A Parent’s Perspective: Sending Your Diabetic Child Off to College



A Parent’s Perspective: Sending Your Diabetic Child Off to College

By John Hartnett

My son is in his senior year of high school and is in the midst of applying to colleges. That process is stressful for any student.  It’s also financially stressful for the parent – even as an accountant, I am worried!  But my son has an added challenge to contend with – his Type 1 diabetes.

As his father, I already worry (just as he does) about his sugar levels, his insulin management and how any typical teenage experience can impact his condition. But since he lives at home and I can see him daily, I know he’s okay. That will all change once he has entered the College Zone.

A Whole New Diabetic World

There’s a whole new world of eating habits, sleeping patterns and stressors once a young adult enters college. For the typical freshman, these changes may result in weight gain, nap-filled days or all night study sessions. For diabetics like my son, the changes could result in death. Every parent of a diabetic knows that is not an exaggeration.

So what’s a parent to do?  How can we navigate the college application process alongside our kids without passing on our anxiety?  For starters, take a lot of deep breaths. Secondly, do what any other human would do – search the Internet for resources and tips.

One of the best sites that my wife and I found is the ‘college diabetes network.’ It provides tips for what to look for when you’re starting your college search, how to prepare to leave home and what to do once you get to campus.

Even with all the technology in the world though, we know there’s no app that can manage insulin levels and cure diabetes. However, my son did agree to start using an app that continuously monitors his glucose levels and will send his mother and me a text if they drop too low. (Full disclosure: He wants to live far away from home, so the app was one of our ‘musts.’) The app also will enable him to connect and share updates about food intake and blood sugar levels.

Not Your Typical ‘Going Away’ Talk

Before high school graduates enter college, they have all the usual conversations with their parents about study habits, roommate concerns and alcohol use, to name a few. But for diabetic families, the talks morph into things like: Where’s the health center located? How far away is the nearest hospital in case you go into shock? Will your RA or RD know what to do if you to start to have a reaction?  The bottom line is, parents have to have the frank, candid discussions now in order to prepare our young adults for what to expect, who to call or where to go if something goes wrong with their diabetes management.

The Most Important Grade

While your child may be fretting about getting up in time for his 8 a.m. class or whether or not to friend someone on Facebook, we as parents know the most significant thing they’ll have to be concerned about is their diabetes management.  Do we hope they’ll get good grades and become model citizens? Of course. But what we’re really hoping is that we’ve trained them well enough to take care of their diabetes so that they can have the most normal college experience possible.

John Hartnett is the CEO of Capital & Worth accounting firm in Wilmington Del. But his favorite job is being a father to Jeremy, a rising college freshman who has Type 1 diabetes.

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