Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of Allison Nimlos’ series on her journey to starting on an insulin pump with type 1 diabetes. In Part 3, she discusses what it was like for her when she started managing her diabetes on her own and provides tips for other parents.
It depends a lot on the individual. And the main thing I tell parents is that you have to let go as soon as it is safe. What that means is that as your child matures and is physically and emotionally able to do certain tasks, let them take over. Whether this is testing blood sugar, inserting their insulin pump or counting carbs, all these tasks will help prepare your child for when they are going to be on their own.Over the years as a diabetes advocate and blogger, I’ve met a lot of families with diabetes. One thing that comes up frequently in conversation, especially now that I’m in my late twenties and married, is how do teens with diabetes transition from being dependent on their parents to being fully independent?
Allison, at 18 years old and about to start college, with her mother, Caren.
When to Hand Over the Reins in Diabetes Management
As parents, you want to stay on top of them until you feel confident that they are consistently doing what they need to do to manage their diabetes.And if they are consistently not doing what they need to do, that’s when you need to stay more involved. I see problems happen when a parent gives full control over to a 13-year-old or 15-year-old, because it seems like it makes sense, but in reality they aren’t ready for it.
On the other hand, waiting until your teen graduates high school and heads to college to give control is going to be too late. You want to start early enough that they have time to get used to managing diabetes and grow into their role as someone who not only has diabetes but who knows how to manage it on their own.
When I was growing up, my parents slowly started giving me more responsibility with my diabetes management. It wasn’t overnight. My parents would quiz me about how many carbs I thought was in dinner and what I would do if my blood sugar was out of range. Like most kids, I went to my endocrinologist appointment, but I was encouraged to both answer the questions and also ask my own. I was a participant in my own diabetes management rather just a passenger.
My parents also allowed me to spend time independently with my friends. Nowadays, there are even better ways to stay in touch with your kids and also more diabetes technology that wasn’t available when I was in high school. I can only imagine how things will change when today’s teenagers are parents!
Learning from Mistakes with Encouragement
Mistakes shouldn’t necessarily be encouraged, but it’s important to learn from them. Reviewing blood glucose logs shouldn’t come with shame and guilt. It should focus on the kinds of actions your teens can take the next time they want to do something. For instance, they went to a fast food restaurant and came back with a high blood sugar. Instead of getting on their case about the fact they are high, talk about what happened as if it’s a science experiment. Is there something they can learn from that situation? Perhaps they need to use an extended bolus because of the fat in the hamburger and French fries. Or maybe they thought that the ice cream shake was less carbs than it actually was.
When I have a high blood sugar, I try to skip over the, “Ugh, I’m a horrible person!” and move to, “Okay, what happened? Is there something I can do better or is this just diabetes being annoying?” Sometimes there isn’t anything you can do and diabetes is just confusing.
Which leads me to my last suggestion for growing up with diabetes: recognize the work and be proud. Managing diabetes sucks. It sucks for you, as Mom and Dad, and it also sucks for your kiddo. That’s why praise for the work that is done is so important. Thanking them for testing and bolusing shows that their effort – whatever level it is – is being recognized. Instead of a guilt-trip about what they didn’t do, let’s praise teens for what they are doing. It’s much more encouraging to continue good diabetes management when the work is appreciated!