People in the Know: “Forgetful” Teens?

Q: When I check in with my 16-year-old son about his numbers, he sometimes tells me that he ‘forgot’ to bolus. Do teenagers really just forget something this important, or is something else going on?

A: Your son may well be forgetting to bolus. Teens have a lot going on in their lives; they may be preoccupied with school, after-school jobs, their friends and social lives, and their self-image. Remembering to bolus and carry out other diabetes care tasks may be taking a backseat to all that.

This is normal, but it doesn’t make it OK. If your child came to you in the morning and said, “I want to stay home from school today,” barring any actual sickness, your response would probably be something like, “Sorry, but you’re going to school.” Right? Just like you don’t budge on the need for your child to go to school, no matter what may be the cause of your teen’s forgetfulness, the bottom line is that taking care of his type 1 diabetes is a nonnegotiable priority.

How do you get this point across to your teen? We know what doesn’t work: nagging or giving your child “a talking to.” Through working with teens and parents, I’ve found that what does work is providing the child with three very clear rules and expectations:

  1. Taking care of your diabetes is nonnegotiable, no matter what is going on in your life or how busy you are.
  2. You don’t need to like it.
  3. There will be immediate consequences for skipping checks and boluses. For example, for every missed blood sugar check, you lose your phone for the evening.

Holding teens accountable for the tasks assigned to them is important. Knowing there are consequences for their actions (or inactions) helps teens gain discipline as they transition into adulthood, a time when they will need to be even more independent in their care.

Some parents may feel guilty about taking this approach, usually because they feel guilty about their child having diabetes. (It also doesn’t help when your child’s first reaction to nonnegotiable rules is to say, “This isn’t fair! It’s already bad enough that I have diabetes!”) It may become easier to let go of these feelings as you see your “forgetful” teen start to live up to this greater accountability. I hear from teens all the time about the great pride they feel in doing all this work. It takes effort on your part as well, but you shouldn’t forget this: It’s more effort on the teens’ end—and a real achievement when they succeed.

Joe Solowiejczyk—Joe Solowiejczyk, R.N., M.S.W., C.D.E., is a diabetes nurse educator, family therapist, and founder of Amileinmyshoes.com.

 

How Other Parents Deal

“For our teenage son, checking numbers and bolusing fell into about the same category as taking out the garbage and cleaning his room. What helped him finally see the light? Sports. In order to participate in basketball, he had to be spot-on with his numbers, and I am proud to say that he rose to the challenge. He’s now almost 20, and we’re unfortunately still working on taking out the garbage!”

—Lydia M., mom of Andrew, Cranberry, N.J.

Related topics:
When Tweens Become Teens: Parental Guidance Suggested
In the Spotlight: Supporting Your Newly Diagnosed Teen
In the Spotlight: How Teen Hormones Affect Blood Sugar

See more People in the Know questions and answers >

Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.