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Teens and Diabetes

According to the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and the National Diabetes Education Program, about 215,000 people younger than age 20 have diabetes. Most of them have type 1 diabetes. Although, type 2 diabetes used to be seen primarily in adults ages 45 and older, it has become more common in young people, primarily due to alarming rates of obesity in children and adolescents.

Although the teenage years can be a challenge for any child as he or 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 or her peers can be emotionally stressful, especially for a teenager.

The teen who previously complied very well with his or her diabetes management plan may now become rebellious and refuse to comply. He or 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

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, open and honest 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 or 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 or her diabetes successfully will give him or 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 or her diabetes, means learning to gain control over other parts of life.

Helping a teen cope with a chronic illness can be stressful for all family members. Consult with your health care provider if your child, your family, or you need additional support managing your teen's transition to adulthood.