The Struggles of Dealing With a Diabetic Teenager

As the divorced single parent of a 15-year-old type 1 diabetic teenager, the article entitled “Some Diabetic Teens Prone to Risky Behaviour” written by Jeanie Lerche Davies on WebMD hit close to home.

My son has had type 1 diabetes since just after his second birthday. Throughout the toddler years and the pre-teen years, everything went along pretty well, at least according to his mother, who had custody. As I lived over 300 miles away, I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time with my son as I’d like, but while he was with me on vacations and such we always seemed to be able to control his glucose levels pretty well.

Then the teenage years hit, and everything went absolutely nuts. Or at least, he did. My ex wife, unable to even control our son anymore and fearing for his life, willingly signed over custody of him to me just before his 15th birthday. Congratulations, I’m suddenly a full time father.

A1C Levels Can Tell You How Well You’re Managing Your Diabetes

Don’t misunderstand, I’ve always tried to be a good parent to my son, but his mother and I had gotten divorced when he was only a year old. Other than the occasional week here and there, and a month each Summer, I hadn’t really had to deal with being responsible for him. Now, suddenly I’m going to endocrinologist appointments with that “deer in the headlights” look on my face, doing my best to catch up on the 13 years of information and training that I’d missed.

When my son moved in, his A1C levels were practically off the chart at a whopping 13.6; his endocrinologist wanted it down to around 4.5 at least. A1C tests are used to measure the blood sugar levels and can tell how well they’ve been controlled for the past few weeks. Needless to say, my son’s was not being controlled well at all.

Why Teenage Diabetics Can Have Problems Controlling Their Glucose Levels

Several factors can contribute to a Diabetic teenager being unable to control their blood sugar levels. Things such as raging hormones throughout the puberty years can seriously affect how well the insulin being injected is absorbed into the body, and the endocrinologist has to constantly adjust the dosage to compensate.

Of course, most of the problems are simply behavioral. As any parent of a teenager can tell you, they’re always hungry. It seems no matter how much you feed them, they’re still constantly looking for something else to munch on.

For an insulin dependent diabetic, this can be especially challenging, especially for those who still take their insulin by syringe. For those who are on an insulin pump, such as my son, the problem isn’t so much how often they eat, it’s that they simply forget to check their blood glucose and bolus for the carbohydrates that they consume. “Bolus” is the term used to describe using the pump to inject insulin. Insulin pumps, such as my son’s Animus pump, are great when used properly. They provide a constant flow of insulin and allow the wearer to bolus just by pushing a few buttons. No needles required. But they don’t work any better than a syringe if they’re not used. Sneaking food can be fatal to an insulin dependent diabetic if he forgets to take insulin with it.

Teenagers today have so many distractions between video games and MP3 players and computers and television and on and on and on that they often are overwhelmed. For most parents, this is just annoying, but for the parents of an insulin dependent diabetic child, this can be terrifying. I have to remind my son at practically every meal to check his blood glucose levels and to bolus Insulin through his Animus pump or he’ll forget to do so. I’ve recently had to set it up with his school nurse to do the same thing before he takes lunch.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that often teenagers feel the need to rebel against, well, anything. Their parents, their school, their doctor, or any person they see as having authority over them. So far, unlike his mother, who’s only around five feet tall, I’ve managed to avoid that particular pitfall, probably because I’m quite a bit bigger than him. But I’m almost certain it’s coming sooner or later.

For Teenage Diabetics, Sometimes Drastic Measures are Needed

Even so, at my son’s latest endocrinologist appointment, the test results were still too high. His doctor is seriously considering taking him off the Animus pump and putting him back on syringe injections at every meal. The thought of having to go back to the days when I had to use syringes is daunting, but if that’s what it takes to save my son’s life, then so be it.

Teenagers Think They’re Immortal, but Diabetics Can Cause Permanent Damage Unknowingly

As I’m sure many of you can recall, when you were a teenager you were the next best thing to Superman. We were all going to live forever, and 30-year-old people seemed ancient. Unfortunately for a type 1 diabetic, the things you do wrong as a teenager can seriously impact your life all too soon, for instance, in those far off 20s and 30s. Complications from poor glucose control range from blindness to amputation to organ failure to death. And it seems the damage may be cumulative, in that every time their blood glucose levels go above normal, diabetics could possibly be damaging their bodies, and not even know it or feel it.

If you are the parent or parents of an insulin dependent diabetic child or teenager, I urge you to watch them closely and stay on top of their glucose control. It’s better to have them mad at you now, than for you to mourn them later. Type 1 diabetics can have long, healthy lives, but only if they take care of themselves now, before the damage is done.