Teenagers and Diabetes

Teenagers have a variety of special problems in controlling diabetes. Some of these problems are physiological, related to puberty and growth spurts. Others are related to the general pressures of social and emotional turmoil common to all teen-agers.

Still other problems may be related to social prejudices about diabetes – the myths that people with diabetes are unsafe drivers due to the risk a diabetic coma or that people with diabetes will be unreliable employees. Your teenager may be able to counter these mistaken impressions by pointing out that diabetes is a manageable condition. People with diabetes are no more at risk behind the wheel of a car than anyone else nor are they are more likely to miss work because of illness than the population at large.

Helping your teenager cope with diabetes management may be frustrating. You may be able to do no more than reinforce the need for monitoring blood sugar levels, sticking to the insulin regime and in general maintaining good eating habits and regular exercise (within any guidelines established by your child’s medical care team.) In particular, you should watch for:

Denial: Your teenager may refuse to believe that he or she has diabetes or that it is a serious condition that needs serious, every-day attention.

Neglect:  It can be bothersome to check blood sugars regularly, and your child may insist that he or she “knows” without testing. Metering blood sugar is quick, painless and much more accurate than any intuitive sense.

Erratic eating patterns: Most adolescents can skip an occasional meal or fill up on junk food without serious repercussions. For the adolescent with diabetes, this can be dangerous, even life-threatening behavior. A dietician may be able to help your teenager design an eating plan that he or she will be able to follow if it allows for the occasional splurge on chocolate or fast food.

Smoking: Virtually all smokers start this dangerous habit as teenagers. Your child should be aware that smoking and diabetes are a deadly duo that can lead to serious complications.

Depression: Studies indicate that people with diabetes are at greater risk of depression. Depression can be the start of a vicious cycle. If poorly controlled, diabetes can cause depressive symptoms such as anxiety, over-eating and sleep disturbances. If your teenager feels he is losing control of his health management, this can trigger depression which in turn depletes the energy and optimism necessary to manage his condition. If you observe symptoms of depression, seek help immediately. Encourage your child to talk to his doctor, psychologist or a professional counselor.

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