How to Get Through to Your Teen With Diabetes

If you’re raising a pre-teen or adolescent living with diabetes, you know that sometimes conveying the seriousness of the disease can be a difficult challenge. What oftentimes is easier and convenient now, such as grabbing fast food on the go, or neglecting to adequately count carbohydrates, take insulin or even test for days on end can contribute to serious complications later on in life. It can be extremely difficult to get through to your teen but making sure they know the seriousness of a life with diabetes is paramount. So, how do you communicate with a teenager when diabetes is the last thing they want to deal with? Does “tough love” work on teens?

Feeling Invincible

One’s adolescent years are an incredible time of drastic and fast change. Not only are teenagers growing rapidly physically and emotionally, but they’re also dealing with the drama of school and friends, and the challenges that managing a chronic condition brings. Teenagers and young adults often tend to feel quite invincible, even earning the nickname “young invincibles” for their seeming unwillingness to buy affordable health care plans or take reasonable preventive actions to take care of themselves and their bodies. More often than not, when teenagers neglect their diabetes management, it’s a sign of feeling quite burnt out.

Do Scare Tactics Work?

Can scare tactics help your teenager take their diabetes more seriously? When communication is difficult, it can seem almost impossible to prioritize diabetes management. Sometimes a teenager just doesn’t want to hear it, and in the worst of cases, giving your teenager scare tactics in the form of storytelling worst-case scenarios, playing the game of “what if” with complications, and threatening them can backfire, resulting in dangerous management patterns, disordered eating, or can even cause them to completely shut down all communication.

Lynn, from Pennsylvania, says,

“Scare tactics don’t work with me, and no one I know has used them. The best support I’ve gotten is when my loved ones decided to eat keto. We plan low-carb meals and look for new recipes together. If [my family] was eating tons of carbs, it would make it harder for me to stay low-carb. Otherwise, we don’t really talk much about my diabetes…my family does sometimes ask about my blood sugar after trying a new dish to see if it ‘worked’ for me.”

Cora adds,

“As young people, people with type 1 diabetes take criticism and scare tactics to heart. It’s basically verbal abuse because we don’t hear the practicalities behind what the parent is saying. Young people hear strongly worded comments about efforts to control our diabetes, and we take it personally. Except it comes through as ‘you’re bad’, ‘you’re lazy’, or ‘you’re incompetent’.”

Alienating your teenager with scare tactics is harmful, and you most likely will not get your desired result (more attention paid to their diabetes). There are healthier ways to help a person with diabetes in your life.

Photo credit: Adobe Stock

Honesty Doesn’t Have to Be Scary

It’s important to not scare your teenager with threats of complications, or a dark and scary future that may not come to fruition. Instead, model good behavior and have the whole family adopt practices that encourage a healthy lifestyle.

Meryl says,

“The best thing I have found to do is offer foods that he likes and can eat and not to nag.”

The good news that is well-adjusted teenagers eventually will take over the management of their diabetes, and thanks to technology, will begin to thrive. The power struggle and shirking of responsibility that comes with adolescence will end. In the meantime, here are some strategies to help you and your teenager thrive through this period of transition.

  1. Be there to listen. The power struggle between a teenager with diabetes and their parents comes down to them wanting to feel more independent, and the parents ultimately having to give up some (or all!) control of diabetes management and rigorous expectations. Make sure you’re there to talk with your teen, but more importantly, to listen to their wants and needs. If they want autonomy and space, be there to give it, but also hold them accountable (by showing you their glucometer memory, pump data, or meals and carbohydrate counts), to eventually earn more freedom. This way, you can problem-solve and strategize around emerging issues together. Additionally, here are some things not to say to someone with diabetes. 
  2. Find a great endocrinologist. Find a doctor that your teenager will work well with, and remember that communication is key. Finding the right dietitian, social worker, nurse, and primary care physician is also critical during this vulnerable time in a teenager’s life. Make sure your teenager feels comfortable talking with their doctors, sharing their concerns, and standing up for themselves during visits. This will be crucial for good diabetes management as they take on more of the responsibility of their care moving forward.
  3. Expose them to other teens with diabetes. Sign your teenager up for a diabetes camp, or a local support group for teenagers dealing with diabetes. Make sure they know that they are not alone, and find ample opportunities for them to meet other kids their age who are struggling with the same issues that they are. Usually, once a kid or teenager makes a “dia-bestie” their diabetes management improves, because now the thing that used to single them out suddenly makes them part of the cool crowd, like having the newest Patch Peelz or insulin pump.
  4. Try a tech break. If your teenager is struggling with constant insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor (CGM) changes all the time and is feeling like a cyborg, let them take a technology break. Sometimes a change in routine helps everyone suffering from diabetes burnout, and it can help bring a fresh perspective of and appreciation for the technology when you bring it back.
  5. Seek individual or family counseling. Sometimes a child loses interest in their diabetes management due to depression, which is more common among people with diabetes. Teenagers who have depression may not always exhibit the classic symptoms of depression such as crying, sudden anger, and changes in sleep and eating patterns. Regardless, a teen who stops taking an interest in their diabetes management is sending a clear message and call for help. This is an excellent time to find a great therapist who can help your teenager work through their issues.

