Change of Shift
By Karen Hargrave-Nykaza
As our children with diabetes approach their teen years, we as parents approach a whole new set of challenges when it comes to parenting a child with diabetes. Our son Joel is at the point now where anything that makes him different from his peers is a bad thing, no matter how discreetly it is handled. Something like diabetes, which is difficult even for an adult to handle on a good day, is the ultimate embarrassment to a pre-teen or teenager when trying to become accepted or at least seem invisible among his peers.
I was reminded that we are in this new stage of life with Joel by beginning a new season of basketball practice. Joel has had diabetes for several years, so preparation for a new season of basketball seems like no big deal to me as a parent. I know what I have to do: give the new coach the information on diabetes, let him know to keep an eye on Joel, and reinforce that I will never be too far away if there is an emergency.
But I have to keep in mind that for Joel, it is not that simple. It is not just about relaying information to a new adult and group of peers. This experience for Joel is now all about not being seen as different from the other kids on the team. What used to be almost a cool thing among his peers and set Joel apart from the other kids with his electronic gadgets and no fear of poking his finger to test his blood sugar is now an embarrassing nuisance that could make him an outcast among potential new friends. My telling him that the difference won’t matter doesn’t fly anymore because that difference will be a negative simply because it is a difference.
So how do we as parents address this additional peer pressure at a time in our kids’ lives when they have enough peer pressure to cope with already? For starters, we can hope that if our child has had diabetes since they were a young child, or maybe even if they haven’t had it for as long, they have assimilated it into who they are enough that they feel it is a part of them. As much as this might sound odd, this attitude may help them feel more indifferent to anything negative that their peers might have to say about their diabetes or any of the multiple tasks that go along with it. To a child who has truly accepted his or her diabetes, making fun of a child who has it would make no more sense to them than making fun of someone who happens to have red hair or someone who is taller or shorter than most of his peers.
We can also offer to our children that people who make fun of someone else often do so out of ignorance, out of feeling insecure or not feeling good about themselves. Someone who isn’t educated about diabetes at all will more likely feel uneasy about what a diabetic person needs to do to test and treat their blood sugar. And someone who isn’t interested in learning more will find it easier to make fun than to ask intelligent questions of a reliable source. We are of course also at a stage with our kids where they may not be listening to us much if at all, but we can hope still hope to make an impact on them.
We can also relinquish some or a lot of our control over the diabetes care for our pre-teen or teenager. If the coach or person in charge knows the basic information they need to have in an emergency and your child is reasonably self-reliant in caring for his or her diabetes, you don’t have to hover and oversee everything your child does at this age. This of course is easier said than done because the worry will always be there for you as a parent. But unless you plan to go to college with your child (and I have met some mothers who do), this is the perfect time for you to grow as a parent as your child grows in his independence and confidence in managing his diabetes.
If you have encouraged your child to be as independent as is age appropriate while he or she has grown, this will be much easier for you. And if you have not, you may have some catching up to do. Although my child has not reached full teenaged status yet, it seems that one of the best things that combats peer pressure for your child is his own confidence. Perhaps the best way for you to foster that in your child is by giving them as much responsibility for their own diabetes care as possible and making sure that they know that you are doing that because you know that they can handle it.
dLife's Daily Living columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team to find out what will work best for you.
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