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For Kids Ages 12 to 17: Dealing with Diabetes

Your doctor says that you have diabetes. It’s a serious health problem that can make you feel sick if not treated. But you can learn how to live with diabetes and stay healthy. Make some changes in your life so diabetes doesn’t stop you from doing the things you like to do. This sheet tells you some of the basics of coping with diabetes. You can talk to your healthcare team and go on the Internet to learn more.

You’re Not Alone

Finding out that you have diabetes can be hard. But you don’t have to face it alone. Lots of people will help you. Your helpers are called your “diabetes team.” The team may include your parents, brothers and sisters, and your family healthcare provider. There are also some special team members who know a lot about diabetes. These people are:

  • An endocrinologist or “endo.” This is a doctor who treats children with diabetes.

  • A dietitian. A dietitian teaches you about how food affects your blood sugar.

  • A diabetes educator. A diabetes educator is someone like a nurse, pharmacist, or social worker. He or she teaches you how to manage your blood sugar.

Boy sitting at table in school checking blood glucose on glucose meter.

What’s Your Role?

You’ll always need support from your family and your diabetes team. But you’re probably ready to do some of your diabetes care yourself. This may include checking your blood sugar and giving yourself insulin shots. Talk to your parents and your healthcare provider. Tell them how involved you would like to be with your diabetes care. Don’t take on everything at once. But the more of your diabetes management you do yourself, the more independent you can be. Just speak up if you feel overwhelmed.

Managing Your Blood Sugar at School

Classes, sports, and other activities likely take up a lot of your time. Being busy at school can make managing your blood sugar harder to remember. No matter what, it’s important to stick to your management plan.

  • Before the school year starts, sit down with your parents, teachers, and school officials. Make sure they know your diabetes management plan.

  • Teachers and school officials will also need to know what to do in case you have low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

Being Active

Like food and insulin, being active can help you manage your blood sugar. Activity, such as playing sports or riding a bike, can help keep your blood sugar from getting too high. But too much activity can sometimes make your blood sugar fall too low. That’s why it’s important to check your blood sugar more often when you are active. You may also need to adjust how much insulin you take when you are active. Your diabetes team can tell you how. NOTE:  Don’t inject insulin into a muscle, like your leg, right before you start an activity. The insulin will absorb too quickly.    

Your Friends Can Help

You don’t have to talk about diabetes with anyone unless you want to. But you may find that telling your friends about your diabetes can help. Your true friends will support you. They can even learn the signs of low blood sugar. Then, if you are acting “low,” they can get an adult to help. But watch out for the “diabetes police.” These are people who criticize your food choices or nag you about your blood sugar. If you feel like other children are judging you, talk to your parents or diabetes team about how to deal with them.

Risky Behaviors

You’ve heard it before: Alcohol, smoking, drugs, and unprotected sex can be bad for you. And it’s true. But these things are even more dangerous when you have diabetes. You’ve been working hard to stay healthy. Alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs just mess that up. Unprotected sex can lead to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancy. Unplanned pregnancy can be very risky if you have diabetes. High blood sugar can harm an unborn baby. If you feel pressure to drink, smoke, do drugs, or have sex, talk to your diabetes team or your parents to get advice.

It’s Normal to Have Ups and Downs

There will be times when you feel totally on top of things. Other times, you may feel really stressed out or tired of dealing with diabetes. When this happens, don’t give up. Ask for help. Your diabetes team is there to help you find ways to make things easier. You don’t have to be perfect. You can make changes to your plan and still be healthy. One way to help with stress is to join a diabetes support group. This group is made up of other kids your age with diabetes. They can understand what you’re going through, because they’re going through it, too.

Resources

For more information about diabetes, visit these websites:

  • American Diabetes Association www.diabetes.org/youthzone

  • Children with Diabetes www.childrenwithdiabetes.org

  • Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation www.kids.jdrf.org

 

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