Parents Must 'Draw the Line' With Diabetes Control

In matters ranging from curfews to car privileges, teens and their parents throughout history have been natural enemies. But for families managing a chronic disease like diabetes, the expected challenge of raising a teenager can be even harder to prepare for.

Children begin to crave more independence and privacy during adolescence. During this period, parents generally pull away and allow their teens additional freedom. But for parents with diabetic kids, pulling away too quickly may present a potentially hazardous situation.

"We need to protect [teens with] diabetes from this general parent pull out, [because] parent involvement is essential for an adolescent to do well with diabetes," said Barbara Anderson, co-author of a 2002 study titled Family Conflict and Diabetes Management in Youth.

Especially as children enter high school, "their schedule is a little more erratic, they have more freedom ... and there happens to be a lot of bake sales," said Deb Okell, whose 15-year-old daughter, Amy, is an insulin-dependent diabetic.

But often, for kids who have lived with diabetes for many years, parental control can be particularly frustrating. "I'm not stupid!" or "I've had this for years ... I got it!" are common retorts.

Just ask Aaron Hoffman, a 15-year-old type 1 diabetic, whose mother, Holly Bennett, participates in his routine to control his condition.

"[My mom's] always ... giving me suggestions for new things to do that I don't really care about," Hoffman said.

And equally irksome for teens is the sense of worry parents can impose.

"Just the way [my mom's] thinking about [diabetes] doesn't make sense to me, and it irritates me," said Hoffman. "Like, she thinks it's more of a problem, when I'm high or low, than I do."

For others, constant food monitoring can become an issue.

"It can get really frustrating when my parents tell me not to eat something, like candy ... because I want to eat what I want to eat," said Amy Okell.

"Her thing was, 'I know what to do ... don't bug me,'" Deb Okell said.

Supervision From Afar

But Deb Okell said she has learned some helpful strategies to ensure that her daughter is keeping her condition in mind, while keeping a healthy distance.

Since teens, who strive for independence, often spend more time with friends and fewer hours at home, Deb Okell said she has tried to "enlist [Amy's] friends to encourage her to test her blood sugar ... they've grown up with her, and they understand," she said.

And while it isn't a completely problem-free arrangement, Amy said she appreciates her mother's efforts.

"Sometimes, I can get frustrated when [my mom] talks about it around them, because it makes me feel different; but it's also good, because I can be irresponsible at times," Amy said.

Bennett employs a different strategy with her son. She said she has created "a division of labor" to keep his blood sugar under control.

"Recording all the [blood sugar] numbers is just a real onerous, stupid job that he doesn't like to do, so I do that," Bennett said, adding that Aaron is "the 'pump wizard,'" taking care of his daily insulin intake with the popular device.

The plan works for Hoffman, suggesting that, by asking teens what they need help with, rather than taking over several tasks, parents may be able to avoid confrontations.

"That's definitely one reason that I don't mind having her [involved], because she does a lot of the work," Hoffman said.

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