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Teaching Teens to Cope with Diabetes

Diabetes education for teenagers at Joslin Diabetes Center

Friday, October 29, 2010

“We need more complex and creative approaches in diabetes education for teenagers, and we’re all still trying to figure out the best way to do this,” said Margaret Grey, Dean of the Yale School of Nursing, speaking at Joslin this week. Presenting the fourth annual Joslin Harriet Mackay Forum, Grey highlighted her research in educating youth with type 1 diabetes—particularly in boosting their life skills in coping with the condition that requires around-the-clock management.

Her work has shown that hosting discussion groups for teenagers that aid their coping skills can improve both their quality of life and their diabetes control, Grey said. But she noted that today’s teens often are too busy to come into the clinic for a group.  

So Grey and her colleagues set up and are in the process of evaluating an Internet coping skills training program for adolescents—the “TeenCope” program, which looks like a graphic novel and features animations and interactive training sessions. TeenCope has done well in engaging groups of teens and given good early indications of helping them handle their diabetes, she said.

Such programs need to reflect the particular needs of adolescents. “One of the things that makes working with teenagers interesting is that they often have such black and white views of the world,” Grey commented.

Teens struggle, for instance, about what to say to their peers about their diabetes—needing to find a good middle ground between saying nothing to their friends and deluging them with information. Another issue is that teens “may not be good at asserting what they want but be really good at whining,” as Grey put it. And when imagining how a given event may play out, teens may lock into a scenario of failure rather than visualizing successful outcomes.

“Teens may view their diabetes as a way to assert their independence, not always in the best ways for diabetes control,” Grey added. “But if you give them coping skills, they are able to better negotiate what they need from their parents.”

The Harriet McKay Forum, which honors a pioneering nurse educator at Joslin, is sponsored by Joslin’s Center for Innovation in Diabetes Education.

Education for teenagers at Joslin Diabetes Center

Page last updated: October 16, 2018