Peter from New Jersey adds,

“From my experience, the key is to bring them to these realizations gradually, at a pace they can handle. That pace is very individual, and parents, and sometimes even doctors need to work on understanding that pace. In the meantime, just support them and make sure they don’t make any huge mistakes.”

These strategies can help you and your teenager thrive during this turbulent time in their lives, by prioritizing compassion, openness, and love. Also, be sure to check out recent research from the American Diabetes Association (ADA) about what works when it comes to transitioning to self-management.

What have you found to be the most helpful strategies in helping your teens thrive with diabetes? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.


COVID-19: Jessica’s Senior Year Comes to a Halt

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everyone, and high school seniors, in particular. Allison talked to one student about her perspectives.

Hi Jessica, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. The COVID-19 pandemic has left us all in fear, especially for those who are elderly or have pre-existing conditions. Knowing that we fit this demographic adds an extra layer to this difficult time.  

I know you are a senior in high school and the class of 2020 really has an interesting story. You were born into the world during the time our country was attacked on 9/11, and you’ve experienced life in a “comeback mode” (financially, mentally and emotionally) which likely made you all stronger and more resilient watching the world rebuild.

I’d imagine you’ve worked your whole life to get to this point and you were looking forward to this special year. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your feelings as many are trying to digest their emotions and figure out how to articulate, process and express them. 

How long have you been living with type 1 diabetes?

I have been living with type 1 diabetes for 10 1/2 years.

Did your diagnosis help shape you as a student? Did it make you more organized? Responsible?

As I was diagnosed at such a young age, 7 years old, I had to grow up faster than most kids. I learned how to be more responsible and independent at a young age which I believe has helped prepare me in unique ways for the future as I go off on my own. Living with and managing type one diabetes is a 24/7 job that constantly requires my attention and maintenance. Having to deal with all of this has greatly helped shape me as a student, as I have to be organized, responsible, and meticulous with my diabetes, just like with school work and deadlines. I’ve learned to take responsibility for my own actions and to stick up for myself.

When you heard the virus was picking up speed, what were your first thoughts? Fears? How did you prepare for staying at home? 

The first thoughts I had when I heard about the coronavirus were all about my diabetes and the higher risk I am at. I was constantly worried that I would be exposed at school or in other public outings. I feared how I could possibly manage the disease if I got it, and on top of that having to deal with my diabetes and the effect it would have on me. When the Stay at Home Order was passed, my family and I made sure we had all the necessary diabetes supplies, including insulin, blood glucose meters and strips, lancets, ketone meters, etc. We didn’t know how long we’d be stuck at home so we wanted to be prepared.

Many people have found their blood sugars all over the place amidst the crisis, what do you do to stay on top of your management during this challenging time? 

Not being able to go anywhere has really given me some extra time. With this time, I have now started to workout every day, which has greatly helped my blood sugar levels. Also, now that I have so much time, I can give more attention to my diabetes and be more consistent with looking at my Dexcom and correcting my highs, even the ones that are hardly above goal. I have found this to greatly help my A1c levels.

Photo credit: Jessica Oser

I know senior year comes with a lot of well-deserved celebrations. What are you most upset about? 

