Managing Type 1 Diabetes in Teens

The Physical and Emotional Changes

It's hard enough having a teenager without adding type 1 diabetes to the mix. Not only do all teens experience various social and emotional struggles associated with growing up, but teens with type 1 diabetes also must contend with wildly fluctuating hormonal changes that affect their blood sugar management. Here's a guide to helping your teen navigate this tricky time.

Be Aware of the Hormonal Impact

The same hormones that cause growth spurts in your child can also affect blood sugar. As growth and puberty hormones increases during your teen's early and middle teen years, their body becomes less sensitive to insulin. As a result, high glucose levels are common in teens. When adolescents reach their full growth, these insulin-inhibiting hormones tend to decrease. As a way to compensate for these changes, talk with your doctor about the potential need to increase your teen’s insulin during these years.

Keep Open Communication

In addition to higher blood sugar levels, you may have noticed that your teen tends to have mood swings from time to time. Most parents assume this emotional roller-coaster is a natural part of growing up. But moodiness can also be a symptom of low blood sugar. As a parent, it can be difficult to distinguish whether your teen's having a hypoglycemic reaction or brooding over a recent conflict with a friend. Keep an open dialogue with your teen to make sure he feels he has support at home to talk through any issues.

Sudden behavioral changes, such as crying, anger or irritability should always be suspicious if there are no observable reasons for such a reaction. More frequent blood tests might be necessary to rule out low blood sugar.

Set a Schedule

Part of living with diabetes as a teen is learning to gradually take over the daily management of her condition. When a teen feels as though diabetes runs her life, she's less likely to feel motivated to follower her diabetes management plan. As a parent, your goal is to empower your child by showing her that her choices and decisions matter.

One way to do this is to let her be part of the decision-making process as it applies to balancing her lifestyle with insulin therapy, glucose testing, meals, and exercise. The discussion should focus on when (not whether) she does these things.

Work with your teen to set a schedule that works for her, and make sure she knows the repercussions that may occur if she stays out late or sleeps in too long. Some tools that may help keep her on track include:

  • Setting phone reminders
  • Keeping a digital calendar that you both share, such as Google Calendar or Outlook Calendar
  • Storing a checklist of supplies on her phone and auto-subscribing to a delivery service so that she doesn't run out

Bring in Outside Help

Adolescents need a safe place to discuss their struggles about growing up and especially what they go through living with diabetes. Some teens feel comfortable talking with their parents; others may not. But regardless of whether your child opens up to you, another family member, or a trusted friend, they require a forum to express emotions about the challenges they face.

It’s also important to look for signs of depression in your teen. Though the normal hormonal changes of adolescence do not cause depression, teens with diabetes are more prone to become depressed than those not living with a chronic condition. If you notice any of the common symptoms  of depression, consider the following:

  • Discuss these symptoms with your teen's doctor.
  • Have your teen meet with a mental health counselor who understands type 1 diabetes. Your doctor should be able to recommend someone in your area.
  • Suggest that your teen discuss school-related challenges with the school guidance counselor.

Talk About Sex, Alcohol, and Drug Use

External factors such as sex, alcohol, and drug use also may affect diabetes management. It's important that your teen is as informed as possible on how these behaviors will affect his/her blood sugar control. Make sure your teen has a trusted adult to talk openly with about managing their diabetes and having sex/using drugs and alcohol—such as a parent or other family member, therapist, or doctor.

Teens may need different tools, medications, and devices that fit their specific lifestyles, and it's important to be understanding about helping them best manage their own care. For example, as oral contraception can affect blood sugar levels, it's essential that sexually active females with diabetes work with their gynecologist and endocrinologist to find a hormonal birth control that works alongside the diabetes tools already in place.

Additionally, because alcohol and other drugs can lower blood sugar for up to 12 hours after a drink, teens must be aware of the signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia and know how to best treat low blood sugar.

A Word From Verywell

Ultimately, it's so important to empower your teen with the tools and knowledge she needs to best manage her condition. Tap into the resources available to you, including your teen's healthcare team, and be sure your teen understands that you are a nonjudgmental resource for her. Helping your teen build ownership over her diabetes management is a valuable skill she will need for the rest of her life.

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  1. Stanford Children's Health. Teens and Diabetes Mellitus.

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