The Challenges of Diabetes in Teenagers
Coping with teenage issues like need for independence, establishing one’s identity, maintaining a positive self image and living with spontaneity are some important tasks for young people. An additional burden, such as having to take responsibility for a special condition like juvenile diabetes, can increase a teenager’s stress and a parent’s concern. One must consider that with type 1 diabetes the teenager has to constantly monitor his blood sugar levels, be constantly aware of his symptoms and administer his own injectable medications (insulin).
For parents, challenges may take the form of worrying about their teenager’s food intake and physical activities that may put him/her at risk for high or low blood sugar levels. They may also have to deal with his/her evolving attitudes toward the disease and self care. Their kids may have feelings of frustration, anxiety and embarrassment about their special situation which may lead them to either deny their condition or rebel against it. Other risk factors that may affect health management in teenage diabetics are cigarette smoking, alcohol intake and drug use.
Medical challenges also exist because the growth hormone which influences the growth of bone and muscle mass during puberty also acts as an anti-insulin agent while adrenaline increases blood sugar levels. Both hormones can thus make blood sugar levels swing up and down and make control difficult.
How to Manage Diabetes in Teenagers
The goals of management for diabetes in teenagers are:
- To maintain normal blood sugar levels – by guiding a teenager on the proper ways to monitor his own blood sugar levels and to administer his own medications. He must also be able to recognize symptoms of low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) such as fatigue, shakiness, rapid breathing and abdominal pain, and must know how to manage these.
- To maintain a healthy lifestyle with the right diet and exercise – by having adequate nutritional information about foods that a normal teenager might want to enjoy, treats they may be allowed to take and taking the right amount of calories before physical activities. It is important to remind them about the risk of hypoglycemia during and after strenuous exercise like football.
- To avoid health risks like smoking, alcohol and drugs – peer pressure and stress may tempt some teenagers to experiment with these substances that can put them in danger of complications from diabetes.
To achieve these goals parents and care givers need to put a balance between teaching teenagers about discipline and responsibility and helping them gain a reasonable amount of independence and self-identity. Talking about school, friends, family life and grown up matters can help them feel they have normal lives with both fun and stress just like other kids their age.
Another source of strength for a family dealing with juvenile diabetes is to find support groups, diabetes camps and type 1 diabetes organizations. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International (JDRF) is an example of a helpful resource for more information on managing the disease. These groups will reinforce parents and children in their struggles against the daily challenges of puberty and diabetes. Creative solutions may also be discovered in dealing with issues concerning health, school and family life through life sharing with other similar families.
JDRF, “Helping Your Child or Teen Live with Type 1 Diabetes”, https://www.jdrf.org/index.cfm?page_id=103523
WebMD, “Type 1 Diabetes”, https://diabetes.webmd.com/guide/type-1-diabetes?page=2