I have a good friend who has a 14 year old son with type 1 diabetes. He’s had it since he was six. She still helps him manage his diabetes. She’ll help with carb counting, she asks him about his blood sugar numbers, she downloads his pump and sends the data to his doctor, she keeps track of when it’s time to change the pump site. Heck, she even helps him change his pump site!
A few months ago when they were on vacation, his pump broke. She was freaking out because she realized she didn’t remember his pump settings and his insulin-to-carb ratios. She also hadn’t brought along long-acting insulin. There was a lot to be stressed about. But the only one stressing was her, not her 14 year old son who has diabetes.
The friends she was staying with thought something was wrong with that picture. Surely he should be the one freaking out, not his mom. After all, it is *his* diabetes.
A couple weeks later, she was lamenting to another friend about her son’s diabetes, and she too told her that she’s doing it all wrong: he’s 14, he’s going into high school, he’s going to be leaving for college in four years, it’s time he took responsibility for his diabetes!
If you think of diabetes like a chore such as laundry, or taking care of the dog, or cleaning your room, then it makes perfect sense. Not only is he 14 and becoming independent in all other aspects of his life, but he’s also been living with diabetes for eight years. Shouldn’t he know all there is to know about diabetes by now? Shouldn’t he be the one managing it?!
If you ask me, the answer is no. Diabetes isn’t merely a chore, it’s a full time job.
- Would you expect your 14 year old to get a job and work at it 24/7 in addition to everything else they have on their plate such as school, sports, band, and social relationships?
- Would you expect your 14 year old to make life and death decisions 10 times a day, every day?
- There’s a reason 14 year old’s can’t drink, drive, or vote. They aren’t capable of taking on that level of responsibility.
Diabetes requires us and our children to do just that: check blood sugars, count carbs, calculate insulin doses, and use good judgement 10 – 15 times a day. Every time our children want to eat something–anything–they have to check their blood sugar, calculate (or guess) the carbs, administer insulin, and use judgement in the event they are before exercise, after exercise, or in the middle of exercising. And when I say “exercise” that includes mental exercising such as studying, reading, or taking a test.
And if you’re eating complicated foods such as hamburgers, pizza, or milkshakes–what teen would ever eat anything like that?–then you need to give additional thought to how to administer insulin.
You also have to be very aware of and in touch with how you’re feeling–are you feeling high or low? Do you need to treat with extra insulin or extra carbs? Do you have all of your supplies on you at all times? If teens lose their iPhones, imagine how much attention they give to the blood glucose monitor
If you’re on a pump you also have to keep track of how many days it’s been since the last time you changed your site. 14 year old’s rarely know what end is up. Do you really think they can count to three?
So next time your friends judge you, or offer unsolicited advice, or try to otherwise explain to you that you’re doing it all wrong when it comes to your child’s diabetes, tell them kindly, but firmly, that until they’ve lived with diabetes for one full day, they should not be giving you or your child advice on how to live with it for the rest of their lives.