Teens with Type 1 Diabetes: Sports, Activities, and Long Days Away from Home

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The warm weather months have many more people outside engaging in sports activities. Long days of exertion are not limited to the school year but those lessons can be translated and used year round. Moira McCarthy shares what she has learned while raising a teen with type 1 diabetes. Excerpted from Raising Teens with Diabetes by Moira McCarthy, published by Spry Publishing. 

Sports, Activities, and Long Days Away from Home

It is entirely possible that your teen heads out the door at 6:30 a.m. and does not return until 7 p.m. With sports, clubs, drama, jobs, and more, teens are busy—and away from watchful parents—often 50 percent of the day or longer. So how do you keep them safe and healthy at school after the school nurse has checked out for the day? Much of this of is going to fall on your teen and you (or another adult).

Sports and programs such as drama, student government, art clubs, and study groups happen on school grounds. Most schools have an athletic trainer on site and in place while sports are going on. This is the person you should befriend and educate about your child. (Even if the child is in, say, drama and not sports, this person can help you.) In a perfect world, they’d be willing to be trained in how to use a glucagon, and even let you keep one stored in their medical case.

What about coaches and club advisors? Some parents have success in asking those people to be trained in glucagon, but others do not. At the very least, adults overseeing your teen’s activities after school should be required by the 504 plan to learn and know anything the teachers who supervise them during the school day know. That means they should understand your child’s rights and needs; that sometimes the teen may need to stop practice and check blood sugars and eat, but that they will probably be fine in a short time. Similar to the school day, your child should not be punished when this happens.

But the teen who takes on extra programs needs to accept some responsibility, too. Any teen who joins a sports team or a club realizes this in general: joining and dedicating themselves means they’ll have to work to find other times to study and do homework and keep their grades up. Most, if not all, schools require a minimum grade point average to take part in such things. They’ll also commit to keeping their uniforms clean and bringing it when they need it, to making practices regularly, and to being a positive example of the team in the community.

So if you talk over some diabetes responsibilities with them, it probably won’t be the first time they’ve agreed to go an extra mile to be part of the programs they choose. What do they need to do? It’s perfectly reasonable that you expect them to check their blood sugars at the end of the school day and before they begin their activity or sport. The school day is a long one, and they’ll want to be sure to know where they are at numbers-wise before starting the next part of their day.

Of course they also need to be responsible and have with them anything they might need—fast-acting carbs, strips for the meter, the meter itself, insulin, and a backup pump site change if they are pumping. Most parents of teens do not mind checking their teen’s bag to make sure this stuff is stocked up. After all, we are all forgetful, and teens have so much going on with classes, games, events, and more. It’s not overbearing to make sure they have what they need on hand at all times.

When a game or even a practice stretches into the early evening, you’ll want your teen to check again. Your best bet is discussing a plan ahead of time and asking teens what they feel would work. And of course, when food is involved, you’ll want them to remember to take their insulin. Carb-counting programs on their smartphone can help them know what they are eating. As is always the case, don’t expect them to be perfect at all times. The best thing you can hope for is a reasonable effort backed by honesty. If you can encourage your teen to be honest (“We had pizza on the way home from the show and I did not check or bolus. Now I’m high.”), your parental response should not be “You can never go again now!” Rather, take a breath and say, “Okay, check now and let’s get that corrected. Thanks for giving me a heads-up.” Easier said than done, but the teen who is supported and not judged is going to be honest more often.

The school day is, perhaps, the largest part of your teen’s life for ten months of the year. Finding a way to keep teens on track during those hours is a lesson in itself. And since school is practice for the working world, you’ll be helping your teen learn to live out there in the big world.

Checking in with You?

Of course you want to ask teens to text, e-mail, or call with blood sugar readings during the day. But consider not doing so. You can look at their meter in the evening, and if they need advice, they can call you. Let them feel independent here.

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advice for patents with college students who live miles away from home? Is it okay to text daily to make sure they are awake?

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