Okay, probably not possible altogether — but diabetes-related eye-rolling, maybe. If asking your teenager innocent questions like “What’s your number” or “Are you going to bolus for that” seems to frequently result in groaning or clever clapbacks, it’s time to consider a different strategy — nagging is clearly not working. We asked a behavioral scientist for adolescents with type 1 diabetes to share some new ways to broach blood-sugar-related requests.… In other words, here’s what to say to your teen instead of that thing they hate.
Eye-roller: “What’s your number?”
Instead: When your focus is always on diabetes, “it can send your teen the message that to you their diabetes comes first… and not them,” says Maureen Monaghan, Ph.D., C.D.E., a psychologist and behavioral scientist for adolescents and young adults with type 1 diabetes at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C. A teen’s eye-rolling or refusal to answer questions about their numbers can be a mask for resentment.
To open the lines of communication, get in the habit of asking open-ended questions, especially when you first see your teen after school or social outings. “How was your time?” is more likely to get kids talking than a yes-or-no question, says Monaghan. Asking “How did you feel today,” instead of zeroing in on numbers, is another way to put your teen at the center of the conversation.
To keep yourself from habitually asking “What’s your number,” look for ways to make it easier for your teen to share their blood sugar levels throughout the day. “You can have your teen share CGM (continuous glucose monitor) data or text you their number so that when you do see your teen, your focus can be on having a good conversation about their day,” Monaghan adds.
Eye-roller: “Did you bolus for that?”
Instead: The net result of constantly demanding your teen verify a bolus (or blood sugar check or other care task) can be to undermine the teen’s confidence in taking care of their diabetes. “To the teen, the tone often comes across as if the parent is asking because he or she already thinks the answer is no,” says Monaghan. There’s another word for that type of question: nagging. “Nagging from parents is the number-one complaint from teens when it comes to difficulties communicating… it leaves teens feeling unsupported,” confirms Monaghan.
To adjust tone and avoid nagging, Monaghan recommends asking questions that recognize the teen’s ownership of the task and offer support as needed. Next time, try asking “Do you need help bolusing for that,” and see if that gets you less of a glare as a response.
Eye-roller: “Are you high or just being obnoxious?”
Instead: The best time to talk about behavior concerns with your teen is usually before the behavior takes place, says Monaghan. “You can talk about behavior changes that tend to happen during a high blood sugar, and how these are signs your teen needs to do a check,” she notes. When your teen is acting out, you can then redirect them to what you talked about by using neutral statements, such as: “It feels like something is not quite right… let’s check your blood sugar.”
Eye-roller: “If you forget to check and bolus at school, you’re grounded.”
Instead: Type 1 diabetes gives teens an added layer of responsibility that never goes away. Sometimes mistakes happen and you’ll need to find ways to help them do a better job next time — but making a minor oversight grounds for punishment is not a good solution. “Adding punishment doesn’t make them more motivated,” says Monaghan. “Positive parent-teen communication is about working together and collaborating to solve problems.”
Say your teen forgets to perform blood sugar checks at school… repeatedly. A collaborative approach might be saying something along the lines of “You do a great job managing your blood sugar at home, but at school you’re not quite there yet. Let’s figure out a good plan.” You can loop in your teen’s teachers and other school staff to discuss the new approach.
One exception to this, says Monaghan, is driving. Checking blood sugar before getting behind the wheel is a safety issue, and teens need to know this is nonnegotiable.
Eye-roller: “Why is your blood sugar so high?”
Instead: “So many things affect blood sugar in teens — stress, growth, menstrual cycles.… Labeling out-of-range numbers as ‘bad’ or demanding an explanation for a number can make teens feel blamed for their diabetes,” Monaghan explains. “This doesn’t encourage teens to improve their habits. But it may make them less willing to share blood sugar data in the future.”
Try to view blood sugar numbers as just a piece of information. The next time your teen has out-of-range numbers, set a more neutral tone by responding with statements like “Oh, I see your number is 300. That probably doesn’t feel good, so let’s see what we can do about it.” If blood sugar is low, treat the low first and then talk about it.
“When you’re coming from a place of collaboration,” says Monaghan, “your teen will hear this in your tone.”
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.