules won’t upset the balance with their diabetes. Led by a team of diabetes care and education specialists, nutritionists and psychology experts, the class features helpful tips about emotional well-being, physical activity and blood sugar management, as well as nutrition, like how to read food labels and shop on your own, among other topics. Learn more at DiabetesResearch.org/MYD
Practice Positive Coping Techniques
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques can help students change negative thought patterns and improve overall happiness and life satisfaction on campus. The University of Miami’s Dr. Elizabeth Pulgaron, advises students that they need to commit to practicing CBT techniques to get value from them.
“You won’t get anything out of it unless you believe in it,” she says, and suggests a number of techniques to practice, including:
• Mindfulness meditation – Take a moment to firmly ground yourself in the present.
• Successive approximation – Break up large tasks into small steps to make it easier to accomplish.
• Writing self-statements to counteract negative thoughts – Write down the complete opposite of your automatic, negative thoughts.
• Visualize the best parts of your day – Bring to mind all the positive things that you experienced during the day.
• Reframe your negative thoughts – Shift your focus from the negative to the positive.
• Journaling – Gathering data about your moods, their source/intensity, and your responses to them.
• Progressive muscle relaxation – Relax one muscle group at a time until your whole body is in a state of relaxation.
• Relaxed breathing – Bring regularity and calm to your breath and create a sense of balance.
Reach Out To The College Diabetes Network
With dozens of chapters across the U.S., the College Diabetes Network (CDN) offers a number of resources for students with diabetes and their families on college campuses and on their website. Learn more at CollegeDiabetesNetwork.org.
While heading to college with diabetes can be overwhelming at times, the key is to use these tools to guide you and your child so that anxiety and worry don’t control your life. As a parent, you’ll always be there to support your kid. Remind them of that – often. Then, embrace the change, and by all means, enjoy the independence – on both sides!
SOURCES: Diabetes Research Institute Education and Nutrition Service (2019)
1. Psychology Today, “4 Ways to Support Your College-Bound Teen”