This last couple of months have been a tumultuous time for me and my family. I moved to town from a house in the country, so my young teenagers could be closer to their friends and the village life available here in Fairfax. The move was chaotic, as moves always are, but we finally made it. Unfortunately, once we got to town, the temptations to teenagers multiplied, and my son (who is not diabetic) found himself in trouble over some experimentation with alcohol.
It made me think about all the parents of teenagers with diabetes, and how difficult it is to help their teens manage well in the face of the risky behavior that teenagers indulge in. Our article by Dr. Stuart Brink (“A Leading Pediatric Endocrinologist Talks About Kids”) delves into some of the ways to ameliorate the inevitable rebellions of teenhood.
It’s not good, of course, when that rebellion spills over into diabetes self-care. However, it’s so difficult to avoid it, given teenagers’ insistence on fairness, their anger when their life is different, and their unwavering belief in their own immortality.
Walking the Teenage Tightrope
It’s a fine line that parents have to walk, with trust and hope on one side, and vigilance and parental restrictions on the other. You have to play your teenager with a very light hand. Unfortunately, when teenagers act like teenagers, the temptation to use a heavy hand is great indeed.
It’s important to remember that the brain’s executive capacity to make balanced decisions doesn’t mature until about the age of 25, so teenagers are dealing with a less than full deck in the first place. And they have so many really good reasons to rebel, not least as a means of fueling their momentum away from the nest and into independence.
They have no sense of their own mortality, which is useful because their task is to venture bravely out into the unknown world. However, these characteristics are dangerous when coupled with a chronic disease that exacts a painful price for neglect and inattention.
Connection, Conversation, and Hope for the Future
So, what can we do to make our teenagers’ risky behavior and rebellion not lead to damage of their health and well-being? It’s important, as Dr. Brink points out, to keep the dialogue open. It’s important to be there for them, helping them when they need it and stepping back when they don’t.
And it’s perhaps most important to make sure they realize that you “get it.” They need to know that you understand how hard their mission is, how hard it is to be a teenager, and how much harder it is to be a teenager with diabetes on top of everything else.
The message of unswerving love and support, even when your teenager seems to spurn it at every turn, is a crucial one. They will make it through this time and into mature adulthood. They just need a lot of help, given carefully and with a light touch, on their path to becoming adults of whom you will be proud. I know my son will come through fine. It’s just a bump along the road.
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