3 Tips to Help Teens Manage Type 2 Diabetes
The teen years are difficult physically and emotionally. Adding type 2 diabetes can make those years even tougher. It’s important for teens to learn how to manage their disease, and they need support from parents and friends. Teens with type 2 diabetes are at greater risk for many serious health conditions, such as heart disease and stroke. The earlier we can reduce those risks, the better.
But the key is to remember that teens are kids first, not diabetes patients. They shouldn’t be defined by their disease. You can help diabetes management fit the life of your teen, rather than the other way around, by focusing on three key areas.
1. Make healthy food portions and choices
Teens with type 2 diabetes often are surrounded by huge food portions. More teens than ever before are becoming overweight or obese, and these conditions are directly linked to the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Eating too much can cause dangerous spikes in blood sugar and, over time, can contribute to poor circulation and organ damage in the long term.
Commit as a family to control portion sizes when you cook at home. When you eat out, if the portions are too big, ask for a to-go box, and take some of your food home rather than eat a mega-meal in one sitting.
Related reading: 3 Tactics to Battle Food ‘Portion Distortion’
Unfortunately, healthy options aren’t often available at restaurants or social events. It’s unrealistic to expect teens to avoid fries, burgers, and sweets all the time. That said, encourage your child to eat healthy foods most of the time, such as:
- Fresh vegetables and fruits
- Lean meats and proteins, such as beans, chicken, eggs, fish, nuts, and seafood
- Low-fat milk, cheese, and other dairy products
- Whole grains, such as brown rice and oatmeal
You can set a good example by making healthier choices for your family. For example, order thin crust vegetable pizza instead of thick crust sausage pizza, and choose water instead of soda.
2. Stay sugar safe at school
Teens need to be able to measure their blood sugar independently at school. Ask the school administration where your child can check their sugar safely without drawing attention to themselves. Also let them know your teen might need to carry snacks to raise their blood sugar if it gets too low.
Your teen should be able to recognize key symptoms of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). It’s equally important that school staff members can recognize these symptoms as well. Common symptoms include:
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Fatigue or weakness
- Trouble concentrating
Some teens with type 2 diabetes need insulin to control their disease. I recommend they carry an insulin pen, which is a prefilled alternative to an insulin syringe. It’s more discreet, and there’s less risk of getting the wrong dose. Check out these additional resources to help your teen with type 2 diabetes stay safe at school:
- The American Diabetes Association’s Safe at School campaign
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Managing Diabetes at School Playbook
3. Find support and a diabetes educator
In the tumultuous years of finding their way, making friends, and fitting in, it’s important for teens to realize they’re not alone in their journey with diabetes. But to really get through to your teen, they need to learn about diabetes from someone besides just you.
Ask your child’s doctor to help you find a support group in your area or online that is designed specifically for teens. Your teen’s doctor can also recommend a diabetes educator to help answer your child’s questions as a neutral third party. One of my colleagues told me his son’s nurse practitioner helped their family through diabetes education. Even though she told the teen the same things his parents did, the diabetes educator helped the teen realize his parent's intentions were not to nag him but to help him.
The teen years are hard. Young people with type 2 diabetes need support in order to learn the lifelong skills necessary to manage their disease. When we all do our part, we put kids in the best position to be healthy and safe as they mature into adulthood.