Pre-teens, Teenagers Won't Stick to Diabetes Treatment Regimen without Careful Parental Monitoring

As adolescent diabetics get older, the level of parental involvement in their lives decreases, resulting in increasingly poorer adherence to treatment regimens.

Pre-teen children and teenagers with diabetes are less likely to stick to their treatment plans if their parents do not readily monitor the treatment, or if mother and child have a poor relationship, according to Pamela King, of the University of Utah.

The researchers, presenting their study at the Society of Behavioral Medicine's Annual Meeting, analyzed the behavior of 252 adolescent type 1 diabetics and their parents over a two-year period, conducting interviews every few months about how well the children were adhering to their treatment plans and what level of involvement the parents had.

The study began when the children were between 10 and 14 years of age; by the study’s conclusion, some of them were about to turn 17. The researchers observed that, as the adolescent diabetics got older, several levels of parental involvement significantly decreased:

  • "A decline in mothers' and fathers' monitoring of adolescents' diabetes care behaviors (for example, knowing what the adolescent eats)
  • A decline in parents' acceptance of the teen in general (an indicator of parent-adolescent relationship quality), and
  • A decline in their assistance with diabetes management tasks (such as getting the adolescent diabetes supplies).”

However, the researchers add that only some of the “declining indicators of involvement” were related to a parent’s involvement in treatment; the pre-teens and teenagers who had the most trouble with following a plan were the children whose mothers had become less accepting of them as they grew older.

"Adolescence is a challenging time for those with a chronic illness," said King, who is a postdoctoral researcher in psychology. "Adolescents experience a variety of biological, psychological and social changes before they reach adulthood. Adolescents with a chronic illness have to cope with these normal developmental challenges while trying to manage the demands of their chronic illness.

She continues, "The findings suggest that if we could improve the quality of the parent-adolescent relationship and increase parents' monitoring of adolescents' diabetes management, we could improve adolescents' adherence to the type 1 diabetes regimen and, subsequently, their long-term health.”