Teens and Diabetes

According to the National Diabetes Education Program, about 177,000 people under the age of 20 have diabetes. Most of them have type 1 diabetes. However, type 2 diabetes, a disease that used to be seen primarily in adults over age 45, is becoming more common in young people, primarily due to increasing rates of obesity in children and adolescents.

Although the teenage years can be a challenge for any child as he/she goes through sexual and emotional changes, it can be especially trying for adolescents with diabetes. Adolescents inherently want to "fit in." Being different in any way from his/her peers can be emotionally stressful, especially for the teenager.

The teen who previously complied very well with his/her diabetes management plan may now become rebellious and refuse to comply. He/she may also experience denial of the disease, or display increasingly aggressive behavior in reaction to the stress of managing diabetes, during a time in life that is challenging enough already.

One aspect of diabetes management, blood sugar control, is especially hard during adolescence. Researchers believe the growth hormone produced during adolescence to stimulate bone and muscle growth may also act as an anti-insulin agent. Blood sugar levels become harder to control, resulting in blood sugar levels that swing from too low to too high. This lack of control over blood sugar levels can be very frustrating for your teenager.

Helping your teenager cope:

Open communication between you and your teenager with diabetes is important during these years. You should recognize that your teenager wants to be treated as an adult, even if that means letting him/her take charge of his/her own diabetes management plan. Parents should also recognize that teenagers need:

  • spontaneity

    Adolescence is a time of spontaneity, such as stopping for pizza after school. However, the teenager with diabetes also needs to realize that managing his/her diabetes successfully will give him/her the flexibility that is craved.

  • control

    Teenagers want to be in charge of their own lives, and create their own identities. To achieve this control, the teenager will test limits. However, a teenager with diabetes can learn that to exert control over his/her diabetes, he/she is learning to gain control over other parts of life.

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