Diabetes type 1

Managing diabetes as a teenager

Most of the young people we talked to said that they had found it very difficult to control their diabetes when they were teenagers. They said that their control often went haywire during puberty because their hormones were 'all over the place' and also because they didn't want to have to think about diabetes all the time. Those who were diagnosed at a young age said that their diabetes was 'better controlled' before they reached adolescence. 

The young people we talked to said controlling diabetes can be difficult at first and it's never going to be a 100 per cent perfect, but having a positive attitude helps. They wanted others to know that diabetes doesn't have to determine who you are and what you can achieve. The only difference between a diabetic and a non-diabetic teenager is that diabetics need to do more planning.

Before they got their diabetes under good control, plenty of young people told us they had gone through times when they rebelled against their condition. They didn't want to think about diabetes and they didn't want diabetes to control them and stop them doing normal things with their friends.

Rebelling could include eating too much or too little, not doing blood glucose tests and eating the wrong kinds of food. Eventually they found out from experience that doing these things made them feel terrible. Getting to grips with all the different parts of their diabetes control could take some people longer than others.  

The effect on families and parents

Many young people talked to us about times when they'd rebelled against their parents and families as well as their diabetes. Looking back they realised they had made life difficult for everybody, including themselves. Some said that they got frustrated and angry when they couldn't control their diabetes well, especially when they were having lots of hypos and couldn't work out why.

Many said they were confused by their different feelings or symptoms and whether these things were part of having diabetes or just part of being a teenager - so they didn't always read the signs right. Feeling moody or argumentative for instance was seen by some girls as being part of PMT (premenstrual tension), rather than being a symptom of a hypo. 

Some talked about how they didn't want to face up to diabetes when it stopped them going out on the spur of the moment, and when it got in the way of things they felt passionate about, such as sport and surfing.

Mood swings

Many young people said they had gone through times as teenagers when they felt frustrated, fed up and even depressed because of their diabetes, but for many these feelings were short-lived. They said they appreciated having more independence from adults in their lives, but at the same time they needed plenty of emotional support from their families, friends and medical teams. A few young people said that having diabetes had caused them other serious problems in their teenage years.

Sometimes when their blood glucose levels kept getting out of control, they felt down and needed a new insulin regimen to help them in their efforts to control their diabetes.
Taking control of diabetes 

Making the transition from being 'looked after' by parents to 'taking control' for themselves was a major issue to most young people when they were teenagers. Coping with injections could often cause arguments in families and gave young people yet another thing to disagree about with their parents. When and how to take control for yourself was seen as a difficult thing to do and there wasn't necessarily a right or wrong time.

Taking control of diabetes had brought independence but some young people also found it quite frightening.
Two main tips for good diabetes control

Some of the young people we talked to said that the key to good control is to 'balance the insulin dosage around your diet', but many people said it took time to get the balance right and some only found the right way to manage their diabetes through trial and error and by making mistakes. 

Some people had been sent on special courses to help them understand and achieve better control (e.g. TIFA, DAFNE, Insight), and found them extremely helpful. (See also 'Diet and diabetes' and 'Patient Education Courses'.)

'Controlling your diet' was another tip, and a young girl said that what worked for her was to stick to a set diet that hardly changes except when she goes out to dinner.

The right insulin

Young people stressed that having the type of insulin routine that suits you is very important (see also 'Finding the right insulin regimen for you'), because better blood glucose control will have a positive impact on your whole life. One young woman said that having control of her insulin has made her much more confident.

Being a teenager with diabetes meant having to grow up more quickly than others their age. They'd had to learn a lot about how their bodies and their emotions worked. Most felt managing diabetes got easier once their lives were more settled and predictable.

Last reviewed December 2017.
Last updated December 2017.


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