We’ve all heard it– “teens/young adults with diabetes are hard.”
Okay… so what are we going to do about it? Besides judge.
and hard? Each situation is different. Each person is different. You can’t just categorize one word for everyone the entire time. There’s so many more words to choose from… But “hard” that’s over-generalizing and maybe even belittling experiences and feelings.
(This photo of high school me represents my desire to hide from diabetes pretty well)
I work with teens often. I did a lot of work in college related to teens and not just diabetes- but disabilities/chronic illnesses with the interactions of school, SES, advocacy, mental health, and other things going on in life. I am by no means an expert, but I did a lot of work in school (with social work, sociology, and other classes) and outside of school. Plus I have those PWD credentials.
Research goes in a million directions with teens and diabetes. But many seem to forget the research on teens in general- which still applies to teen with diabetes.
Common things I’ve noticed.… (and this can go beyond the teen years)
- Often, there’s something else going on- when the diabetes management isn’t top priority. (and no- I don’t have all the research…. yet. I have the blogs, experiences I hear, the DOC, etc.)
- Forgetfulness? Typical in development!! (I acknowledge this is much scarier with diabetes). But it happens! We just forget.
- We make mistakes. As a teen… I learned quickly it was better to lie than to admit a mistake, forgetting, that I didn’t care, etc. The truth was not my friend with diabetes management. Lies resulted in good responses- the truth rarely did- when it came to diabetes.
- Most teens get upset that the focus is almost always on blood sugars and the diabetes. Talk about things not related to diabetes. Treat them as a person first!
- Wait.. Don’t teens have a thing about authority figures? I often fought hard not to do what my mom or care providers told me to do. Seeing someone else my age or someone to look up to is the only thing that ever worked with me. (Honestly? That is still so).
- Mental health is a major player when it comes to the teen years- burnout, bullying, other things going on, adverse life events, other illnesses, etc. Not just the diabetes.
- HORMONES. ALL I NEED TO SAY ABOUT THAT. THOSE MOTHER-F***ING HORMONES.
- Threatening complications? That’s often shown to not work- and developmentally? Teens and young adults are only thinking about right now- not the future. Plus, I know some badass people not allowing complications to get in their way.
- I’ve heard parents talk about punishment related to diabetes care- I don’t know where to begin with that… but… NO.
- The parent-child relationship can really get into trouble- and something that shouldn’t be left to the wayside. It took 12 plus years for my mom and I to get to an okay place- it’s still a struggle.
Some of the BEST advice- from my diabetes care team (HIGHLY respected in the field) regarding diabetes and an attempt to salvage the relationship with my mom and I?
It was for my mom to back off of my diabetes (this can be used in many words).
It was ruining our relationship more and more as the years went on- and this was right at the beginning of the teen years. My dad was the point person with my diabetes (and I am forever grateful for the foundation he set for me with it) because my mom couldn’t handle it. There wasn’t balance. Poor reactions. Etc. When my dad passed away (and after a year of my mom being “stuck”), she came back with full force- yelling at me about blood sugars- about not doing things right. Etc etc. I started lying more and more about numbers, if I checked or not, etc
Eventually, my care team told my mom to back off- basically- not bother because it wasn’t good for my diabetes or our relationship. It wasn’t working.
You know what happened when we did this? Things got WAY better (some parts slowly). A lot of this took until after college for us to really get there. But. It worked. I was also jumping into my management in a safe place not away from home for the first time.
- She and I have talked about the fact that my other diagnoses (ADHD, OCD, Anxiety, PCOS, & Endometriosis) took way too long to get diagnosed…because of the focus on my diabetes.
- She stopped asking about my blood sugars all of the time. Eventually, I became more likely to share- usually only when I need to.
- We talked about other parts of diabetes management so that the focus wasn’t on the numbers all of the time.
- We also talked about things that had NOTHING to do with diabetes. This helped to stop our relationship from continuing to deteriorate. It didn’t get better until after college- when she completely took diabetes out of the conversation unless I brought it up- which I was more willing to do since it wasn’t always the focus.
- She backed off of my care, and I took the reigns for the most part. I was given the opportunity to learn and manage on my own in a safe place (at home). It was all on me. And yeah- I basically never checked my blood sugar during school. Yeah, I filled in the chart on the way to endo. And yeah I barely carb count (wait… I still basically don’t bother with the last two).
But guess what… I am okay! I am more than okay. I made mistakes. I learned. I took charge.
Yes- we have diabetes-but there is also so much more to life.
Teens are smart! They can often read people and sense emotions. (They’re really good at eavesdropping too.) I knew when someone was treating me like I was a problem, “hard,” an annoyance, not worth their time, etc. I could tell that most groups didn’t do a lot with teens with diabetes- I thought for a long time if they didn’t care… why should I?
(high school senior year “teen me” not wearing my pump because I wanted nothing to do with it at homecoming)
“For parents or adults caring for teens and young adults, don’t fret. They will get there, all at different times and stages, but they will. Developmentally, we all did the same thing at those ages.”
“So if you’re a parent or caregiver of a stubborn teen who you beg to prick a finger before they get in the car, and worry to pieces about their future, continue to facilitate positive communication and let them form their own ally with their diabetes. It may not be today, or tomorrow, or next year, but it will happen.”
Teens with Diabetes are “Hard”- That’s Overgeneralizing
Editor’s Note: This was originally published in December 2016 and was updated for clarity and accuracy in August 2018.
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