Talking to your teenager about diabetes

As your child develops their adult personality, they will want to start taking control of their life. Many parents worry that their child won’t look after their diabetes as well as they do, which could make them unwell both in the short and long term.

If your child has recently been diagnosed, you’ll both be learning about diabetes and you may feel guilty that you don’t know everything. But there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to bringing up a teenager with diabetes – regardless of how long they have had the condition.

 

Top tips for talking to teenagers

Diabetes won't stop your child behaving like any other teenager. But there are extra considerations that make good communication even more important.

  1. Pick your time. There’s no point trying to have a conversation with your teen when one of you is rushing off somewhere. Make sure you’ve got the time to talk about things fully – it’s really hard to stop and start this kind of conversation.
  2. Pick your moods – trying to talk to your teen about alcohol when you’re cross with them for coming in drunk just isn’t going to work. Wait until you’re calm and can discuss things rationally. Likewise, don’t try and approach your teen when they’re in a mood. They’re not going to be open to discussion or compromise.
  3. Pick your argument – a great tirade about everything your teen’s doing ‘wrong’ is unlikely to make them change. If you’re worried about a lot of aspects of their behaviour, it might be worth discussing the ones you’re most concerned about first, and coming back to others at a later date.
  4. Pick your approach – Sitting your teen down to a face-to-face conversation might be so daunting for them that they clam up and don’t give you honest answers. Try bringing things up gently when you’re doing something together, eg going for a walk or cooking a meal. This can be particularly useful if you’re talking about those embarrassing things like sex and contraception. It can be easier for your teen to open up when they don’t have to look you in the face.
  5. Pick your allies – It might feel hurtful, but sometimes you’re not the best person to talk to your teen. They might feel more comfortable with a favourite aunt, uncle or family friend. If you go for this approach, make sure you’re all clear on what information is shared with who, so you don’t feel left out of the discussion, but your teen doesn’t feel there’s been any ‘tale telling’.
  6. Pick your resources – Make sure you’ve got more information that you can give to your teen, eg if you’re going to talk about sex, have information on contraception handy, or look it up on an appropriate website.
 

Love life

When you have the ‘birds and bees’ chat with your teenager, you also need to bring diabetes into the equation.

Make sure your teenager knows that:

  • Sex or lots of energetic snogging can be strenuous enough to cause a hypo, so remind them to keep something to treat a hypo handy.
  • High blood glucose levels can make thrush more likely. Keeping their diabetes under control as much as possible can help avoid it and they should visit their GP if they have genital itching and discharge.
  • Girls with diabetes can take the contraceptive pill, and it’s important to use some form of contraception unless they’re ready to start a family.
 

Alcohol and diabetes

People with diabetes can still have alcohol, but too much isn’t good for anyone’s health. We recommend that the maximum intake is no more than three units a day for men and not more than two units a day for women. (Bear in mind these figures are for adults.) A unit indicates the quantity of pure alcohol in a drink.

Find out how many units of alcohol there are in different drinks.

Alcohol makes a hypo more likely, so make sure your teen knows:

  • Not to drink on an empty stomach and have a meal before going out drinking. If this isn’t possible, they need to have some carbohydrate-containing snacks, eg a sandwich or crisps while drinking.
  • To tell their friends about their diabetes and how to treat a hypo just in case.• To carry diabetes ID with them, because a hypo could be mistaken for drunkenness. After a few drinks, they might be less aware of hypo warning symptoms – so they should try to drink in moderation.
  • To alternate drinks with plenty of water (or anything that is sugar-free) to avoid dehydration.
  • Because alcohol is in the system for a while after drinking, a hypo may occur several hours later. After a night out, they should eat before bed (even if it is chips or a kebab on the way home).
 

Drugs and diabetes

No drug is a safe drug. Whether illegal or legal (nicotine and alcohol), drugs can lead to problems with health, family, friends, and the police. The best way to avoid all this is obviously to avoid drugs altogether. Drugs can affect people – and their diabetes – in different ways, depending on the type, amount and purity of the drug.
Make sure your teen knows that:

  • Cannabis can make you people relaxed and sociable. But people can feel anxious and uneasy after using it and it can give you the ‘munchies’, which can affect blood glucose levels. It can also make you feel ‘out of it’ and so forget insulin.
  • Smoking cannabis can make you more at risk of becoming addicted to tobacco.
  • Hallucinogenic drugs, like LSD, cause ‘trips’ that can last up to 12 hours and can be frightening. They may cause your teen to forget to take their insulin.Some people use ‘uppers’, like E or speed, when clubbing to give them energy and confidence. Strenuous activity like continuous dancing causes the body to lose fluids and risk dehydration. Your teen can help prevent this by not mixing uppers with other drugs or alcohol, and drinking non-alcoholic drinks and water.

Uppers can suppress appetite and, combined with dancing, run the risk of causing a severe hypo.

 

Smoking

Smoking increases the chances of heart and lung disease and cancer.

Make sure your teen knows:

  • People with diabetes who smoke are twice as likely to have heart disease and circulation problems than people with diabetes who don’t smoke.
  • Smoking can affect fertility levels and the chance of having a healthy pregnancy and baby.
  • It can be unattractive and stain teeth.
 

Top teen tips

  1. Are there any aspects of your teen’s behaviour that you’re concerned about? If so plan a time when you can have a chat about them.
  2. Looking after teenagers can be difficult and stressful. Think about who can help and support you through it.
  3. Do you think you need some professional help? Talk to your paediatric diabetes team about counselling or psychological support.
  4. Talk ‘to’ rather than ‘at’ your teenager, and encourage them to talk about how they feel about diabetes. This makes it easier for you to spot when problems are likely to arise and helps your child to be open with you.
  5. Help your teenager keep clinic appointments and encourage them to talk to their healthcare team. Be positive about the good things they do, and encourage them to carry some diabetes ID for their own safety.
  6. Encourage them to meet other teens with diabetes.
  7. Don’t get angry – it can prevent you dealing effectively with a situation, or make your teen fearful about diabetic complications, or make them rebel.