Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists

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Teen Challenged

May 05, 2010

Some days are just more challenging than others! My practice includes many teens with diabetes, and sometimes I wonder if I am helping at all!

I called a respected colleague not long ago for suggestions to help my teenaged patients, and her comment was, “If I can get them through High School alive and not pregnant, I feel I’ve accomplished something!” That is clearly not the response I had hoped for. I was looking for a magic approach that would help me motivate the teens I see. There are, of course, the teens that seem to sail through diabetes, but they appear to be few and far between.

I have attended seminars, conferences and spoken with colleagues to gain wisdom. Some strategies I have used include: frequent visits, text messages, support groups and a thorough education on the consequences of poorly-controlled diabetes. Despite these tactics (and many others!), the majority of my teen patients still struggle with how to make blood sugar control an important part of their life. Sometimes I think even with my passion for working with this group, I may not be the right person…and then……

I receive a phone call from a patient who is now in his 20s. He asks for my help, and he remembers that I am the one who did not close the door when he was ignoring everything I was suggesting. Or, I hear from a father whose daughter is in the emergency room for a mental health issue, and he knows that I will help without judgment. Or, a young woman asks for a letter of recommendation for being a counselor at kids diabetes camp (now, almost a model patient at 17, after some pretty rough times!). Or, I see an overweight teen camper who survived our backpack trip one year, return the following year stating it was the pivotal point in her life…and realized that she could get in better shape and take charge of her diabetes.

These small encounters are what give me hope and keep me going. You know….working with teens is the most challenging AND rewarding part of my job. I’ll continue to look for answers and best practices, refer to behavior specialists, adjust doses of insulin and help teens with diabetes see HOW they can achieve good control.

I just have to remember that not all of our work bears fruit immediately. But perhaps, tomorrow, next week, next year or in the decades ahead, they will remember the tools they have been given and find their way.

Do you have any similar inspirational stories about teens with diabetes? Or, if you have any motivational strategies that you use with teens, please share them with us!


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  1. Jun 10, 2010

    I have served on an ADA commitee for many years for diabetes family camp, aimed at 12 and under and their family members, however at age 14, those campers are offered an opportunity to become volunteer camp counselors, are asked to participate in a teen panel where parents of the 12 and under can ask them questions and the answers are not rehearsed! The entire weekend is powerul for everyone, especially the teen volunteers who get a jolt of confidence and earn volunteer hours for high school I have found a few really good resources for teens on this website: They should be coming out with an diabetes etiquette card for teens soon. They also have a program for teens and workshops for teens, however they are offered in San Deigo. I'm on a list to become a workshop leader in my community.
  2. May 17, 2010

    Carla, I have experienced the same feelings as you describe above in working with teens! I appreciate your comments as it is good to know others feel the same way. Teens are a special breed of kids. I have no magic answers to helping them get through these challenging years, but I have a few observations. The teens whose parents let them communicate directly with me via email usually (we don't have texting available) seem to do better. I try to provide positive encouragement for even little things like checking sugars at least 3-4x daily (sometimes this can be a struggle!) or giving all of their shots or boluses via pump. As a type I diabetic myself, I remember going through those tumultuous years and not always taking good care of myself. What inspired me to do better was a nurse practitioner/CDE who stayed in touch with me and helped me with adjustments. Although our teens may not express their feelings about our help at the time, I do think they feel empowered by our staying in touch and being nonjudgemental with them.
  3. May 05, 2010

    I am 28 yrs old and was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 4 yrs old. So all I know is living with diabetes and I think that's somewhat better for children who are diagnosed when they are teenagers. However, as a teenager you are more aware of how important it is to take care of yourself and are more equipt to do so. During my teenage years I was rebellious and did a lot of things I knew I shouldn't have as a diabetic, but when I realized that my health was the difference between my life or my death I had no choice but to take better care of myself. Because I made that choice I have no complications, my A1C is normal and I've also been able to get married and have a child. No matter how old you are or how long you've been diagnosed take the time to learn as much as you can about diabetes and yourself. It will make your life a lot easier :)

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