There are many things that I am upset about missing this year. For one, prom and graduation were both canceled. I did not get a junior prom, so this would have been the only prom I’d get to go to. Also, I was looking forward to graduation with my class and celebrating with friends and family after a lifetime’s worth of hard work. Also, I am upset that we had our last day of high school without knowing it. I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to friends and teachers.

At this time of year, seniors are typically celebrating their college decisions and looking forward to a stress-free rest of the year. How did this impact that carefree feeling that you’ve probably looked forward to for so long?

The coronavirus has lasted longer than what some people have thought, so now my college orientation has been switched to online. I was looking forward to meeting people and potentially making some friends before the semester started. I was also looking forward to walking around campus more and getting acclimated to the campus and how things work. Also, now that the rest of the school year is online, things have been getting confusing for how they will transfer over to colleges, which just causes more stress for students.

There is no doubt that the Class of 2020 has experienced a lot in their short lifetime. You were born into the world the year of 9/11/2001 and now we are facing a global pandemic. This has to help define each of your characters. How do you feel it has impacted you as a person and your perspective on life?

I believe that having to go through so much and surviving it every time has made us stronger and more perseverant. We continue to get back up and live life to the fullest both during the hard times and once the hard times are over. I believe it’s taught us to have a more positive attitude and outlook in life.

Photo credit: Jessica Oser

Has COVID-19 impacted any of your plans academically and/or career-wise?

Some colleges are switching to online for the first semester. This has not happened for my college yet, but we are still waiting. If it does, we will be robbed of the excitement of the start of our first year at college.

If you had one silver lining to come out of COVID-19 what would that be?

While times right now can seem very dark, I believe that there are a few tiny silver linings that can be found. For one, while it was horrible not being able to have a proper goodbye to friends and teachers, I also view it as better, because we didn’t have to go through the emotional pain of seeing everybody for the last time, as we didn’t know it was the last time. Also, we now have extra time to focus on our personal well-being and spend time with family. I believe that this virus will bring our generation closer together.

How do you personally deal with stress and grieving all the things that COVID-19 has taken from you this year? How do you recommend people express their emotions?

As I mentioned previously, I have started to workout every day. This has always helped me deal with my mental health and now that everybody has the time, I strongly recommend that they do the same. Also, whenever I find myself going through a chain of thoughts that could lead to anxiety, I distract myself right away or I switch around my thinking and try to live day by day instead of viewing everything all at once. Thinking about things one step at a time majorly helps and keeps you from getting overwhelmed. Lastly, expressing emotions through journaling can really help too. You can get everything out and off your chest and view it as forgotten and trapped in your journal.

Photo credit: Jessica Oser

In what major way do you feel this pandemic will change the course of lives of your generation unequivocally and across the board?

I think that living through this pandemic will make our generation stronger and more wise. We’re going to live through it and see that everything will be ok, even if it doesn’t seem like it now. So, in the future, if something horrible happens again, we will have had the experience of making it through the hard times and coming out even stronger. We’ll know that everything will be ok, and that knowledge and experience can help us in the future when other hard times occur, as we know we’ll make it through those times too.

If you had one message to say to your fellow classmates of 2020, what would you say?

This too shall pass. We all have to stay strong and know that this won’t last forever. There are more fun times ahead that we’ll get to go through together and they’ll be even sweeter. This will all be nothing but a memory soon.

Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me! I wish you and your family nothing but good health and happiness. And I know you will do great things with your future once this is behind us!


Shadow’s Edge: Video Game Designed to Help Kids Cope With Chronic Disease

Being a kid is hard enough as it is. Add in having a chronic disease and it can make those very special years potentially very isolating ones. Shadow’s Edge is a virtual reality game that allows children to process and express their feelings about their disease — or whatever else they may be going through. This mobile game can help change the experience of a serious diagnosis, or challenging times, by combining art therapy and cognitive behavior therapy and giving children a safe place to not feel so alone.

Action video games can help reduce depression in teens and Shadow’s Edge hopes to help bring positivity and community to those who need it most. Founder and philanthropist, Sherri Sabrato Brisson, is a brain cancer survivor who initially co-wrote a book, “Digging Deep: A Journal for Young People Facing Health Challenges ” with Rose Ofner, to help kids process their chronic disease or serious illness and it had great success. She then met Rosemary Lokhorst, who is now the game producer because of how much she loved the concept and that is how Shadow’s Edge was born.

