Helping Your T1D Teen Transition to Independence

Transitioning from youth to young adulthood is a challenge for both teens and parents. But as long as everyone is prepared for the future — and for its inevitable ups and downs — this process can be not only manageable, it can be exciting! By following the tips below, parents can be the ideal support system for their teens and can be confident that they’re ready to become independent, successful adults.

Generally speaking, the important characteristics for young people to be building during this time are qualities that will help both in diabetes care and life as a whole:

  1. Self-efficacy (confidence) related to diabetes care and stress management
  2. Resilience to better handle the challenges of life and diabetes
  3. Resourcefulness to adapt and troubleshoot with ease

What are some of the specific skills and tasks teenagers should check off their list before leaving the nest? Here are a few of the essentials:

Ordering Supplies and Making Appointments

Before your teen heads off to college, have her start ordering her own supplies and making doctor’s appointments independently so she can gain confidence in accomplishing these tasks without your assistance. It’s also important for her to fully understand how to safely use and store medication, as well as who to call if she needs help.

Doctor Discussions

While your teen is still living at home, make sure he’s able to communicate effectively with his health care team. Plan at least one appointment with his current doctor to which he’ll go alone. Ensure your teen knows what questions to ask during regular checkups, as well as how to talk to doctors, pharmacists, and other health professionals.

Time Management

It’s important that your teen knows to prioritize diabetes along with the fun and pressures of college. Simple things like remembering to check insulin supplies or carry snacks for lows can make living with diabetes a less stressful part of life. Building organization skills is an incredible gift you can give to your child that will help with all of life’s transitions.

Safe Living Areas

When transitioning from home to college, a safe and comfortable living area is key to an all-around positive experience. Talk with your teen about the pros and cons of different housing options.  If she chooses to have a roommate, help prepare her to talk to her roommate about diabetes and ways that person can help (for example, recognizing and assisting in case of a severe low blood sugar). Also, remember that the Disability Services team on college campuses and in dorms can be a great asset.

Disclosure

Is your teen able to confidently explain diabetes, in simplified terms, to those close to him? Is your teen prepared to ask for help in an emergency? Does he know how to avoid or end an uncomfortable discussion? Teaching your teen about how to positively engage with others in relation to diabetes provides a lifelong skill that can improve resilience and conflict resolution.

Risky Behavior

Don’t avoid the subjects of sex, alcohol, and drugs because of discomfort or fear; rather approach this openly from a safety perspective. Most of all, trust your teen! Believe that she knows and understands the difference between a safe situation and a dangerous one. Explain what you think she needs to know, and let her know you’ll be there if she needs you.

Relationships

Does your teen know how to tell a friend or significant other about diabetes and how to accept help from a concerned or fearful loved one? There are a lot of intricacies to consider in relationships, especially romantic ones, with diabetes. Setting ground rules about communication (when, where, how — and when diabetes can impede discussions) and understanding how diabetes can affect intimacy are particularly important topics to cover. Connecting with peers who have type 1 diabetes might be especially helpful in this area.

Hypoglycemia/Hyperglycemia

Make sure your teen knows the symptoms of low blood sugar and carries supplies to treat a low at all times. (Determine which supplies he’ll use for lows and which are most attractive as snacks. Avoid those that are too tempting to use as snacks to manage hunger.) Does your teen know when it’s time to take emergency action for a high blood sugar? Does he know the symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)? Does he have a source of low-carb snacks if he’s having consistent hyperglycemia? Have a strong conversation about hyperglycemia and its dangers.

Employment

Make sure your teen knows her rights when it comes to employment. Review the American Disabilities Act, which covers everything she’s entitled to in the workplace. She should know the basics of job hunting, resume writing, and interviewing as well. If your teen is interested in working in the diabetes field, the JDRF Students With Diabetes Internship Program provides a great opportunity for college-age young adults to explore professional opportunities.

Emergency Preparedness

Has your teen set up an appointment with an established endocrinologist in the area where he is going to college? Does he have a person he can call on if he needs help? Does he know where the nearest hospital is? Make sure your teen has an emergency preparedness plan that both he and those close to him can quickly and easily follow.

Keep in mind that as your child transitions into adulthood, these changes will also impact your relationship. As she takes on more responsibilities for her own care, talk to her about what role she would like you to play in her diabetes life. It’s important to be flexible with your teen’s changing needs. Now more than ever, communication is the key to providing the right amount of support in the right ways for your child. Lead with love!

For more information about life with diabetes and diabetes research advances, visit http://www.jdrf.org/.

 

Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.

 

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