The teenage years with type 1 diabetes is a time for unconditional support.

Guiding the transition to independence

As if parenting a teenager isn’t hard enough, adding type 1 diabetes (T1D) to the mix can put more pressure and stress on everyone in the family. As your teenagers grow up, they’ll need more and more space to practice being independent and self-sufficient. This transition is rarely easy, but you can’t let the added challenges of T1D change the fact that teens need more freedom to get ready for adulthood.   

Raising a teen with T1D may be one of the most challenging parts of your family’s experience with this condition. The best you can do is offer them unconditional support through this phase. 

Puberty can have a big impact on insulin sensitivity

Few things affect blood-glucose levels as intensely as hormones. And puberty is all about hormones. You can expect those increasing hormone levels to increase your teenager’s insulin doses, too. As their bones and muscles grow, they’ll need more insulin. Don’t panic when their insulin needs dramatically rise—this is normal! Don’t be surprised if their insulin-to-carbohydrate ratio quickly increases.  

Menstruation can be challenging

It will take time to determine a relatively consistent impact of your daughter’s menstrual cycle on her insulin needs and blood-glucose levels. It isn’t the same in every person. For example, some women notice insulin resistance during the days right before menstruation, while others notice it strike on the day they start bleeding. Some women say that resistance only lasts for 24 hours while others might experience three or four days of needing more insulin. Encourage your daughter to take good notes and be patient as you try to establish a somewhat predictable adjustment plan. 

Teenage stress and emotions

Growing up is stressful, and stress affects blood-glucose levels thanks to cortisol, which tells the liver to release stored sugar. This is a normal part of life, but extra tricky with T1D. A stressful exam or social challenges at school can easily lead to sudden spikes. Support your teen and remember that some high blood-glucose levels can’t be prevented, only reacted to afterward. Nobody does T1D perfectly at any age.  

Create a checklist for leaving the house

The last thing you want to get on a Tuesday at 10 a.m. is a text from your teen that their pump site just failed or that they ran out of insulin. Help them learn how to keep backup supplies in their backpack and establish a reminder system to help them check their supplies and technology before they leave the house.

Don’t expect perfection, just effort

Living with T1D is challenging every single day, and managing it is a lot to ask of any teen, and most adults, too! Help your teenager understand how their diabetes management impacts their grades at school, their energy, their mood, their performance on the soccer field, and more. Help them understand that simply trying their best can go a long way, and you aren’t expecting perfection, just thoughtful effort.   

Schedule thoughtful check-ins

Ask any teenager how they feel about their parents asking, “What’s your blood sugar?” or “Hey, your blood sugar was high all day! What happened?” and you’ll likely hear a lot of groaning. Don’t let T1D consume every conversation. No one, at any age, does T1D perfectly, and those numbers can feel like personal diary entries. Instead of constant questions, have scheduled check-ins to see how things are going. Maybe it’s once or twice a week, or maybe once a day. It can help your child feel more control over conversations about that very personal data.  

Establish diabetes management expectations

It’s fair to establish expectations and guidelines with your teenager around their diabetes management. If they’re struggling, though, remember that the constant work of T1D is a lot to ask of anyone at any age. Even adults struggle with T1D. Even adults forget to bolus sometimes or miscalculate the carbs in a meal. You can’t expect perfection from your child. Build their confidence and skills by helping them positively navigate those rougher moments without guilt or shame. 

More parenting and relationship guidance

Guidance on helping your child build the skills and confidence to manage T1D someday on their own.

Learn how to support your child’s participation in activities and time with friends. 

Openness, honesty, and trust are key to successful relationships—especially with type 1 diabetes.

Things to consider when discussing your condition with others.