Shadow’s Edge is a free and completely donation funded, virtual city that has just been overtaken by a storm, much like our lives after being hit with a diagnosis of some kind. The storm removes all the color from the city, much like our disease has the potential to take away some of our happiness…if we let it. The object of the game is to bring back the color to the city through writing and art, which helps empower the player to take on whatever it is they are going through.

Shadow's Edge

Photo credit: Shadow’s Edge

So far, Shadow’s Edge has worked with many organizations and university clinics in the US, Brazil and in Europe, focusing on kids and teens with cancer, and has received very good feedback, especially from doctors. Currently, they are running a complex research study nearby the Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, with more than 100 kids testing Shadow’s Edge. So far, the results have been fantastic, and the game is helping these children build up the resilience to tackle the challenges they are facing.

I was able to chat with Sherri to find out more about Shadow’s Edge and their plans for the future.

Sheri, the journey you went through with brain cancer must have been so traumatic. Did writing your first book, Digging Deep: A Journal for Young People Facing Health Challenges, prove to be therapeutic? What about creating this game?

As a survivor, I can tell you, I know how difficult it was for me to even know how I was feeling at the time, let alone be able to express these feelings.

On my 25th anniversary of survivorship from brain cancer, I envisioned a world where every young patient has real-time access to the tools he or she needs to build emotional resilience through their experience.

I started by co-authoring Digging Deep: A Journal for Young People Facing Health Challenges, with Rose Offner, MA. I donated 35,000 journals to hospitals across the country, but it still wasn’t enough. So, we decided to meet young people right where they are—on their phones, playing games.

Seeing the success of your book shows that there is a need for resources and tools for people who have serious illnesses or a chronic condition. How do you think Shadow’s Edge can help fill that gap for our children?

Just like the physical journal, Shadow’s Edge helps teens build their emotional endurance to tackle the challenges they face through the power of their personal narrative. There are very few resources directed at teens today. Our aim is to meet them where they are – on their phones, playing games. So this time, teens are engaged through their medium—their phones or tablets—to express themselves through writing and now, covering a city in graffiti! Through gameplay, teen players realize they needn’t stay in their confined world—they have the power to reshape their world into whatever they choose. Through their expression, they can create beauty where there was once dilapidation: There can be light; There can be color; There can be hope. And, there can be a community.

“When starting to play Shadow’s Edge, a teen may not even know how they feel or what is troubling them. As they continue through their journey, they often discover they are at a different place emotionally in the end—there may be a sense of resolution, a greater understanding, a place of peace”.

I know for me personally, when I was diagnosed with type one diabetes, finding community changed everything for me. I was so much better off mentally and emotionally and had a much better outlook on my future. How does playing this video game help children connect with others? 

Yes – connection is key to build resilience and to feel better! Teens asked us for a space that is theirs only, where they can express things for themselves, as they are not always clear or ready to connect. Interestingly, this working with oneself helps to reach out. Additionally, the game has an in-game sharing space (once you reach the new level, Disillusionment). There you receive a means to see other players’ art and provide messages of support and where you can publish your graffitis. The community aspect is one that we are focusing on to expand – it is the key ask of players to build on.

I could see how the concept can be applicable to many different obstacles a child could be facing, what other areas are you focusing on and what do you hope to accomplish?

We are expanding the content so that teens facing a variety of difficult situations can benefit from it – these can be changes in the family like a divorce or death of a family member, bullying, anxiety, stress, depression, identity questions.

Shadow’s Edge has the potential to help so many children going through hardships. Where do you see Shadow’s Edge going from here?

We are working on expanding the community aspect of the game. We want to create a community around self-expression where teens facing all kinds of challenging situations can share, collaborate to create art, find psychoeducational content and just connect with each other.

As a brain cancer survivor, what message would you like to share with people facing a health battle of some kind? 

Your challenge does not define who you are, you define this. When you are ready, take an active role in opening up–every time you tell your story you tell it a little differently, this make you integrate it and see new perspectives. Practicing this also supports you to understand you are stronger than you think, getting comfortable with your story and owning it as a part of you, but not all of you.

Shadow’s Edge is available on both IOS and Android, and available in 6 languages.

They also have a special website dedicated to helping parents and healthcare professionals who are helping a young person with illnesses, see more information at