All parents face certain challenges when kids hit different ages. (Remember the Terrible Twos!!) But nothing really prepares you for the stage of puberty, and the trials and tribulations of the teen years. As clinical psychologist Dr. Wendy Rapaport comments, “Adolescence is in a class by itself…”
“It is the period of acute self-awareness, newly found responsibilities, and the need to experiment,” she continues. During this time, parents need to take on new roles of guiding — and letting go. For a parent of a type 1 teen, this notion can be terrifying.
According to Dr. Rapaport, “We need to understand that the major task of adolescents is to form an identity of their own, to become a separate person who still has close connections with the family.”
Dr. Annette LaGreca, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Pediatrics at the University of Miami, has done extensive research about diabetes and teens. Her findings suggest that families and the medical team should encourage openness, and that parents who are positively involved during adolescence have children who follow diabetes more closely.
The teen years bring feelings of irritability and impatience, plus the desire for independence and rebellion — and yes…that’s all “normal.” However, dealing with these intense emotions can disrupt good diabetes management. As frustrating as it may be, there needs to be defined requirements for your child, with reinforcements and consequences for doing or not doing them. Try to set up these guidelines together so that your child “buys in” to them. (Try writing a contract with your teen. Learn more>)
In Moira McCarthy’s excellent book “Raising Teens with Diabetes: A Survival Guide for Parents,” she writes about her own experiences with her daughter entering adolescence. Moira speaks about feeling that she was the “Master of T1D,” and her daughter, Lauren, was the “Master Patient.” But that all changed suddenly.
“Part of it was hormones…part of it was my own burnout,” she writes, “When she moved toward independence with her disease, it was easy for me to think ‘She’s got this,’ when in fact, she was not ready.” Lauren went into a downward spiral that put her into the intensive care unit.
According to her book, they eventually got through it. Moira writes, “My daughter is now a vibrant, successful young adult…We survived the teen years, with all of the horrifying twists and turns, all the crazy-town scares and freak-outs, and all the moments when it all seemed just impossible. I learned, slowly, how to not let my own fears rob her of her freedom. And she learned, slowly, how to not let her freedom put her in a place that we fear.”
What’s a parent to do?
At AboutKidsHealth.ca, the site offers up some great coping strategies..
• Stay involved in your child’s diabetes care, at some level, right through their teen years. Diabetes management is a heavy burden to carry alone.
• Let go gradually. Make sure your teen is ready, willing, and able to take on the parts of diabetes management you are ready to give up.
• Praise your teenager freely. There is no danger of giving her/him an inflated ego. Positive reinforcement will only result in more of the desired behavior.
• Parents, teens, and the diabetes team must all have the same expectations of the teen and of each other. Is everyone aiming for the same blood sugar targets? Can everyone agree on how often blood glucose monitoring will be done? Can everyone agree about who chooses what foods at mealtime? Goals and expectations should be reviewed together, on a regular basis, to be sure they’re still appropriate.
• All teens hate to be nagged, but most don’t mind a little help. For example, you can get the monitoring equipment ready for a check, instead of simply saying: “It’s that time again.“ Similarly, you can offer to keep the logbook, instead of worrying or complaining that you don’t know what’s going on because the numbers never get into the book.
• Be prepared to get involved again as necessary. Even the most independent teen is going to need back-up during particularly stressful periods, such as a crisis in a relationship, an illness, or during a time of too many competing priorities. This is not a step backward. It’s just evidence of the family working together to ensure that the teen’s health is kept up at all times
• Teens should be encouraged to develop their own relationships with members of their diabetes team. Let your teen have private time with the doctor or nurse at each clinic visit. It’s natural for parents to want to stay informed, discuss issues, and be part of developing the plan for the next phase. However, teens should be able to expect confidentiality in certain aspects of their health care.
Sometimes we need help in achieving success, and we must be careful in our definition of “success” because it is often relative. Since so many of these issues are emotional, a psychologist or social worker can play a vital role. Don’t hesitate to seek out the help of a professional, not just for your teen in uncovering issues not necessarily diabetes-related, but also for you…for guidance in dealing with your frustrations, anger, guilt or whatever other emotions you are experiencing.
SOURCES: “When Diabetes Hits Home: The Whole Family’s Guide to Emotional Health” by Wendy Satin Rapaport, LSCW, PsyD; “Raising Teens with Diabetes: A Survival Guide for Parents” by Moira McCarthy; AboutKidsHealth.ca