Managing Diabetes in Adolescents


What are Special Concerns for Children and Adolescents with Diabetes?

Diabetes presents unique issues for teens with the disease. Simple things—like going to a birthday party, playing sports, or staying overnight with friends—need careful planning. Every day, children with diabetes may need to take insulin or oral medication. They also need to check their blood glucose several times during the day and remember to make correct food choices. For school-age children, these tasks can make them feel "different" from their classmates. These tasks can be particularly bothersome for teens.

For anyone with diabetes, learning to cope with the disease is a big job. Dealing with a chronic illness such as diabetes may cause emotional and behavioral challenges. Talking to a social worker or psychologist may help a teen and his or her family learn to adjust to lifestyle changes needed to stay healthy.

Managing diabetes in adolescents is most effective when the entire family makes a team effort. Families can share concerns with physicians, diabetes educators, dietitians, and other health care providers to get their help in the day-to-day management of diabetes. Extended family members, teachers, school nurses, counselors, coaches, day care providers, or other resources in the community can provide information, support, guidance, and help with coping skills. These individuals also may help with resources for health education, financial services, social services, mental health counseling, transportation, and home visiting.

Diabetes is stressful for both teens and their families. Parents should be alert for signs of depression or eating disorders and seek appropriate treatment. While all parents should talk to their children about avoiding tobacco, people with diabetes who smoke have a greatly increased risk of heart disease and circulatory problems. Binge drinking can increase the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and symptoms of hypoglycemia can be mistaken for those of intoxication and not properly treated. Local peer groups for children and teens with diabetes can provide positive role models and group activities.

Are There Legal Considerations for Children and Teens with Diabetes?

Several Federal and state laws provide protections to children with disabilities, including children or teens with diabetes. These children must have full access to public programs, including public schools, and to most private schools as well. Students with diabetes are entitled to accommodations and modifications necessary for them to stay healthy at school and have the same access to an education as other students do.

A teen's school should prepare a plan that outlines how the child's special health care needs will be met. The plan should identify school staff responsible for making sure the plan is followed. The parents should be present during development of the plan. Any changes to the plan should be made only with the parents' consent. Ideally, the plan should be updated every year. For information or questions about the Americans With Disabilities Act, call 1-800-514-0301 or 1-800-514-0383 (TDD), or go to

Excerpted and Adapted from the National Diabetes Education Program Diabetes in Children and Adolescents Fact Sheet.

Reviewed by Francine Kaufman, MD. 4/08

Last Modified Date: March 03, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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by Carey Potash
James Joyce said that “mistakes are the portals of discovery.” I wonder if insulin levels have been our mistake. Could it be that this hellish week of blood sugars were somehow meant to be? Drastic times call for drastic measures, right? Maybe we were too afraid in the past to take the plunge into drastic measures. Maybe this is oddly what we needed. We had to be truly frightened in order to make bigger, bolder changes. ...