Helping Your Diabetic Teenager Fit in

Written by Eliot LeBow, LCSW, CDE

My name is Eliot LeBow and I am a diabetes focused psychotherapist and life coach. I help people with diabetes reinvent life, helping them move forward positively, productively, and with great hope. In 1977 I was diagnosed with diabetes and I have dedicated my life to helping other people with diabetes in the New York Metro area. I always felt growing up with diabetes was tough until high school, were it became outright confusing.

It’s 1984 and there are many exciting times ahead of me. I have lived more than half my life with diabetes and in September, I will turn 13 years old.

I am entering high school with my big secret. It was more my anger and fear that made me want to conceal my diabetes. I didn’t need anyone telling me what I can and can’t do, when they don’t even know what it’s like to have diabetes.

What would this world of high school bring to me? And what will it bring to all other children with diabetes also entering high school?

Because of my diabetes, I always felt that I was alone and had to hide. Once in high school, however, I personally found that it no longer mattered. I had the chance to be open because there were more important things to focus on such as my clothes and whether I was “cool.” To be in with the cool crowd mattered much more than my diabetes.

I could have used the help of my parents to guide me. Unfortunately very little was known about how to handle social pressure and diabetes while I was growing up. Today it’s different. There is more emphasis being placed on the emotional health of children with diabetes. Now more then ever it is important that parents get involved and help their children with diabetes navigate the social issues they may encounter at school.  

Fitting in

The question about fitting in is ageless. How do teenagers with diabetes manage their condition in the face of such immense social pressure?

My suggestion for parents is that they communicate with their children and ask: “How are your friends at school accepting your diabetes? Do you feel you have to hide your diabetes from your friends? How are your friends adjusting to your diabetes?”

Social pressure is the predominate factor around what choices teenagers make. At this point in most teenagers’ lives their friends will play a larger role factoring into the decisions they make. This is just a fact about being a teenager. Even if you are a parent with type 1 diabetes, you do not know what they are going through. Ask for their help so you can better understand.

Team Work

It is important for parents of teenagers with diabetes to communicate with their child and work as a team. This helps the management of their teens diabetes stays in control while allowing their teenager’s social needs to be met.

Let’s say you find out that your teen doesn’t wait for their low blood sugar to return to normal before playing basketball. Your teen says, “I know I should wait! I just don’t want to make my friends wait and piss them off.”

Your response could be “How pissed would they be if you collapsed while playing and had to stop the game to take care of you when you could have done it yourself?”

“Really pissed!”

“How could we, together, come up with a solution?”

“I don’t know.”

“How about we sit down this weekend and talk it out, maybe with both of us working on it we will come up with a plan?”

Testing the Water

Most teenagers live in the state of testing boundaries and feeling invincible while being in constant fear. They will test the waters until they get into trouble. In a healthy relationship between teen and parent, the teen will come back and once things seem safe they will test the boundaries all over again in an effort to discover who they are going to be and what they can get away with in life. Do not blame your teen for their diabetes mismanagement. Give your advice and let them know you are there should they need your help.

The best a parent can do is being there when they need your help and be non-judgmental. Wait until they ask for help, unless they are in imminent danger. Parents should use their best judgment. If you have built up trust through healthy communication in the preteen years, you can be pretty sure they will seek your advice.

Medical Disclaimer:

All the advice included in this blog is therapeutic in nature and should not be considered medical advice. Prior to making any changes to your diabetes maintenance program, please consult with your primary physician or endocrinologist.